Manchester Metropolitan University's Research Repository

    Learning to be a public service interpreter: boundaries, ethics and emotion in a marginal profession

    Guery, Frederique (2014) Learning to be a public service interpreter: boundaries, ethics and emotion in a marginal profession. Doctoral thesis (PhD), Manchester Metropolitan University.


    Available under License Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial No Derivatives.

    Download (2MB) | Preview


    Interpreting between peoples of different languages is an ancient practice, and one that has traditionally been viewed as fraught with ambiguities of trust, status, power and agency. In the last quarter of a century, both national and transnational governmental institutions have addressed particular concerns about interpreting for migrants using public services in their host countries. In order to remove the burden of responsibility for such interpreting from the children to whom it often fell, and in order to ensure social justice for migrants in access to services, considerable resources have been invested worldwide in creating professional infrastructures for public service interpreting (PSI), including training, qualifications and registration for specialist practitioners. This thesis investigates in depth, through the narratives of public service interpreters themselves, the complex nature of their work. It builds on previous critiques which have challenged the profession’s formal prescriptions of supposed ‘invisibility’, as if these practitioners were just ‘translating machines’ who do not participate in the social interactions they interpret. However, it also goes beyond existing research by drawing on the sociologies of professions and of workplace learning to highlight aspects of this work that have not hitherto been considered. The research was conducted within a critical interpretive paradigm that seeks to understand the relationship between the micro-level subjective experiences of individuals and macro-level institutional and structural factors. The data were generated through lengthy narrative interviews with 11 experienced public service interpreters in England, and analysed initially through open coding and then through a process of narrative synthesis. Key findings are that public service interpreters, in addition to their overt linguistic and cultural work, are also involved in three hidden forms of work: managing professional boundaries, which are frequently disrupted by public service providers and users; addressing unpredictable ethical challenges arising in those interactions; and performing a range of emotional labour. The formal training and rubrics of the public service interpreting profession appear inadequate for acknowledging or supporting these challenges in practice. The findings also point to the fragile professional status of public service interpreting in an increasingly hostile climate generated by political moves to restrict immigration and reduce public spending. The thesis makes a number of original and significant contributions to knowledge. It presents a fine-grained account of PSIs’ work from their own perspectives, which until now have remained underexplored. It focuses on three largely hidden aspects of their work: boundary work, ethics work, and emotional labour. It has demonstrated that these aspects not only constitute forms of work in themselves for PSIs, but also that they are thoroughly integrated, both together and with the more overt practices of public service interpreting. It locates these clearly in wider sets of social power relations, revealing that national and international policy-makers represent a fourth party in interpreted public service encounters. The thesis builds on and extends existing knowledge of this topic through an innovative interdisciplinary approach bringing together critical interpreting studies with sociological understandings of professions and of workplace learning; and offers a holistic synthesis of these perspectives, integrating them through the lens of Bourdieu’s theoretical framework. It ends with a series of recommendations for policy and practice to enhance the effectiveness of public service interpreting through a more comprehensive understanding of its practice.

    Impact and Reach


    Activity Overview
    6 month trend
    6 month trend

    Additional statistics for this dataset are available via IRStats2.

    Actions (login required)

    View Item View Item