Translation Infrastructures and the Politics of Publishing Western Theory in Iran


Fri, 10/01/2021 - 3:00pm


Part of the Fall 2021 Middle Eastern and North African Studies Colloquium Series

Hosna Sheikholeslami, Assistant Professor of Anthropology and Sociology, Denison University

Hosna Sheikholeslami headshot

Western social science and philosophy have become increasingly popular in Iran since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, even as all books undergo pre-publication censorship. Skilled translators of these works are objects of fame and esteem, celebrated in the national media for their intellectual contributions to Iranian society. To better understand how and why knowledge travels, I take the moment of transfer via translation and publication in Iran as the starting point for ethnographic inquiry. Based on fieldwork in Tehran from 2012-2014, I examine “translation infrastructures” - those processes, institutions, and social networks through which translations are produced and disseminated as book-objects. In this talk, I explore how translation infrastructures are powerfully shaped by the materiality of the book and state cultural and economic policies, and are the grounds through which translators, publishers, and censors make decisions regarding the selection, production, and dissemination of translated texts as book-objects, thereby enabling their eventual public consumption. Those decisions are also powerfully informed by their imaginaries regarding the ideal form and operation of publics. I specifically demonstrate how censors’ social imaginaries informs the texts they allow to be published, providing insight into the formation of reading publics and movement of knowledge under a presumably illiberal regime.



Hosna Sheikholeslami is a socio-cultural anthropologist whose research interests include political and economic anthropology, the anthropology of knowledge, and translation. She is currently working on her first book manuscript. Based on two years of fieldwork in Tehran, Iran, the manuscript examines how and why knowledge travels transnationally by examining the production of translated texts of Western human sciences in Iran, with particular attention to the mediating labors of translators, publishers, and censors. Her dissertation on the same topic was the recipient the Mehrdad Mashayekhi Dissertation Award from the Association of Iranian Studies and Malcom H. Kerr Dissertation Award in the Social Sciences from the Middle Eastern Studies Association in 2018. Her research has been supported by the Social Science Research Council (SSRC) and the NSF. She holds PhD and M. Phil. in Anthropology from Yale University and a BA in Comparative Literature from UC Berkeley.

Co-sponsored by the Roshan Graduate Interdisciplinary Program in Persian and Iranian Studies


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