Translation is often perceived by the general public to be a seamless and relatively straightforward enterprise, a view conflated in part by the ubiquity of free and, now, relatively functional machine translation tools. However, the translation industry involves myriad complex and inter-related processes and agents each playing a role in shaping the ways in which translations are procured, produced and, ultimately, received and used.
The field of information economics can bring to light novel reflections on these processes and the agents involved. As a subfield of economics, information economics examines the ways in which the circulation of information influences economic decision-making, prices, and behaviour. While concepts such as signalling, information asymmetry and moral hazard, have been touched on in Translation Studies (see, for instance, Chan 2008, 2009; Abdallah 2010; Pym et al. 2012; Pym, Orrego-Carmona and Torres-Simón 2016), my current research looks to draw on additional elements of the conceptual toolkit provided by agency theory (Eisenhardt 1989, inter alia) to understand better the factors that influence the ways in which translation services are procured and provided.
This talk will tease out the relevance of a number of valuable concepts from the so-called principal-agent problem and a subsequent development of this theory, referred to as the principal-professional problem. It will address antecedents – information asymmetry, goals incompatibility, bounded rationality – and the resulting problems of adverse selection and performance ambiguity and how these manifest themselves in the context of translation service procurement.
It will also address the impact of extant and emergent developments specific to the translation industry, such as growing automation and disruptive technology, translation platforms and the Uberisation of vendor recruitment (see Fırat 2021), differences between ‘boutique LSPs’ and ‘super-LSPs’, and the persistent problems of professional status and remuneration (see Lambert and Walker 2022). The examples will discuss the potential effects of information differentials in translation procurement on key project constraints such as cost, time, quality, and risk. The talk will close with a number of insights into the direction of this on-going research, as well as questions for further research.
About the Speaker:
Dr Callum Walker is a Lecturer in Translation Technology and Director of the Centre for Translation Studies at the University of Leeds where he lectures on computer-assisted translation technology, project management, and specialised translation (FR/RU-EN). He has also taught at Durham University (2012–2020), University College London (2018–2019), and Goldsmiths College University of London (2020). Concurrently with his academic roles, he has worked as a freelance translator (beginning in 2009) and owns his a small translation business, as well as being a Chartered Linguist, Member of the Chartered Institute of Linguists, and Member of the Institute of Translation and Interpreting. His research interests address two contrasting fields. His current line of research is focused on translation industry studies, with a specific focus on project management, pricing and (micro-)economics, which has given rise to a recently published textbook Translation Project Management (2022, Routledge). He has also conducted (quasi-)experimental research on translation reception using eye-tracking, resulting in his monograph An Eye-Tracking Study of Equivalent Effect in Translation (2021, Palgrave) and an edited volume on Eye Tracking and Multidisciplinary Studies on Translation (2018, co-edited with Prof. Federico M. Federici, University College London; John Benjamins).