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Ethics and crisis translation: insights from the work of Paul Ricoeur

Dónal P. O’Mathúna (School of Nursing, Psychotherapy and Community Health, Dublin City University, Dublin, Ireland) (College of Nursing, The Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio, USA)
Matthew R. Hunt (School of Physical and Occupational Therapy, McGill University, Montreal, Canada)

Disaster Prevention and Management

ISSN: 0965-3562

Article publication date: 9 October 2019

Issue publication date: 11 March 2020




The purpose of this paper is to explore the ethical dimensions of crisis translation through the lenses of Paul Ricoeur’s philosophical scholarship. In particular, his work on both translation and ethics will be examined in order to draw practical applications for those involved in humanitarian action.


The authors identified relevant themes in the work of renowned philosopher Paul Ricoeur and used philosophical analysis to apply them to ethical issues in crisis translation.


Paul Ricoeur was one of the leading philosophers in the twentieth century, writing on a wide variety of topics. From these, his work on translation and on ethics provided suitable ways to examine ethical issues in crisis translation. In particular, his concept of “linguistic hospitality” provides an important lens through which translation ethics can be examined. In addition, Ricoeur’s approach to ethics emphasised relational and justice dimensions which are crucial to examine in humanitarian settings.

Practical implications

While the findings are conceptual, they have many practical implications for how translation is approached in humanitarian crises. The focus on justice in Ricoeur’s approach has implications for policy and practice and serves to ensure that translation is available for all affected communities and that all groups are included in discussions around humanitarian responses.

Social implications

Ricoeur’s work provides important insights into both translation and ethics that have significant social implications. His ideas highlight the personal and emotional aspects of translation and ethics, and point to their relational character. His openness to others provides an important basis for building trust and promoting dignity even in difficult humanitarian settings.


Ricoeur’s ethics points to the importance of persons and their relationships, reminding responders that translation is not just a mechanical exercise. This approach fosters an interest in and openness to others and their languages, which can promote respect towards those being helped in humanitarian crises.



O’Mathúna, D.P. and Hunt, M.R. (2020), "Ethics and crisis translation: insights from the work of Paul Ricoeur", Disaster Prevention and Management, Vol. 29 No. 2, pp. 175-186.



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Copyright © 2019, Emerald Publishing Limited

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