Guest editorial: When intercultural communication meets translation studies: divergent experiences in qualitative inquiries

Narongdej Phanthaphoommee (Research Institute for Languages and Cultures of Asia, Mahidol University, Salaya, Thailand)
Nuntiya Doungphummes (Research Institute for Languages and Cultures of Asia, Mahidol University, Salaya, Thailand)

Qualitative Research Journal

ISSN: 1443-9883

Article publication date: 20 March 2024

Issue publication date: 20 March 2024



Phanthaphoommee, N. and Doungphummes, N. (2024), "Guest editorial: When intercultural communication meets translation studies: divergent experiences in qualitative inquiries", Qualitative Research Journal, Vol. 24 No. 2, pp. 93-100.



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2024, Emerald Publishing Limited

Communication serves multiple purposes, ranging from establishing connections to ensuring survival. It plays an important role in the formation and maintenance of particular beliefs within a certain community. Communication between cultures gains relevance in this regard. It entails the exchange of viewpoints and ideas among people of different backgrounds, each adhering to the socio-cultural norms of the interlocutors’ respective cultures. Language undeniably serves as a fundamental conduit by which people engage with and traverse social customs, which strengthens an indispensable position in both intercultural understanding and interactions (House, 2019). It is obvious that translation for or within intercultural communication emerges when people from all walks of life connect with one another and exchange information through translation in various contexts. Given that origin and target audiences are bound to be from different cultures, it stands to reason that translation is also an intercultural phenomenon or a form of cross-cultural exchange.

The convergence of translation and intercultural communication studies embodies the cultural turn of translation studies in the 1980s (e.g. Bassnett, 2003; Snell-Hornby, 2009), which can be observed in research domains as diverse as politics, journalism, advertising, multimodality or ethics. According to Bennett (2013), intercultural communication is the study of communication across cultural contexts addressing both domestic and international cultural differences, whereas translation focuses on a specific type of professionally facilitated communication (Schäffner, 2003). Zanettin et al. (2015) conducted a bibliographic study on translation studies research and found that the notion of cultural translation presents a significant challenge, for it enables an examination of the relationship between translation studies and intercultural communication. In fact, scholars of both intercultural communication and translation studies have long focused on how these overlapping ideas serve as the primary motivation for and critical factors in successful language-related activities, such as intercultural awareness in healthcare research (Lê, 2008), translational action (Buhrig et al., 2014), intercultural competence in translator training (Tomozeiu et al., 2016), translation as conduit for fake news (Phanthaphoommee, 2023), the changing role of translation and intercultural communication in the digital age (Cronin, 2012; O’Hagan, 2015), mediation for the self and others (Liddicoat, 2016), migration and public service interpreting/translation (Valero-Garcés, 2019; Techawongstien and Phanthaphoommee, 2022), audiovisual translation as intercultural mediation (Guillot and Pavesi, 2019), local online activism for global audience (Doungphummes et al., 2023; Phanthaphoommee et al., 2023), legal translation (Bowen, 2021), the revisited concept of intercultural mediation (Taibi, 2022), to name but a few.

However, the root-sharing methodology between these paradigms appears to have received less attention. In response to today’s world of possible misunderstandings and the post-truth that language and communication play a prominent role, this special issue encourages the exploration of the converging territories to provide any insight into theoretical understandings through specific case studies of intercultural communication. Articles in this issue illustrate the adoption of a translation- or interpreting-related investigation for any intercultural communication study or any intercultural communication-informed method for analyzing the context of translation/interpreting that goes beyond language activities.

Taking on this journey, all articles in this special issue initiate a constructive dialog about the interdisciplinary essence within these two fields. They represent an exploration of communication practices and interpersonal modes that may exist centrally and peripherally within their respective fields. To achieve this goal, we begin by exploring the common themes in intercultural communication and translation studies with methodological discussions and various aspects of the current body of work on language and communication.

Interdisciplinary nature of the fields

As the ease of travel across borders and communication between people of diverse cultures continues to expand, it becomes clear that the idea of a unified social group that is impervious to external force and influence is unimaginable. This provides a chance for a thorough examination of the concept of ‘culture’, which not only serves to reduce the likelihood of perpetuating stereotypes but also promotes the appreciation of diverse outlooks that represent social groups’ verbal and nonverbal exchanges, perhaps with hopes of making them less rigid and structured so as to foster multiplicity, negotiation and continual change. According to House (2019, p. 3), translation can be viewed as a specific form of intercultural communication, often directed at cultivating intercultural understanding, for it holds value in helping communication between people who speak different tongues and belong to different cultures. This value lies in the accurate conveyance of messages between each interlocutor with diverse ways of life, which is even apparent, as Declercq and Federici (2020, p. 2) argue, in times of crisis because effective communication is a key aspect of cross-cultural interaction during emergencies and evolving crises. As such, translation serves the crucial purpose of smoothing different types of information exchange between societies. The availability of translations not only grants access to the cultural essence of communities but also promotes interaction and mutual enrichment that transcend geographic and language boundaries. Such ideas underscore the interdisciplinary nature of both intercultural communication and translation and interpreting studies.

Gentzler (2016), in fact, proposes a fundamental shift in how we think about translation. Instead of viewing it only as a transience, he views it as a cultural cornerstone for communication. This interpretation blurs the conventional lines between originals and translations, as well as the concepts of domestication and foreignization. Given the above assumption, the investigation conducted by translation studies and intercultural communication disciplines centers, indeed, on a common subject. However, the lack of engagement between the two reflects the limited collaboration, as each discipline applies its own methodological frameworks, often without connecting or discussing the results of their respective cases. In Rosa's (2023) view, it is helpful to enhance collaboration among different disciplines to engage in translation studies and aim for transdisciplinarity. Likewise, Munday and Vasserman (2022) point out that translation studies are inherently interdisciplinary or even multidisciplinary. They maintain that the field can thrive best when it promises collaboration across an array of domains for scrutiny and places itself at the intersection of other fields.

Intercultural communication, on the other hand, involves the identification of distinctions between cultures. One of its most recognizable frames of reference may be that of low- and high-context cultures, which explore non-verbal communication patterns across various national groups (Moon, 1996). Significant contributions to this field include Byram's (1997) consideration of intercultural communicative competence with specific context-dependent aspects focusing on the interconnection of cultural and linguistic competency and Kim's (2001) emphasis on transformative and adaptive aspects of an intercultural person with a functional and psychological orientation beyond national and ethnic limitations. Kim also highlights the function of interpersonal and social communication as a core competence conducive to the development of intercultural personhood, encompassing the interrelated patterns of individuation and universalization.

Basically, Schäffner (2003) points out a distinction between translation and intercultural communication by highlighting that translators often remain absent from communication contexts as their role is fulfilled through the translated text. Unlike translators, people engaged in intercultural communication actively participate in their roles and can assess feedback in a real-time manner. Indeed, translation studies and intercultural communication scholars explore many similar themes (Holliday et al., 2021), including identity, representation, power dynamics and discourse. The landscape of intercultural language work (also translation) often becomes even more widespread with the recent concept of superdiversity – the broad mix of languages, ethnicities and cultures within given societies and among their members (Blommaert, 2015).

In this light, we see that it is crucial to acknowledge and dissect modes of engagement and connection to expand the border of intercultural understanding beyond the translation/interpretation of relationships and social structures. The exploration, as with this special issue, can help us think critically about the pros and cons of numerous approaches to studying certain topics, such as the culturally responsive approach in intercultural communication and/or translation studies – an important part of a practice that involves human processes of growing and changing.

Engaging with current situations

The first group of scholars in this issue delves into the nuanced, contemporary aspects of diverse qualitative research approaches in activities inherently viewed as intercultural communication. These articles shed light on experiences in international business, video game localization and textual elements influencing political discourse, particularly in the increasingly intercultural spaces of Asia. In spite of their differences, these articles largely revolve around detailed accounts of moments when qualitative methods are applied to extract epistemological knowledge within respective contexts. All explore how these qualitative methods are subjectively understood and their connections to networking, power systems and the fusion of frameworks conveying messages across knowledge borders. This group of essays collectively reveals the intricacy at the intersection of translation studies and intercultural communication, thereby highlighting the contextuality and cultural specificity in each area while also outlining certain shared features of the cross-cultural exploration for truth. They illustrate that translation studies and intercultural communication can manifest themselves in various forms yet maintain their coherence, even as they are discussed in different manners.

“Towards a more balanced treatment of culture in international business using an ethnographic design: a multinational family business case study” is the first article in this group. Viktoriya Zipper-Weber and Andrea Mandik employ a qualitative research design to investigate family business with a focus on the positive interactions of multicultural, geographically dispersed groups in the contemporary context of globalization. The inquiry revolves around a highly successful family enterprise in Denmark that reveals intercultural dynamism in the form of competencies essential for productive collaboration. In their article, multiculturalism was re-evaluated as a ‘two-edged sword’ that underscores the benefits and difficulties of applying a mixed research approach. This article highlights the multinational family business as an exceptional case study that demonstrates a positive association between multiculturalism and organizational excellence. By giving a new model of dynamic capabilities in multicultural settings with geographical spread, they suggest using qualitative research methods to improve the efficiency of organizations by relying on existing resources and processes while also looking for new chances for small improvements. The authors draw attention to the feasibility of studying information exchanges virtually while also showing the advantage of valuable, intermittent in-person interactions in fostering trust within multicultural groups.

In her article, “Being on the inside: a research methodology for data collection within the inner circle of the domain of video game translation/localization in Thailand,” Koraya Techawongstien explores the present condition of the swiftly growing Thai video game industry using the netnography method. According to her, netnography facilitates more robust connections with the research sites during the data collection process, but managing the large amounts of collected data presents challenges in the digital and online domains, especially when considering ethical considerations within the intricacies of the internet. Although netnography is typically used in consumer and market research, this article shows how useful it is for understanding the essential dynamics of video game localization. The recommended data collection methods of the netnography method, especially the immersion phase, prove crucial in addressing the challenges of the online domain. The author maintains that becoming fully immersed in the domain helps researchers actively engage in a range of online activities to be collected as virtual data.

In the third article, Gritiya Rattanakantadilok’s “Animal Farm afterlife: epitextual values” offers a comprehensive analysis of how the media employ epitextual elements to make gains for political and commercial purposes. It looks at how epitext in digital spaces might have helped bring Orwell’s Animal Farm and its Thai (re)translations back to life and how epitext explains and attracts readers of digital news stories. She contends that the rivalry between Animal Farm retranslations in Thailand centers on epitextual elements, as opposed to the traditional focus on textual boundaries. The cases examined in this article are interculturally communicated by each web administrator who subscribes to a certain type of belief and is affiliated with a certain institution. This suggests that users of websites or people who consume news frequently can come across texts that have a range of carefully selected journalistic elements. In this sense, the epitext functions as an arena where political power struggles unfold and where news items execute a multitude of paratextual roles, including satire and informative marketing.

“A phenomenological study of university lecturers’ EFL teaching challenges in an Asian setting” by Marlon Sipe and Reynaldo Gacho Segumpan is the last one in this group. The authors used phenomenological inquiry with Zoom interviews to explore the direct experiences of five English university lecturers about their teaching experiences of English as a Foreign Language (EFL). By carefully investigating the real-life experiences of these teachers, the authors found that, because local students have different levels of English proficiency, teachers can face challenges in upholding their professional ethics, whereas the local students can also have a negative viewpoint on EFL per se. In Asia, problems that happen in the classes and in the organization as a whole have a direct effect on how well teachers perform their jobs. Added to this, there are more and more teachers in Asian universities who do not speak English as their first language, which makes their classroom experiences even more unique. The authors end with a proposal to apply an intercultural communication-informed research methodology to point out the need for policies and programs that assist EFL teachers in addressing socio-cultural and instructional issues.

This group of articles exhibits similarities in their implementation of techniques such as interviews, group discussions and paratextual analysis. However, they also showcase differences that vividly highlight the interdisciplinary nature of intercultural communication and translation studies. By identifying these differences, we can see how these fields have many unique uses and possibilities for methods that can go hand in hand. Among these pieces of writing, we can also see their relevance to the everyday lives of different people and cultures, their importance perceived in different circumstances and the complex network of people working on translation and intercultural communication.

Exploring new possibilities

Another group of scholars explores various ways to conceptualize approaches to translation studies and intercultural communication. Although their goals differ, they collectively investigate issues such as the role of Western researcher-educators in Asia, the value of mindfulness in research, the relationship between two unlikely groups and the importance of intercultural research collaboration. This group critically examines a wide range of methodological suggestions, placing a special focus on a thorough appraisal of interpersonal interactions with cultures at heart, private and communal experiences, as well as personal commitments.

In the first piece in this section, “Critical realism, ethnography and translations: an investigation into Japanese school,” Richard H. Derrah explains how critical realism can embrace a post-positivist ontological viewpoint with epistemological constructionism in exploring school space and its intercultural communication meanings. This article discusses the intangible nature of reality in an educational setting, emphasizing elements that are inherently difficult to quantify (physical dimensions and structure that tend to remain unaltered regardless of the observer’s temporal or spatial involvement). Although the fundamental reality of the school under his scrutiny is unchanged, the author contends that the observers actually shape this reality, and their perceptions of it may differ according to past experiences. Through an analysis of the lives and positions that teachers hold within the institution, the article underscores the researcher-educator’s roles in shaping how they perceive and come to terms with the reality in cross-cultural school. By immersing researchers in the school environment, the author, a Westerner living in Japan, further explains the possibility of gaining insights into Japanese cultures and provides a description of how critical realism influences the research methods and approach.

The article “Understanding communicative relationships between caregivers and foreign retirees: a diffractive vignettes approach” by Narongdej Phanthaphoommee and Sunida Siwapathomchai discusses the potential uses of diffractive reading to analyze human-to-human relationships and agent-related ad hoc translation and interpreting through vignettes. It demonstrates the importance of this novel methodology to decipher the complex and subtle connotations of commonplace items, thereby illuminating the communicative complexities that exist between Thai caregivers and foreign older adults. Sampling data for analyzing caregiving intra-actions was collected through casual conversations, observations and various artifacts. An account of situations was generated as a consequence of the synthesis of these components into an amalgam of possible communicative relationships. This unique approach hence presents advantages to caregivers, who also assume the role of ad hoc translators/interpreters, by creating a new way of data collection in intercultural communication and the ensuing interpretation of the gathered vignettes.

Nuntiya Doungphummes, Sirintorn Bhibulbhanuvat and Theeraphong Boonrugsa invite intercultural communication researchers to consider the difficulties they encounter when working with the vulnerable members of a given society. In their article, “Translating Buddhist mindfulness into action: engaging older Thai adults in participatory action research,” they discuss mindfulness that allows researchers to break down pre-existing participatory action research (PAR) mindsets and recreate a different means of ‘knowing’ that comes out of one’s lived experience. Using their own reflections on PAR projects in five different Thai schools for older people, they suggest a way for PAR researchers to step outside their academic comfort zone and into more contextualized forms of participation and collaboration. Using mindfulness in qualitative research methods challenges long-held Eurocentric ideas about how knowledge is constructed and studied, i.e. the idea that only academic expertise is valid knowledge. A change that may come from translating mindfulness to doing research with participatory action is thus one that centers on consciousness and contemplation.

Last but not least, Kwanchit Sasiwongsaroj, Mitsuko Ono, Sutpratana Duangkaew and Yumi Kimura present an account of intercultural collaboration in “Emic and etic perspectives in transnational migration research: methodological reflections of a cross-national research team.” It addresses the methodological issue of how a transnational research team can work together well in the field of migration research and refrain from being too ethnocentric. This article draws attention to the significance of the researchers’ cultural scripts in field entry and interviewing as cultural brokers, the project’s reliance on the particular culture and customs of the target population, the dynamic exchange between insiders and outsiders during interview sessions and the contribution of the cross-national team in preventing ethnocentric outcomes.

With an eye for the present and future nuances of local contexts, this group of articles underlines the prospects and advantages of conducting research within international agendas. Each author advocates for approaches when trying out creative novel methodologies, thereby encouraging readers to reflect on the complex characteristics of their respective circumstances. All authors in this section are interested in discovering how our understandings and conceptions of what may be called intercultural studies can connect with translation (interpreting) studies while also paying particular attention to the relevant domains of study and methodologies in contemporary contexts.

What stands out in each article of this special issue is the call for reflective reading while engaging in a hybrid nature of intercultural activities such as cross-border communication, interpreting mixed experiences and transcendent awareness of oneself and shared norms. All of these pieces of writing take a similar position; scholarly works in translation studies and intercultural communication can arise from practical needs yet continue to be spaces for aligning qualitative research methodologies.

By way of conclusion, we shall quote Ingold’s (2016) ‘lines’ that we believe best capture the mission of researchers of translation studies and intercultural communication alike in order to venture out in the world and find truth in the ‘line’ of human journeys and interactions. He wrote:

[C]reatures of all kinds, human and non-human, are wayfarers, and that wayfaring is a movement of self-renewal or becoming rather than transport of already constituted beings from one location to another. Making their ways through the table of the world, wayfarers grow into its fabric and contribute through their movements to its ever-evolving weave … it takes us back to the fundamental idea that life is lived not at points but along line (p. 119, emphasis in original)

Our collection of articles embodies, in our view, an endeavor to find the ‘trace’ of human movements and the imagined ‘line’ of interactions. The authors of this issue of Qualitative Research Journal can be wayfarers who aim to illustrate how the shared methodological foundation of translation and intercultural communication studies can help follow humans’ “lines” (with divergent viewpoints in qualitative methodologies) to offer potential insights into human communication and behaviors. We hope that in the future, researchers in the humanities, social sciences and other fields will include more subjective communication practices and relational experiences in their work, just as this issue tries to show how important it is to have a place to critically discuss various kinds of cross-cultural interactions that happen right now in our world of multiplicity.


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Further reading

Bassnett, S. and Johnston, D. (2019), “The outward turn in translation studies”, The Translator, Vol. 25 No. 3, pp. 181-188, doi: 10.1080/13556509.2019.1701228.

Hamaidia, L., Methven, S. and Woodin, J. (2018), “Translation spaces: parallel shifts in translation and intercultural communication studies and their significance for the international development field”, Translation Spaces, Vol. 7 No. 1, pp. 119-142, doi: 10.1075/ts.00007.ham.

About the authors

Narongdej Phanthaphoommee is Assistant Professor at Research Institute for languages and Cultures of Asia, Mahidol University. His research interests span the subject of translation studies, with a particular emphasis on ideology and political texts, translation and postcolonial literature and public service interpreting/translation.

Nuntiya Doungphummes received her Ph.D. in Journalism studies from Cardiff University, UK. Her scholarship focuses on issues of media literacy for elderly, intercultural communication competence and intercultural adaptation of migrants, sexual identity communication of LGBTQIA and health communication in communities. Her research has been cross-disciplinary involving communications and participatory action based research. Over the past five years, she has been working on promoting media literacy for Thai elderly through a culturally responsive designed-course.

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