The purpose of the book is to contribute to a text theory which might enrich the study of sakprosa texts. Within the field of applied linguistics, there are several important strands of theory. In the tradition of genre studies, Miller (1984), in a seminal paper, argues for an understanding of genre as social action. Or simply put, genre is to do something when language is used to achieve tasks and purposes. The discussion on genre is ongoing, and important contributions have been made, for example, by Berge and Ledin (2001) who discuss the relation between genre and context of situation, as well as the relation between genre and other concepts for text categorization, such as discourse and order of discourse. A different approach to genre is held by Bhatia, who focuses on genres in workplace settings and aims at exploring the professional space (2004). In his recent works, Bhatia takes this a step further with the notion Critical Genre Analysis which aims at an understanding of genres in professional communication as the “demystification of professional practice through the medium of genres” (Bhatia 2017: 9). The adjective critical emphasizes an unbiased understanding of the professional setting and the texts, being critical to the analyst’s own preunderstanding of the genre. This means moving beyond Bhatia’s background as linguist, leading to a view where the texts and the genres must be interpreted with lenses and tools not only from applied linguistics but also from any discipline with an interest in a certain field, such as communication, ethnology, rhetoric, education and business administration.

In our post-modern world, where working life as well as public discourse move out of offices (and into homes), across national and regional boundaries and through different sets of activities and organizations, the universe of texts is ever-changing. Types of texts and genres evolve, develop and fade away. Previously solid genre boundaries are dissolved, giving room to infotainment and mockumentaries. Political debate is moving into social media, making the distinction between public and private even more blurry. In working life, orders of power are reorganized into neo-bureaucratic structures where strategic plans, value statements and software for self-reporting play important parts. In the field of text and genre research, the ongoing changes of texts and text patterns have been closely followed by a likewise rapidly growing field of research traditions.

Within the vast fields of (linguistic) research that focus their interest on text and text patterns in our societies, different traditions have emerged, nourished by the international field. This volume is devoted to one such particular tradition, namely the Nordic tradition of sakprosa studies and its interest in the texts that manage complex content in our societies.Footnote 1 Since 2009, the journal Sakprosa—a Nordic publication based in Oslo—has been publishing articles on different aspects of applied linguistics, rhetoric, textual studies, discourse analysis, literature studies, educational studies, communication and adjoining disciplines. Articles may be published in any Scandinavian language (Danish, Norwegian and Swedish) or in English and to date 90 articles have been published, accessbile for a wide audience thanks to abstracts in English. The journal stands an important site for the publication of sakprosa studies, with Johan Tønnesson (see “Concluding Remarks: The Power and Potential of the Concept Sakprosa (CPS): A Guided Tour Through Five Topoi” chapter in this volume) as its editor. The scope of interest can be illustrated by the contributions to Sakprosa in 2022—social workers’ digital interactions with clients as well as travelogues on Samí in early indigenous tourism. This volume would hardly be possible without the foundation laid by this journal. In the following section, we will discuss and motivate the choice of using the notion sakprosa for this research strand.

The presentation of Nordic research in this book is in some ways connected to a Finnish initiative to form a more cohesive sakprosa research environment for Nordic researchers across national boundaries. In 2017, the Finnish researcher Pirjo Hiidenmaa initiated a research network with colleagues from Denmark, Norway and Finland. Through funding from the Joint Committee for Nordic Research councils in the Humanities and Social Sciences (NOS-HS), the network organized a series of workshops for doctoral students and supervisors. Over a period of two years, topics like the development and challenges of Nordic book cultures, the reading of non-fiction and the changes of text and their ecology, were discussed at workshops in the four countries. As an outcome of these discussions, a paper on the relation between sakprosa studies and research on multimodality was published (Ledin et al. 2019). The idea of presenting some of the Nordic research for a wider international audience was first discussed within this research network, and this book is one of the results of that discussion.

Above we have sketched a very short background to some of the important international research strands that sakprosa both builds on and is part of. We have also begun to outline the unique Nordic context of sakprosa studies built on the research milieus connected to sakprosa as an independent discipline both in Norway and in Finland, and in Sweden from 2023 when the first full professor in sakprosa will take office, with an emphasis on the esthetic perspective of sakprosa texts and sakprosa writing. This will add a new perspective to the Swedish sakprosa research within different disciplines since the 1990s. Before we move on to a more in-depth description of the Nordic tradition, we will dwell on a couple of key concepts for sakprosa studies.

Truth and Reality: Pivotal for the Concept Sakprosa

Many of the texts that surround our everyday lives have one thing in common, despite their variation in format and media, and that is the focus on the factual content. In the words of Johan Tønnesson, sakprosa are “texts that the addressee has reasons to perceive as direct utterances about reality” (“Concluding Remarks: The Power and Potential of the Concept Sakprosa (CPS): A Guided Tour Through Five Topoi” chapter, this volume). Smith (1999) considers texts as accounts being central to the construction of social facts. Adopting a rhetorical perspective, she points to the mediating role of the text in the production and reception of ‘factual’ accounts, and between the actual and the virtual. The dynamics between ‘what happened/what is’ provides the text a role as stand-in for what happened. This points to two other roles texts as factual accounts may have. First, we will mention the role of the text as an artefact or rather a boundary object in institutional and professional contexts. Second, texts are text events situated in communicative activities and encounters where texts and other artefacts are produced, used, consumed and transformed. One possible approach to such texts is to view them from a discourse point of view where the fact, or the truthful relation of events or matters, is in focus. Karlsson and Landqvist (2018), in the journal Sakprosa, take the doctor-patient conversation as an example. Such a conversation might oscillate between facts and feelings, but the goal of the conversation is to reach a point where a doctor can make a decision, based on facts, and the patient can leave the room feeling informed. The interplay between text and talk in medical encounters could also come across as a way of inviting the non-professional to take part in the production of a text. Sterponi et al. (2017), for instance, find that texts in face-to-face encounters foster the patient’s participation, for example, when physicians place the text so that the patient can see them, reading aloud and explaining the test results.

Starting from such a discourse perspective on what we might refer to as factual texts, this book attempts to capture and present a selection of research from the Nordic countries. From different perspectives, the six chapters problematize the nature of texts inviting factual reading. What all the chapters have in common is that they are united by the Nordic tradition of referring to this group of texts as sakprosa. The word sakprosa is a compound noun, analogue to the German word Sachprosa, where the first part sak is a rather polysemic word which means ‘thing’ (or ‘issue’, ‘case’, ‘subject’) and the second part means ‘prose’. Thus the literal meaning is prose (texts) about things. The term was first coined by the Finnish linguist Pipping in 1938, to define a particular type of style. There are a few different possible translations into English of the term. Common translations are non-fictional prose, subject-oriented texts or subject-oriented prose as well as non-literary prose. The choice of translation obviously highlights which aspect of sakprosa is in focus in the study at hand. Subject-oriented prose might be the preferred translation if you focus on the content of the text, while non-fictional prose emphasizes the role-relationship between writer and reader. Another possible translation would be professional communication, emphasizing the professional setting and role and perspective of an authority, corporation or other organization. Translating sakprosa into professional communication would mean a new way of translating the notion, combining the content perspective with the role-relationship perspective. One disadvantage would be that the notion of professional communication excludes non-professional communication such as citizen posts in social media on decisions of authorities, private economy, job market or individual text messages from a friend to another on, for example, upbringing of children. Another important dimension to consider is public communication (such as many posts in social media made by organizations or individuals) or private communication (such as some posts in social media made by individuals or text messages between two individuals). The conclusion of this account of possible translations is that sakprosa is the most encompassing notion even though it is not a word easy to pronounce in English. We consider it as a recent loan word into English such as smorgasbord and ombudsman! (Compare Johan Tønnesson’s concluding remarks in “Concluding Remarks: The Power and Potential of the Concept Sakprosa (CPS): A Guided Tour Through Five Topoi” chapter in this volume.) Rather than using a variation in terminology, we have chosen to use the word sakprosa throughout this book. This means of course that a non-English word occurs regularly in the chapters of the book.Footnote 2

Text, Context, Genre and Discourse: A Practice Perspective on Sakprosa Texts

Genre, as already touched upon, is an important notion in rhetoric, originating in Aristoteles speech genres. It has always been a foundational concept in literary studies. Until the 1980s, the notion of genre was mainly used in rhetoric and for defining, sorting and interpreting literary texts with the overarching genres of epic, lyric and drama. Following Bakhtin (1986), the dialogic nature of genres has the consequence that most non-trivial utterances have no complete, finalized interpretations as they connect to previous utterances in the same and other genres. Because of this, intertextuality is a fundamental concept. However, for mostly practical reasons, utterances, discourses and texts are given more definite structures such as opening or closing, a “monologising” aspect (Bakhtin 1986). Bakhtin’s approach is often referred to as dialogicity which incorporates both intertextuality and voices. This dynamic nature of genres also touches upon the interplay between inner dialogue and outer dialogue when capturing a voice: “One’s own discourse is gradually and slowly wrought out of others’ words that have been acknowledged and assimilated, and the boundaries between the two are at first scarcely perceptible” (Bachtin 1981: 345).

Today, genre is at use in various disciplines. We connect to the definition of Bhatia (2004: xiv): “Genres are recognizable communicative events, characterized by a set of communicative purposes identified and mutually understood by members of the professional or academic community in which they regularly occur.” This definition underlines an interest for sakprosa with professional community in focus. Within a certain professional community, various genres are used as in journalism where two overarching genres (with many subgenres) are news and background (Grunwald 2004). A profession or a professional community shares communicative goals. This shared interest is the fundamental prerequisite for a discourse community. The discourse communities of journalism, child care, education, research, business, all contribute to sakprosa production from different points of interests, for various purposes and in various genres. What the sakprosa texts emanating from these communities have in common is the purpose to be used, to be read and to do something. There are certain mutual expectations of the role-relationship between an authority and the citizens but these are under constant transition. Even though genres not only link people to certain discourse communities or text cultures, they also recognize certain types of texts as genres linked to institutional power. Also, the texts must be true, trustworthy and useful as they are tools, for example, applying for parental benefit or for a course at university.

A Comment on Language Policy

As already mentioned, sakprosa is not an easy word to translate. In all translations, certain aspects of the word in the source language get lost. Most clearly the embeddedness in the cultural context is difficult to translate. Sakprosa, in the Nordic context, is not only related to a field of research but is also part of our everyday vocabulary, used, for example, when people look for a certain type of texts in book shops or libraries. It could also be seen as a way to state what is not the centre of interest, not fictional prose, rather prose with certain truth ambitions on the issues and themes dealt with. In other words, sakprosa can be a signal that the texts typically do not belong to literary genres such as novels or poems. For researchers then, it is a vital discussion to relate the academic understanding to the non-academic and if possibly keep the relation between them. But the academic community in the Nordic countries is, increasingly, English-speaking. We are recommended to write papers in English, most teaching material at universities—at least beyond first-cycle studies—are in English, and discussions of theory and method tend to be heavily influenced by English concepts. There are things to be gained in this process, but there are also things to be lost.

What we gain in using more and more English in research and higher education is of course a closer connection to the international research communities. It is easier to spread and discuss research results and we, as researchers using English as a second language, can both contribute to the international scene, and take advantage of progress that is made. Negative side effects, however, might be exactly the difficulty to communicate our discourse studies which the current case of sakprosa illustrates. An obvious advantage when we use vernacular words as technical terms is that the connotation of the word is richer, and that it is easier to communicate and translate research to a wider public.

In the case of sakprosa, connotations for Scandinavian speakers include a close relationship between sakprosa, citizenship and the welfare state. As can be seen from some of the chapters in this book, sakprosa often refers to communication where public authorities play a part. Scandinavians are used to being addressed by authorities and to demand from authorities to make an effort to communicate in a way that citizens will understand. The chapters by Almström Persson and Andersen in this volume highlight those aspects. It is also a part of democratic tradition in Scandinavian countries that literacy and citizen participation walk hand in hand. This tradition forms an important background to the educational project in focus of the chapter by Brinch and Nergaard.

Thus, choosing a Scandinavian word in this book is more than language policy. Somewhere between using only English and using only one of the official languages in our country, we need to find our footing and discuss if and how we may translate terms into English and bring them into the international discussion, as well as how we from our traditions may position ourselves in the wider field of discourse studies. As the reference lists of the chapters in this book indicate, many research publications on sakprosa studies are in Danish, Swedish, Norwegian or Finnish. Thus, this volume is one step on the way to communicate this research to a wider audience.

The Nordic Research Tradition

In Nordic research on sakprosa, there is a tradition of noticing texts that allow us to achieve actions in everyday life. When Swedish workers began to organize themselves in unions during the late nineteenth century, one important part of their struggle was to learn and master the genres of society and political organization. They wanted to earn their place in legislative and decision-making bodies by mastering pivotal texts and genres. The access to, and understanding of, discursive tools thus played a major part in their access to power. Parts of the workers’ development and the simultaneously ongoing change of Swedish language and textual landscape was depicted in a Swedish research project in the early 1990s (Josephson 1996). The research project made an important contribution to our understanding of the relation between language, text, and power in recent Scandinavian history and is a contribution to the Nordic research on sakprosa texts. In this research project, embedded in the framework of ethnography of communication, studying emerging literacies, the term sakprosa is used to refer to the many different types of written texts that the workers approached and learned: pamphlets, minutes from meetings and different types of newspaper articles. But the concept sakprosa in this project is also used when style is discussed, so the style of Swedish (and Norwegian) sakprosa around 1850 is described as influenced by officialese with heavy syntactic constructions (Josephson 1996: 14). This means that sakprosa was defined both from a perspective of the text content and from a stylistic perspective.

Thematically related to the research project on the Swedish labour movement is the recent and critically acclaimed Norwegian book on rhetorical power during a 100-year period, Komme til orde. Politisk kommunikasjon 1814–1913 [To Have Your Say. Political Communication 1814–1913] (Johansen 2019). The author, Anders Johansen, studies changes in freedom of speech and the right to vote in Norway from 1814 to 1913, and through those lenses observes the development of a new or changing society. The book stands witness to the fact that the theme of democracy and of the strive for different groups to find a voice in society runs through the tradition of Nordic sakprosa research.

Different research projects have made sakprosa more explicitly the object of study and scrutiny. The earliest of those projects was Norwegian and was carried out in the mid-1990s (1994–1998, cf. Brinch and Nergaard in this volume). It resulted, among other publications, in two volumes titled Norsk litteraturhistorie. Sakprosa fra 1750 til 1995 [Norwegian history of literature. Sakprosa from 1750 to 1995] (Johnsen and Berg Eriksen 1998). In another Norwegian research project (2000–2003), which evolved partly from the earlier project, context played an important role, and Berge (2001) mentions the cultural contexts, the institutions and the activities where texts are created as points of interest (p. 19). Instead of searching for text structures that may define text as sakprosa or not, the research environment aimed at understanding the sites of activity where the texts that “we in our culture refer to as sakprosa” are created (editors’ translation, p. 19). Cultural embeddedness thus plays an important part here.

A Swedish sakprosa research project, in some ways inspired by the first Norwegian project, started in 1996 and aimed at studying what was referred to as “the most read texts” in Sweden, from 1750 and into our own time (Englund and Ledin 2003). “The most read texts” was one way of describing the texts defined as sakprosa, and the project came to deal with a wide variety of texts such as press texts of different kinds, newspapers and magazines; texts from political and religious meetings, both minutes and announcements; and educational texts from school settings and mass education. Theoretically, the Swedish research project on sakprosa was based on discourse analysis and genre analysis, contributing a great deal to the establishment of a Swedish tradition of text and discourse analysis from various methodological and disciplinary perspectives, in close connection to the international field of discourse studies.

A difference between the Scandinavian research projects dedicated to sakprosa was the cultural status of the texts studied, where the Norwegian projects included a wider scope of texts, genres and text cultures, also dealing with the culturally prestigious texts. More important, however, are the similarities and the important contributions of these projects to a better understanding of the history and uses of texts within the respective countries. The research projects on sakprosa in Sweden and Norway have contributed to a theoretical understanding of the concept, as well as to the development of relevant methodological frameworks, in line with the international research field of applied linguistics but also connecting to rhetoric, text history, text linguistics and semiotics. However, theoretical foundations for research on sakprosa, as well as methodological issues, need to be constantly open for discussion and examined, because as society changes, also text cultures change. An updated understanding of text must, therefore, include different formats (tables, matrixes and plain text), different publication channels (web, paper), different media (TV, radio, newspaper, social media) and above all—different modalities (oral, written, pictorial). The obvious should be underlined—that there are infinite ways of combining in and between formats, channels, media and modalities. The diversity of aspects included in the concept text is a richness but also poses a challenge for the analyst: how do we capture all the texts that surround and, indeed, form the base of professional life, in terms of genres, modes or types of texts?

The Chapters in This Volume

The six chapters of this book bring forth different aspects of the concept sakprosa. In the first article, Kjell Lars Berge and Per Ledin initiate a critical understanding of the text theoretical framework of Scandinavian research on sakprosa. Subsequently, they present a text theory used in a number of Scandinavian sakprosa studies (cf. Berge 2007; Ledin 2013). Based on discussions in semiotics, dialogism, literacy studies and text linguistics on how the phenomenon “text” should be defined and studied, they present a theory of the “text” understood as a cultural artefact. This implies that any text should be defined as a semiotically mediated utterance that competent participants in a specific text culture assigns a specific cultural value. For instance, in the text culture journalism, the text norm constituting this specific semiotic domain qualifies what utterances may be written and read as ‘investigations’, ‘news’, ‘reviews’, ‘columns’ and ‘features’. Consequently, the field of sakprosa should be understood as a dynamic and complex collection of different text cultures.

The Finnish researchers Merja Koskela, Mona Enell-Nilsson and Cecilia Hjerppe present a study of an emerging genre, the CSR-reporting from Finnish companies. This genre is emerging as a result of changing conditions in society and business enterprise, and the study—performed in line with the traditions of genre studies—is one example of how studies on sakprosa can be performed in today’s society and contribute to a better understanding of today’s complex and multifaceted text universe.

In the following paper, the Danish researcher Jack Andersen delves into the fundamental changes of sakprosa culture that the digitizing of communication has brought. This change concerns not only the modes of communication, but digital media is understood here as a socio-material condition for access to and circulation of sakprosa texts, or subject-oriented prose. Focusing on two real-life examples, the Danish website for information to citizens and a website of a publishing house, Andersen shows that not least the roles of participants going into communication have changed under these new socio-material conditions.

The Norwegian researchers Iben Brinch and Siri Nergaard take the unique position for sakprosa in Norway as a starting point for a study of a master programme for sakprosa writing. Such a programme is in itself part of a framework where three Norwegian universities have professorships in sakprosa, with institutional support from a freestanding organization of writers. A short presentation of this situation is given in the paper, as a background to their study focusing on how the programme shapes students to be sheep, watch dogs or wolves in relation to the sakprosa culture.

The Swedish researcher Gunilla Almström Persson contributes with a study of the use of social media for the distribution of crisis information from a public authority, connecting to Andersen’s discussion. The study compares the rapid flow of information on Twitter with later updates on the authority’s website and can confirm Andersen’s view of the communicative landscape as significantly changed as a result of digital media practices.

The final chapter is a concluding summary where Johan Tønnesson visits all the papers and reflects on their contributions to the field of sakprosa studies. The summary connects to the thoughts touched upon here and continues the discussion on truth, genre and choice of notions for sakprosa studies.