Vulnerability, moral concepts, and ethics in interpreting

Xiaohui Yuan


While many studies have been conducted to investigate types of role that interpreters take on to represent and advocate for vulnerable populations, interpreters’ vulnerability and its source in this particular type of encounter are rather under-explored. Interpreting for vulnerable populations is conceptualised in this study as a distinct communicative context riddled with institutional, knowledge, and power politics that gives rise to emotive, nuanced, and subjective moral judgements on the obligation of care. Drawing from theories in vulnerability studies and from moral concepts, and employing the interpretative phenomenological analysis (IPA) methodology, the author, with three professional public service interpreters, explores the key factors contributing to their situational vulnerability, the driving forces motivating their decision to support agency, the adverse effects on the interpreters attributed to the situational vulnerability of moral distress, and how to recontextualise ethics guiding interpreting for vulnerable populations. This constitutes the first study theorising the public service interpreter’s situational vulnerability, and how interpreters’ decisions are influenced by the interdependency between facets of vulnerability and moral concepts.


vulnerability; moral obligation of care; moral self; moral distress; interpreting for vulnerable populations; interpreting ethics

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