Translating Civil Law 'Objectivity' with an Adversarial Brain: An Ethnographic Perspective
19 Pages Posted: 10 Jan 2013 Last revised: 25 Jan 2013
Date Written: January 9, 2013
The act of translation encompasses more than the transfer of linguistic meaning. It also involves the transfer of larger cultural and epistemological meanings (Wolf, 2011). When legal texts are the object of translation, the process includes the “mechanism of the law” (Šarčević 2000:1). The role of a linguist and translation theory in this process is contested (Harvey 2002) as some scholars have argued that legal texts possess a unique communicative function often overlooked by linguists (Šarčević 2012:189). While legal scholars have questioned linguists’ claims to participate the law related interpretation process, this chapter sidesteps that debate (Poirier 1995: 1034). Instead I address the problems of subjectivity and interpretation that legal scholars themselves face as they attempt to analyze the role that law plays on unfamiliar turf. I identify and detail two challenges embedded in comparative legal jurisprudence. One stems the pitfalls that legal scholars encounter when they rely on legal texts as a source of understanding rather than investigating how the law actually functions on the ground. The second stems from the comparative legal scholar’s subjectivity.
In the field of comparative law, these "translation" errors as well as problems of subjectivity colored English-language scholarship regarding the objectivity of German prosecutors for several decades. I show how scholars' use of German codes as a proxy for German practice led scholars to claim that the German criminal justice system effectively controlled prosecutorial discretion. While new scholarship on German plea bargaining practices attempts to destroy the myth of limited discretion, it misses the role that organizational culture and training play in shaping decision-making processes. Drawing from my fieldwork in Germany, I use examples from my own experience to show the dangers of researcher subjectivity. The paper concludes with a call for further comparative research that goes beyond am examination of foreign texts and explores foreign legal practices.
Keywords: Comparative Law, Translation Studies, German Prosecutors, Subjectivity
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