Laura Kunreuther

Penn Humanities Forum Regional Fellow

20162017 Forum on Translation

Laura Kunreuther

Associate Professor and Director of Anthropology, Bard College

Laura Kunreuther's current research focuses on sound, listening, and political subjectivity, specifically the use of sound for political and artistic protest, and the role of interpreters deployed in field missions of the UN. Her work has been supported by grants from the Fulbright-Hays Foundation, the Mellon Foundation, the Social Science Research Council, and the Freeman Foundation. Her first book, Voicing Subjects: Public Intimacy and Mediation in Kathmandu (Berkeley), traces the relation between public speech and personal interiority during a moment of democraticization in Nepal through a focus on two formations of voice. At Bard College, Prof. Kunreuther coordinates Sound Cluster, a faculty working group sponsored by the Experimental Humanities program, and affiliated with Bard’s Human Rights, Asian Studies, and Gender and Sexuality Studies programs. She received her B.A. from the University of Pennsylvania (1991) and her Ph.D. in Anthropology from the University of Michigan (2002).

Translating Voice: UN Field Interpreters, Translatability, and Ideologies of Transparency

Translating Voice focuses on the work of interpreters employed in United Nations field missions across the world. Focusing on UN missions in Nepal, I explore interpreters' work through the lens of translatability that goes beyond the problems of language correspondence. We must also consider the materiality of sound and voice, the physical immediacy of being with one's 'source', subjectivity and the body. Insofar as their work is assumed to produce mechanical-like fidelity, interpreters are often compared to machines. Working within a global bureaucracy that values transparency and unmediated evidence, interpreters necessarily become invisible, a part of the broader infrastructural apparatus of the UN, even as their work is essential to realizing the international goals of the organization.