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The Phenomenology of Business

The other day I received a marketing e-mail from an old comrade out of university days, Alan Rae, of Punch Above Your Weight. Alan now works as a consultant to small businesses, analysing how they do or can grow. One of the key points in the mail was the difference between demand-limited businesses, which are therefore scalable, and production-limited businesses, which are not. For the first business, if you get more demand you source more product, whereas in the second case once you’ve sold it you sold it. Clearly, these types of business need different marketing strategies. The message continued:

It’s local vs national that makes the difference. A local business can get its leads by networking locally. But a national business benefits from the extra reach and randomness that online working gives you.

The comment I send back was that “In many cases, no doubt. But in my case, it’s hard to be more international, yet I am entirely supply-limited. Once I’m booked, I’m booked, and outsourcing would be extremely unprofessional”, to which Alan replied (tongue in cheek, I assume) that I am therefore officially a “gifted amateur”.


By implication, freelance translators in general are “gifted amateurs”, a label that we might not all be happy with. (Yes, yes, I could say “a label with which we might not all be happy”. But I won’t.)

It struck me that this kind of misjudgement happens most easily when we try to analyze a field by sheer conceptual juggling, rather than referring to the phenomena that are out there. As the word “phenomenological” crossed my mind, I was further struck by the parallel with the shift from “comparative religion” to “phenomenology of religion”. Those of you who are not familiar with the field may think that “comparative religion” is an innocuous enough term. It might suggest an earnest, open-minded seeker with a clipboard and a checklist (with the results stored, no doubt, in an Excel file), noting that the Woobalists believe in Blongtarraby, while the breakaway Darishnymites assert that Blongtarraby should really be called Longbartnabing. Interesting stuff, eh? The fact is, however, that “comparative religion” got a bad name as it came to be associated with the almost Victorian notion that one could begin with a preconceived hierarchy, into which discoveries could be fitted as they were made. And yes, the top of the pyramid was monotheism, even “triune monotheism” – wouldn’t you just know it! The “phenomenology of religion” was intended to counter this thinking by putting the central focus on religious phenomena, whatever they may be, and only on that basis proceeding to look for underlying patterns or structures.

Well, academics have to make their living out of this, so the whole field is of course complex and subtle, but I am asking Alan to comment on my suggestion that the problem with his chart is a result of working from preconceived notions rather than from business phenomena.