Research Programs: Fellowships

Period of Performance

7/1/2021 - 6/30/2022

Funding Totals

$60,000.00 (approved)
$60,000.00 (awarded)

Interpreting the Field, Translating Global Voices: On the Labor of Interpreters in UN Field Missions

FAIN: FEL-273424-21

Laura E. Kunreuther
Bard College (Annandale-on-Hudson, NY 12504-9800)

Research and writing leading to a book on how U.N. mission interpreters translate trauma across different languages and how such translation affects the interpreters themselves.

Drawing on research in Nepal, Geneva, and among refugee interpreters from Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya, my project explores the work of field interpreters for UN missions, whose labor is typically invisible but essential to global organizations. My analysis centers around two competing ethical positions that remain in tension and structure interpreter's work in the field. Interpreters must become neutral conduits of voice who translate information faithfully and transparently. Interpreters also frequently describe their role as ear-witnesses, who bear an ethical responsibility to accurately convey often deeply traumatic testimonies in ways that can affect the interpreter's own sense of humanity. At its broadest level, Interpreting the Field explores historical and cultural connections between the invisibility of UN interpreters' labor and the bureaucratic ideals of transparency and global citizenship, asking how these ideals are embodied, or not, in the day-to-day work of UN missions.

Associated Products

What Does Justice Sound Like? (Radio/Audio Broadcast or Recording)
Title: What Does Justice Sound Like?
Writer: Will Garriott, Julia Kowalski, Sameena Mulla, Laura Kunreuther, and Katherine Martineau.
Producer: Julię Kowalski and Katherine Martineau
Abstract: In this podcast we bring together questions of sound and questions of justice. Debates about justice are one way that people address resource scarcity, violence, and community survival. “Justice” is a broad category that can evoke competing visions; it is mediated by concepts, social structures, and relations. Here we explore how it is mediated by sound, such as the qualities of a voice, authoritative speech, songs of solidarity, or the noise of protests. Distinctions between sounds, such as “voice” and “noise,” are in turn mediated by ideologies that connect sound to socio-political dynamics. Soundshapes how people know, experience or engage justice, just as ideas about justice orient people to sound . We ask: how does sound ground or undermine prevailing approaches to 'justice'? How does sound offer novel ways to contest or reimagine what constitutes justice? In short, what does justice sound like? Reflecting on the mediating relations between sound and justice, this podcast tells the stories of sonic objects. These include: the circulation of an anthem during protests against citizenship laws in India; judges’ masculine registers in sexual assault sentencing hearings in Milwaukee, WI; the acoustic dimensions of the ‘field’ in the work of human rights and humanitarian aid interpreters; the role of a theme song in addressing strategic dilemmas in marijuana legalization campaigns; and the affective qualities of participants’ voices in “successful” restorative justice circles. Drawing on the capacity of the podcast to incorporate sound, we interrogate and interpret the sensory experiences of justice and the communicative practices on which imaginings of justice depend. Our contributors are Will Garriott, Julia Kowalski, Sameena Mulla, Laura Kunreuther, and Katherine Martineau.
Date: 11/15/2021
Primary URL: http://
Format: Other

The Bridge (Film/TV/Video Broadcast or Recording)
Title: The Bridge
Writer: Kamoso Bertrand, Mulki Mohammed Ali, Adam Mohammed Bashar, Chouchou Gomez
Director: Kamoso Bertrand
Producer: Laura Kunreuther
Abstract: The Bridge depicts the daily life and work challenges of two fictive refugee interpreters working in an humanitarian organization. The story and scenarios in the film are based on 8 months of ethnographic research findings gleaned through interviews and focus group discussions with current interpreters. The film represents interpreters as subjects – moving, feeling, socially situated persons – who become the infrastructural possibility of humanitarian work.
Year: 2022
Primary URL:
Format: Film

The Bridge (Conference Paper/Presentation)
Title: The Bridge
Author: Laura Kunreuther
Abstract: This is a piece of flash ethnography based on my experience producing 'The Bridge'.
Date: 12/1/2022
Conference Name: Annual Anthropological Association Meetings