Understanding Online Translation Communities as Communities of Practice: The Case of Yeeyan

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Abstract

This paper sets out to explore the conceptual possibilities of online translation communities, using the Chinese online translation community of Yeeyan as the case example. In this paper, I argue that approaching online translation communities under the theoretical framework of Communities of Practice (hereafter CoPs) (Wenger 1998) provides us with a useful theoretical and analytical perspective in examining not only these social aggregations of translators, but also the dynamic processes through which they are formed.

With the development of information and communication technologies and the ubiquity of participatory media platforms, an increasing number of self-selected individuals engage in existing online communities and/or establish their own groups for particular social agendas, contributing to the emergence of the new cultural logic of ‘media convergence’ (Jenkins 2004) in which both institutions and ordinary citizens play a role in the selection, production and (re)circulation of media content. Translation practices taking place in online translation communities are no exception and are essential in the formation of newly emergent online communities as well as the construction of (new) realities. Drawing on CoP theory, I shall analyze three aspects of the Yeeyan community: 1) Yeeyan’s participatory mechanism; 2) how this mechanism fosters community members’ participation in various activities; and 3) how, in turn, the members’ shared practices (which revolve around but are not limited to translation in its narrow sense) constantly stimulate the establishment of multiple sub-communities in Yeeyan. The notions of mutual engagement, joint enterprise and shared repertoire, which are the three dimensions of practice in CoPs, are applied to the theorization of the studied phenomena. My analysis reveals that Yeeyan is a broad CoP that consists of multiple sub-CoPs as a result of its members’ continuous mutual engagement in various community activities. While there is a joint enterprise (i.e. the negotiated collective goals, motivations and accountability shared by community members) in the broad CoP of Yeeyan, each sub-CoP also has its own enterprise that represents certain aspects of a participatory culture in the Chinese Internet. Throughout the experience of mutual engagement and the development of a joint enterprise, Yeeyan members exploit existing resources for participation and introduce new resources (i.e. shared repertoire) that contributes to the sustainability of the CoPs at different levels. Drawing on these findings, I conclude the paper by proposing a conceptual model that can be potentially applied to the description and theorization of other translation communities as well as the practices undertaken in those groups.

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