WHAT IS GAINED AND LOST IN TRANSLATION? PART 4

View aboard WetLand, one of PPEH’s place-based projects, at Bartram’s Garden, Philadelphia (Photo credit: Gerardo Cedillo-Servin)

View aboard WetLand, one of PPEH’s place-based projects, at Bartram’s Garden, Philadelphia (Photo credit: Gerardo Cedillo-Servin)

THE PLACE OF TRANSLATION

KEVIN BURKE & GERARDO CEDILLO–SERVIN

Thinking through the question of finding a common language for interdisciplinary research recalled this line from Paul Rabinow: "No consensus has ever been reached about the principles, methods, and modes of problem specification, or about the modes, methods, and principles of verification, or about forms of narration in the human sciences" (2003, pg 4). This is clearly true for the humanities as well as the "human sciences", but is there something that unifies all of the diverse strands especially when the humanities is qualified as environmental?  Should we even be looking for an underlying unity beneath the heterogeneity that exists within the humanities? How can we avoid disciplinary solipsism?  

As some PPEH fellows have pointed out in previous installments of this blog series, finding a common language and avoiding loss-in-translation are major obstacles in conversations not only among researchers across disciplines, but also with a general public. Thus, we ask, what tactics for cross-disciplinary communication can scholars develop, given that there is already an underlying commonality: an interest in real-world environmental issues? Parallel to Akudo Ejelonu and Gregory Koutnik’s proposal of the real world as a common language, here we want to briefly outline an approach to igniting exchange and bypassing loss-in-translation: place-based research.

A key challenge in scholarly communication is to engage the interlocutor and make more intelligible the relevance and stakes of a particular body of work. A place, a landscape, or a region can become a site for cross-disciplinary encounters, a node where diverse groups of scholars and theoretical frameworks come together and address issues layered and entangled across the site. The place lends itself to multiple readings, dissections, and connections, while it operates as a material, spatial anchor that underscores the urgency of research- and field-based work about a specific territory, as illustrated in the term ‘sacrificial landscape,’ coined by environmental historian Brian Black to denote a land that must be degraded so that other industrial, urban, or economic developments can flourish.

Through the lens of sacrificial landscapes, place-based research thus merges field studies and academic work. The site becomes the common language among researchers and audiences, all of which are deeply invested in the parsing and bettering of the host landscape that functions as a platform for research and public education.