Workshop: ‘Interlingual Relations’

‘Interlingual Relations: The Global Politics of Linguistic Difference’

Call for participation in workshop

A workshop for PhD researchers on ‘interlingual relations’ is being organised through the PhD Seminar Series in IPS and led by Einar Wigen (Associate Professor, Department of Culture Studies and Oriental Relations, University of Oslo). Co-hosted by the KCL International Relations and Ethics Research Theme, the workshop will be held on Thurday 16 January 2020, 13.00-17.00, Room 2.01 Bush House (SE), King’s College London.


In this workshop, Einar Wigen will give an introduction to how we may make sense of global politics in a polyglot world (see abstract below). After a Q&A session, participants will comment on each other’s work-in-progress. The workshop will consider the work of around six participants, circulated in advance, in the form of 5,000-word papers.

Please send abstracts for consideration to before Friday 6 December 2019. Selected papers should then be submitted by Monday 6 January 2020 for circulation to participants in advance of the workshop.

If you would like to participate in the workshop without presenting a paper, please also email us at the above address. Places are free but limited and registration is required.


Global politics in a polyglot world is inherently interlingual. Linguistic turn scholarship never drew the obvious conclusion that if different political communities use their political languages differently, then the interface of international politics involves mediation between different languages. In addition to being an everyday practice of global politics, translation is a muted part of the method of any English-writing scholar’s study of politics taking place in other languages. Translation is typically glossed over in scholarly writing, where politics is always already made legible in English. Such glossing is an example of what Gramsci called hegemony – one language imposing its meaning as authoritative and muting other forms that can only be made understandable as knowledge through translation, with the translator covering their tracks. As scholars of International Relations and International Political Sociology increasingly look beyond the West and beyond English-language sources, we ignore the phenomenon of interlinguality at our peril. Whether the task is to decolonise curriculae, to bring a wider set of human experiences into our theorising, or simply to study politics taking place in a language other than English, translation is by necessity part of the method.


Any intellectual engagement across a linguistic boundary involves translation. Because no two languages are the same, meaning changes in translation. It may change in politically significant ways, and this change may be used strategically by actors involved. The politics of political difference is therefore important for understanding how claims to political legitimacy and negotiations take place across linguistic boundaries. In European nation-states, the ideal has been for linguistic and political communities to be co-extensive, in which case domestic politics would take place in the national language, and international politics would involve translating across linguistic difference. Reality is of course more complex, with some countries sharing languages and others using multiple languages also for domestic politics. But this complexity does not belie the need for taking interlinguality seriously. Elites in former British colonies may communicate with other such elites in English, but beyond the four main settler colonies, post-colonial elites need to translate, interpret or simply reformulate their political messages, not when conducting international relations, but when engaging domestic constituents who do not use English as their primary language. Although the post-colonial state-to-state interface is often monolingual, global political configurations as such are typically interlingual. While it may not seem that way when privileging relations in the Anglosphere, conducting international politics in a single language is more of an exception than a rule. Interlingual relations are everywhere to be found, and although the labour expended to maintain them is seldom rewarded, they may be called the unacknowledged core of international relations.

(Photo from organisers.)