The Empirical Science Paradigm and the Liberal Arts Paradigm in Translation Studies
December 29, 2008
Traditionally, approaches in research are divided into two main paradigms. Paradigms are philosophical and theoretical frameworks that provide researchers with ethical norms and rules that reflect what is regarded as “science” or even “good science”. Depending on the fields of research, in textbooks like e.g. Durst-Andersen (2004), the two paradigms are referred to with different terms, for example:
· inductive/empirical research – deductive/rationalistic research;
· data-oriented research – hermeneutic research;
· empirically oriented research ‘empiricism’ – interpretive theoretical research.
In short, empirical research, the main paradigm of the natural sciences, is exploration of reality based on data and facts, and providing systematic evidence. Non-empirical research, mostly known from the humanities, is regarded as the philosophical and theoretical investigation of texts (but also manifestations of life) – using interpretation, argumentation and rationale.
Scholars from the two camps tend to criticize each other, in social sciences, see for example, Alvesson/Sköldberg (2000), and in Translation Studies, Stolze (2003). What is held against empirical research is that it is a-theoretical and that whatever we observe, it is always influenced by language, selective perception and a degree of subjectivity, because nobody approaches reality as a tabula rasa. The non-empirical, philosophical and theoretical approaches are criticized for being speculative, intuitive and less solid than empirical research.
The terms and the division into the two main paradigms are problematic – not only in Translation Studies, but also in other disciplines like, for example, business studies and sociology. What is, for example, the exact extension of the term Liberal Arts Paradigm? Liberal Arts comprise among others hermeneutics, structuralism, constructivism, critical theory, discourse analysis, etc. – all of them with their special research objects, rules and traditions, which by researchers from other paradigms may be regarded as more or less “scientific” and more or less solid.
Having the large group of disciplines under the umbrella of the Liberal Arts Paradigm in mind – can it then be generalized that LAP is less rigorous than empirical scientific research? A look at some of the skills required in text books in relation to the two main paradigms shows that it is not totally different skills that are asked for in order to do empirical research or hermeneutic research (as an example from the LAP). However, what is most interesting and important in this connection is that Translation Studies of all disciplines absolutely cannot make do without both paradigms. As to the research skills I found, see below:
Alvesson, M. and Sköldberg. K. 2000. Reflexive
Durst-Andersen, P. (ed.) 2004. Erhvervshumaniora. Copenhagen: Samfundslitteratur.
Gile, D. 2005. “The liberal arts paradigm and the empirical science paradigm.” www.est-translationstudies.org: Research issue January 2005.
Gile, D. 2008. “Where is the evidence? On one limitation of the Empirical Research Paradigms.” www.est-translationstudies.org: Research issue December 2008.
Frankfort-Nachmias, C. and Nachmias, D. 1996. Research Methods in the Social Sciences. London: St. Martin's Press.
Stolze, R. 2003. Hermeneutik und Translation. Tübingen: Gunter Narr.
Empirical research Hermeneutics
Ability to categorize Ability to ask questions
Ability to listen and to explain Ability to check plausibility
Ability to see relevant data Ability to judge
Ability to see links Comprehensiveness
Ability to spot new possibilities Creativity
Being realistic Dialectic approach
Being well read Empathy
Being careful Honesty
Fresh look Humble activity
Skeptical attitude Logic argumentation
Open-mindedness Openness as to different possibilties/positions
Reflectivity Respect as to the interpreted issue
Rigor Seeing relations/patterns
Self-criticism Skill to see alternatives
Social interaction Understanding the parts – and the whole
Thoroughness Understanding of meaning