Challenging medical knowledge translation – convergence and divergence of translation across epistemic and cultural boundaries

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This Collection aims to develop contemporary knowledge translation (KT) in medicine by challenging it with current cultural and humanistic theories of translation. In the process of doing this, however, we will also challenge theories of translation within the humanities by juxtaposing them with the scientific practice of KT. Different notions of “translation” have become increasingly important in the contemporary natural and human sciences. The turn to translation can be traced across a number of human sciences, such as cultural studies, anthropology and science and technology studies (STS). Translation has lately also become institutionalized in the field of medicine, leading to the development of so-called knowledge translation and ‘translational research’. These concepts refer to a set of research activities bound together by the common goal of “bridging the gap” between science in laboratories and clinical application – and more generally, putting research-based knowledge into practice. While translation in the human sciences has emerged as a key theoretical concept, and could be seen as an index of current epistemological predicaments and the almost obligatory requirement to cross-disciplinary and cultural boundaries in a “global age”, its materialization in medical discourse is of an entirely different nature. KT denotes a scientific and purportedly non-cultural practice that defines social and cultural difference as a “barrier” to the transmission of the logos of medical science. The aim of KT is to bring “pure” scientific knowledge from “bench to bedside” by testing its validity in clinical practice – while at the same time keeping the scientific knowledge intact throughout the process of translation across various social fields and sectors of the healthcare system across the globe. However, KT implies little theoretical reflection over translation as a process of meaning production.

The point of departure for the contributors to this Collection is the observation that KT is based upon a reductive understanding of translation and knowledge transmission. Standard models of KT take translation and knowledge transmission as a phenomenon for granted, and accordingly downplays the complexity of translation as an entangled material, a textual and cultural process, which inevitably affects the “original scientific message”. Moreover, we maintain that the roots of this reduction of translation should be sought in historical “deep time”; in the period where distinctions between “hard” and “soft” sciences, natural and humanistic inquiry, begin to emerge in theory (but not necessarily in practice). By contrasting KT with historical, cultural and epistemic differences from its scientific “prehistory”, and by analyzing it with reference to broader humanistic and material notions of translation, we aim to develop concepts of medical translation able to cope with contemporary epistemic and cultural differences – as well as the inevitable entanglement of the socio-cultural and biomedical aspects.

Quantitative and qualitative contributions from a range of disciplinary perspectives are welcomed, including, but not restricted to, anthropology, cultural studies and cultural history, medicine, medical humanities, sociology, science and technology studies, philosophy, comparative literature, and translation studies.

Research papers that consider the following questions and themes are welcomed:

  • The history and epistemology of knowledge translation;
  • Knowledge translation and translation across the divide between humanities and natural sciences;
  • Knowledge translation and the translation of medical knowledge and notions of the body across cultures and periods;
  • Theories and methods of translation in relation to medicine and the human body;
  • Knowledge translation and guideline development;
  • Knowledge translation, health literacy and the medical humanities;
  • Knowledge translation as a discursive process.
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