It is intriguing that the ubiquitous phenomenon of translation does not seem to feature in posthumanist thinking. It is peculiar, too, that there is so little debate on the inescapability of translational processes in the intellectual battles that aim to reenergise philosophy’s ontologies and its epistemological pathways. Bruno Latour once remarked that actor-network-theory, designed to interrogate communication across materialities and subjectivities, should have been more pertinently labelled ‘sociology of translation’.[1] There is no communication, or meaning-making, without a translational platform geared to achieve conceptual transformations. This entry, therefore, aims to outline the forgotten relevance of translation to posthuman thought and to highlight some relevant theories and conceptual tools from the field of translation studies. A translational perspective may not only enrich paradigmatic trajectories and pave the way towards novel vantage points and conceptualisations, but it may also help to ethically ground emergent ontologies that may arise out of attempts to establish meaningful, perhaps even deep, connectivities across the human-nonhuman continuum, and beyond.

Posthuman translationalities

It might seem that a translation-related addition to the conceptual toolkit of posthumanist philosophies would help us to vividly envisage a cosmopolitan solidarity. This is not to say that translationality, the enabling condition for interspecies communicability, has no place in the ‘grand debate’ on epistemic positionings along biological variability, machinic interactions and group hierarchies. In Derridean terms, translation enlightens us on largely incommensurable différance across cultures, languages, knowledge systems.[2] Translation, however, is more than a marker of difference and an act of deferral. It provides an afterlife to anything it was able to transform and thus to pass on to posterity. Translation is not merely an intercultural bridge builder but, as a material, performative and corporeal space, it bears the potential to transform, merge, eclipse or enrich entire frameworks of sensing, feeling and knowing.

In illustration, consider the following. When we look at the colonial destruction of entire civilisations, their histories and tribal traditions, lamenting the misrepresentation and mistranslation of alterity can only do part of the job. One pivotal manifestation of translational violence resides, in fact, in the silencing of otherness, in the arrogant disregard of non-translation. When we look into most shopping malls in German-speaking countries, for instance, hegemonic non-translation stares at us in the form of uncountable Anglicisms in the names of shops, in shop windows, and also worldwide in the form of Anglo-globalised slangs spoken by many local populations. Non-translation, to be sure, is entirely dependent on asymmetries of power and configurations of ideology and may thus have ethical effects opposite to those invoked above.

German Bakery and Café Chain Back-Factory

Despite the significance of ideological context, however, it can be said that wherever there is no translation, in whatever form, there is no movement, no vibrancy, but quite probably stasis …

It must also be acknowledged that in today’s political economy, the epistemic supremacy of global capitalism controls what is and what is not translated. Outside the neoliberal machine, translation is inscribed in the global battle for epistemic recognition and dominance, where the critical posthumanist paradigm is seen to function ‘as a “translator” between two epistemes and critically illuminates both the humanist tradition […] as well as the processes and new forms of repression at work within the posthumanist regime’.[3] Critical posthumanist theory pursues a liberationist and transgressive agenda that aims ‘to dismantle hierarchies between humans, such as gender, race and class but also to debunk the idea that the human sits in hierarchical supremacy over other subjects – including the environment and nonhumans’.[4] Translation, in turn, generates transformative energies across seemingly incommensurate epistemic positions, yet even for any critical posthumanist vantage point there can only remain, at least for the time being, our all-too-human cognitive capabilities.

It is against the backdrop of these onto-epistemological negotiations that a critical posthumanist translationality, as I would like to call it, would meander through the infinite maze of planetary relationalities. In other words, how can we repair our damaged relations with the environment and nonhuman species unless we subvert the reified universe of exploitative capitalist exchange? Promising inter-civilisational projects do exist, as evident in the efforts surrounding the World Social Forum, which rest on the belief that ‘intercultural translation’ helps to expose ‘isomorphic concerns and underlying assumptions among cultures’ in the fight ‘against capitalism, colonialism, and patriarchy and for social justice, human dignity, or human decency’.[5] However, a critical posthumanist translationality cannot rest solely on shared epistemic recognition and intersubjective understanding, it also aims at the reparation of relations between humans and the nonhuman world, where the performance of intercultural translation becomes escorted by acts of ‘interspecies translation’. Indeed, the urgency of the climate crisis might even force us to rethink our relationship to nature ‘within’ the current capitalist relations and forces of production and circulation. Such a translational dimension, therefore, eventually delves into and re-scripts the realm of critical posthumanist theory.

We accordingly say farewell to seeing translation as a merely textual operation. But neither can a multimodal conception of translation do justice to a post-anthropocentric and commons-based vision for transcultural communicability. A posthumanist ‘translation proper’ would remain ill-served by a narrow cultural and linguistic point of departure, which renders a biosemiotic approach an attractive proposition for translational investigations that are geared to rekindle the damaged relations between nonhumans, humans and the world. In his attempt to construct a biosemiotic theory of translation, Kobus Marais maintains that ‘we need exactly a theory, not of translators and translations, but of translationality’, and this exactly in view of the observation that ‘biosemiotics challenges translation studies as far as its anthropocentric bias, in general, and its linguicentric bias, in particular, are concerned’.[6]

Critical translational ontologies

In the biblical story of Babel, God condemns humanity to life in translation. In Derrida’s reading, ‘[t]ranslation becomes law, duty and debt’.[7] Put differently, translation is imposed by nature, it is obligated to benefit others, and it carries the phantom pain of severed universal monolingualism. Such a Christian eschatology spills over into the realm of reformist ideology, which actually allows me to flesh out the ‘critical’ historical component of my translational perspective on posthumanist thought. More than 100 years ago, in 1911, the social reformer Gustav Landauer urged a radical rethink in the way we organise our societies. Mindful of the failed promises of post-Enlightenment modernity, Landauer urged ‘a return to nature, a re-endowment with spirit, [and] a regaining of relationships’.[8] Is it thinkable that, in analogy to Landauer’s appeal, restorative translational moves may be performed? Translational moves that would safeguard Landauer’s – for want of a better word –planetary relationalities? Perhaps by means of a triangle-shaped axiology that unites postanarchist, posthumanist and postmarxist value arrangements?

A postanarchist translational ontology would support plurality in all its different shapes and forms. Here, the immense heterogeneity of global diversity in its incommensurable cultural, linguistic and biological manifestations figures as an ontological precondition for translation. A postanarchist arrangement does not accept unjust inequalities as an unavoidable evil, for example as regards the institutionalised advantages that help ruling elites to reproduce their wealth and privileges. A postanarchist ontology looks at translation from the perspective of property and ownership, and is critical of theoretical spearheads with misfiring liberationist thrust. The interdiscipline of translation studies is full of talk about concepts such as ‘authorship’, ‘intercultural space’ or ‘multilingualism’, yet the ubiquity and vagueness of such concepts in academic discourse demonstrates that paid academic voices, as part of the cultural establishment, tend to be collusive with the machinations of bourgeois neoliberal ideology.

A posthumanist translational ontology rides on the intersecting waves of life forms in and beyond the inhabited world. The waves symbolise the intersubjective relationalities across human and nonhuman life forms. A posthumanist arrangement traverses the artificial boundaries generated through identity thinking and the myth of eternal technological progress, both of which are founded on the capitalist exchange principle. The obvious consequences for posthumanist theory are prefigured in Adorno’s ruminations. For one, ‘[t]he more identity is posited by imperious spirit, the more injustice is done to the nonidentical [and while] …  [e]verything within the whole progresses: only the whole itself to this day does not progress’. At the same time, ‘[i]n bourgeois society, which created the concept of total progress, the convergence of this concept with the negation of progress originates in this society’s principle: exchange [which functions as] … the rational form of mythical ever-sameness’.[9] A posthumanist translational ontology, therefore, questions both the ideological assumptions of human exceptionalism (the belief in humanity’s singular capabilities) and technological determinism (the belief in technology’s social neutrality). Today’s linguistic and cultural mediators are dependent on translation memories, neural machine translation systems and, increasingly, on AI-based translation algorithms embedded in new affordances like the ChatGPT-Translator. Progress in translation, it seems, is chained to the techno-scientific rationality of data accumulation as well as the generation of large language models and their synthetic offspring. Michael Cronin, for instance, asserts that ‘[t]ranslation scholars as part of a project of posthuman ethics have to consider how translation-mediated remote intelligence … will impact the socio-economic futures of the planet’s inhabitants’.[10]

A postmarxist translational ontology, eventually, constitutes a conciliatory move within and across the interstices and cracks in the globalised political economy. Translation research on interpreting encounters in police stations or in hospitals, or on the unequal flow of literary translations between cultural systems, fundamentally addresses material – and thus economic rather than sociocultural – questions of transcultural contact.

Posthumanism and the future of translation as deep connection

The nature and location of power, the raison d’être of metaphysics, evolves in dialectical fashion alongside societal, paradigmatic and technological becoming. In his introduction to Anti-Oedipus, Mark Seem writes on the point of power struggles:

Once we forget about our egos a non-neurotic form of politics becomes possible, where singularity and collectivity are no longer at odds with each other, and where collective expressions of desire are possible. Such a politics does not seek to regiment individuals according to a totalitarian system of norms, but to de-normalize and de-individualize through a multiplicity of new, collective arrangements against power. Its goal is the transformation of human relationships in a struggle against power.[11]

While critical posthumanism homes in on such historical dynamics, with their very own effects on human and nonhuman intersubjectivities, translation studies might serve as a fellow traveller – indeed as a ‘translator’ – in the quest for meaningful and deep connections beyond the centripetal forces of identity thinking, tribal nationalism and technological rationality. A critical translational ontology, in turn, might sail under the banner of posthumanism, given that it aims to transcend positivism and culturalism by problematising taken-for-granted ideas about what it actually means to be human in a world dominated by capital, science and technology. Following postmodernism’s deconstruction of taken-for-granted assumptions about nature and culture, history and power, society and the subject, posthumanist thought strives to erode rigid anthropological binaries across the human, the nonhuman and the machine, attempting to reconcile our species with radical alterity, with the heterogeneous universe of nonhuman and machinic intelligence.

At the dawn of the ‘posthuman condition’, we begin to ask questions about to what extent the digital economy – the dependencies across global techno-financial flows – impacts on human and nonhuman subjectivities. In translation studies, the cultural turn that was inspired by postmodernism’s power of subversion – for instance the critique of colonial translation methods or the propagation of feminist translation strategies[12] – could become enriched by an additional posthumanist focus concerning our dependence on translation technologies, language data and artificial intelligence, and on how these are transforming the dynamics of transcultural communication.[13] A posthumanist discourse on translation, indeed, and by working towards a kind of deep connection across humans, technology, animals and plants, may help to foster a non-egocentric and non-neurotic form of politics. It is, in this context, however, difficult to shed the existential Angst concerning the gradual merger between humans and technology that will create ever new hybrid forms of existence and novel threats of potential (military) mass extinction.

As a discipline situated at the interface of the humanities and social sciences, translation studies heavily echoes paradigmatic change and global theoretical fashions. There exists, however, little to no reflection on the interrelation between transcultural communication, critical (posthumanist) theory and technology, nor has any attempt been made to construct a critical methodology that accounts for the fate of translation as a site of historical becoming under the (techno-scientific) regime of unequal capitalist forces and relations of production. It appears also significant that restraining factors need to safeguard us from the worst excesses of human depravity and, especially, free-market fundamentalism and unregulated techno-scientific evolution. It is, for instance, a disturbing development that globally there is a steady decrease of individual stakeholders in the fields of translation services and translation technology, to the benefit of a handful of large international corporations. Perhaps, indeed, a critical posthumanist approach to translation would enable us to theorise a positive and thus socially progressive role for translation in a utopian world of equally balanced power relations, where never only one power, one language, one subjectivity was allowed to prevail.


Acknowledgments: I would like to express my sincere gratitude to Raquel Pacheco Aguilar and to the anonymous peer reviewers for their insightful comments, which helped to improve the evolving, successive drafts of the manuscript.



[1] Bruno Latour, Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network-Theory (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), p. 106.

[2] Jacques Derrida, Of Grammatology (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, corrected edition, trans. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, 1997), p. 66.

[3] Stefan Herbrechter, Posthumanism: A Critical Analysis (London: Bloomsbury, 2013), p. 191.

[4] Rosi Braidotti and Emily Jones, ‘Critical Posthuman Theory’, in More Posthuman Glossary, ed. by Rosi Braidotti, Emily Jones and Goda Klumbyté (London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2023), pp. 28–30; p. 28.

[5] Boaventura de Sousa Santos, Epistemologies of the South: Justice against Epistemicide (New York: Routledge, 2014), p. 212.

[6] Kobus Marais, A (Bio)Semiotic Theory of Translation – The Emergence of Social-Cultural Reality (New York: Routledge, 2019), p. 43 & p. 116.

[7] Jacques Derrida, ‘Des Tours de Babel’, in Difference in Translation, ed. Joseph F. Graham (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, trans. Joseph F. Graham, 1985), p. 174.

[8] Gustav Landauer, For Socialism (New York: Telos Press, 1978 [1911]), p. 136.

[9] Theodor W. Adorno, ‘Progress’, in Theodor W. Adorno – Critical Models: Interventions and Catchwords (New York: Columbia University Press, trans. Henry W. Pickford, 2005), pp. 143–160; p. 149; p. 159.

[10] Michael Cronin, ‘Translation and Posthumanism’, in The Routledge Handbook of Translation and Ethics, ed. Nike Pokorn and Kaisa Koskinen (London and New York: Routledge, 2020), pp. 282.

[11] Mark Seem, ‘Introduction’, in Anti-Oedipus – Capitalism and Schizophrenia, Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1983), pp. xv–xxiv; p. xxi.

[12] See, e.g., Mary Snell-Hornby, The Turns of Translation Studies (Amsterdam and Philadelphia: John Benjamins, 2006).

[13] cf. Michael Cronin, ‘Translation and Posthumanism’.