FIRE-TI Conference Report

From 17 to 19 February 2022, the International Conference on Field Research on Translation and Interpreting: Practices, Processes, Networks (FIRE-TI) took place online, organised by the Socotrans (Sociocognitive Translation Studies) research group at the Centre for Translation Studies, University of Vienna. Due to the COVID pandemic, the conference turned out to be quite different than originally intended: After having already been postponed from 2021 to 2022, the format had to be changed from an on-site conference to an online event. This is not without a certain irony given that the conference theme had a lot to do with going in situ, but COVID left us little choice, and the online format did, in a way, reflect some of the challenges that field researchers are currently facing. At the same time, going online had the benefit of reaching a bigger audience: We were delighted to welcome more than 150 attendees in total.

Other things, however, did go as we had planned and wished for: The three conference days were full of enriching exchange, inspiring presentations, and lively discussions. The two keynotes by Kaisa Koskinen and Jemina Napier, the 50 talks given by 62 speakers, and all the questions and comments from the participants offered plenty of food for thought. We were particularly pleased to see a wide variety of perspectives – something that we had hoped for when preparing the initial Call for Papers. In our own research group, we have so far mostly focused on workplace and network research and sociocognitive aspects of translation, but we specifically wanted to extend the focus of the conference to include field research in other areas of Translation and Interpreting (T&I) Studies. This diversity found its way into the conference programme. Contributions covered both translation and interpreting and investigated different settings, from workplaces to semi-professional and non-professional contexts, both on-site and remote. Theoretical approaches were inspired by different (inter-)disciplinary backgrounds, from cognitive, sociological and anthropological to ergonomic perspectives. Moreover, we opted to apply a broad understanding of ‘field research’. Methods were not limited to traditional ethnographic instruments such as direct observation in the field, but also included survey and interview research or mixed method approaches. Research interests ranged from the description of detailed aspects of T&I activities via rich case studies in specific settings to large-scale studies tracing long-term developments in a certain sector. Some aimed to depict the empirical status quo, others proposed innovative theoretical or methodical avenues, others still developed models for practical or didactical purposes, and many posed self-reflexive questions regarding methodology.

Despite this variety, there was plenty of common ground. Indeed, self-reflexivity was an important glue that held the contributions together. Similar questions kept coming up throughout the conference regarding fundamental matters of field research as well as more practical concerns about methods, theories, and ethics. What is (not) a field? What is (not) field research? What are the possibilities and limitations of our approaches? How do we deal with data, with study participants, and with our own position? Independent of their specific backgrounds, many of the participating scholars showed interest in such issues and discussed them with great openness and honesty.

Without a doubt, there are many questions that remained open or only just emerged, and we are confident that they will fuel further research. It became very clear at the conference that field research in T&I has a promising future and that there is much potential yet to be explored. We hope that the FIRE-TI conference contributed to strengthening this emerging research community by creating a room for exchange that seemed overdue. Some of the participants were surprised that FIRE-TI was the first of its kind, and many concluded that it should not be the last. We were highly delighted to host this conference and would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who attended and made it so worthwhile and enjoyable.


Daniela Schlager