The chapter concerns a master’s programme in non-fiction writing as part of the development of the field of sakprosa (non-fiction) in Norway. The chapter is based on experience from teaching at a master’s programme in non-fiction writing (Master i faglitterær skriving) at the University of South-Eastern Norway 2007–2020. The programme developed along with the growing field of sakprosa in Norway, a field of institutions and actors from the traditional literary field as well as dedicated policy makers and academic scholars. Our claim is that the programme was embedded in the evolving episteme of sakprosa in Norway while teaching and practicing understandings of non-fiction. The chapter forms a case study of the programme in terms of its position in the literary, cultural and academic field of non-fiction. We explore the ideas and pedagogy adopting an ethnographic approach using our own experiences as teachers and administrators and by the analysis of student texts from the programme. The purpose is to clarify how the programme contributed to the development of the episteme of sakprosa and what kind of agents (or authors)—sheep, watch dogs and wolves—the programme has made for the greater field of non-fiction in Norway.
- Higher education
- Writing pedagogy
- Epistemic practice
- Rhetorical field method
- Nexus analysis
Introduction: Exploring a Master’s Programme in the Developing Knowledge Field
Non-fiction is central to the knowledge society because it is about dissemination of knowledge. To understand knowledge societies, we must understand knowledge practices, or epistemic practices, using a concept developed by Karin Knorr Cetina (Knorr Cetina 2001: 186). The epistemic perspective points to the “machineries of knowledge construction” and not just knowledge production (Knorr Cetina 2005: 68). In this chapter, we analyse the writing pedagogy and learning activities of a master’s programme in non-fiction writing as “epistemic practices” and as a “machinery” for knowledge production about non-fiction—or “sakprosa” as it is called in Norwegian.Footnote 1 Knorr Cetina’s conceptualization of epistemic practices are included in the concept of epistemic cultures, defining cultures of “knowledge settings” like this: “Epistemic cultures are cultures of creating and warranting knowledge” (Eriksson and Lindberg 2016; Knorr Cetina 2005: 67). Other theorists talk generally about social practice (Reckwitz 2020) as generating certain knowledge production and preferences for valorization of cultural products, Knorr Cetina’s conceptualization zooms in on how epistemic cultures function in such processes. As the discussion of the field of non-fiction writing will show, an original loose field of shared cultural-political interests in all non-fiction areas has developed with help from different organizations and institutions to also include academic agents and educational institutions. The growing epistemic culture and institutionalization has formed a named and recognized profession of the sakprosa writer (“sakprosaskribent”) or sakprosa author (“sakprosaforfatter”) and a space for the expansion of sakprosa (“non-fiction texts”). The purpose of the master’s programme was to educate agents for the field of non-fiction and citizens with the agency of writing non-fiction texts and critical evaluation of non-fiction in the greater knowledge society.
According to Knorr Cetina’s theory, it is the epistemic practices that make the cultures, which means that we can explore the epistemic cultures by investigating the epistemic practices. This points to analysing who, where, when and how people develop theories and central concepts and use them in rhetorical and social interactions in places and by material objects, as well as analysing the products that are made. In our analysis of the institutionalization of the concept of sakprosa in Norway, we will use Bourdieu’s field analysis of how human activities tend to organize in relatively autonomous fields of production. The perspective on cultural investigation calls for analysis of how institutions take form and how central concepts are developed and used. This again calls for text analysis of “objects” that are used and produced in terms of the epistemic practice, and for ethnographic methods of observation and participation along with a great deal of reflexivity from the researcher. We will get close to the epistemic practices of the knowledge culture of non-fiction by analysing the master of non-fiction writing by such ethnographic rhetorical methods (Brinch Jørgensen 2019; Middleton et al. 2015; Senda-Cook et al. 2019). Over time the nexus of epistemic practices will show the emerging, and ever-transforming, “epistementality” of the epistemic culture (Brinch Jørgensen 2021; Knorr Cetina 2005: 370; Scollon and Scollon 2004).
Due to the relation between epistemic culture as field and practice, we begin this chapter with a background description of the development of the field of sakprosa and the programme’s position within it. We continue with a discussion of the theoretical and methodological approaches we use in our case study with a special attention to theories that prepares for a study of the “nexus” of the practice that we discuss, and the “motives” we meet the students with introducing them to the epistemic practice. Further, we present the genre theory and genre didactics that is behind the architecture and learning practices before entering the analysis and discussion of the master’s programme as epistemic practice. First, we present the architecture of the master’s programme and the learning activities as successive processes; second, we analyse the learning processes through three steps tracing the formation of distinct roles of the student of non-fiction writing, which we have named sheep, watch dogs and wolves. (1) The sheep follow instruction and other’s example and participate in the non-fiction textual field according to the general and accepted standards, traditions and culture. (2) The watch dogs warrant the epistemic culture of sakprosa participating in interactions of feedback and criticism. (3) Finally, the wolves are agents that go their own ways, experimenting and crossing borders of genre, participating with a distinct voice of their own. The text corpus of the student texts that we analyse represent the progressive roles that they epitomize, thus representing most aspects of the pedagogy of the programme.
Background: The Epistemic Culture of sakprosa in Norway
The aim of educating sakprosa authors and actors is strictly connected to the wider cultural project that started in Norway in the 1990s aiming at giving more visibility, credibility and consideration to sakprosa authors and their texts, to compensate on the secondary and inferior consideration of non-fiction compared to fiction. Until then fiction writing occupied a “monopoly position” (Berg Eriksen 1995: 16) in the Norwegian literary field: only fiction texts were considered worth recognition, academic interest and research, as well as economical support.
The relatively strong position that sakprosa has achieved over the years in Norway, both inside and outside the universities, is mainly a result of the initiative and strong support of an important, and rich, institution working strategically and politically, namely the Norwegian organization of non-fiction authors and translators (Norsk faglitterær forfatter- og oversetterforening, NFFO). To straighten the position of non-fiction writers, and the prestige of their texts, NFFO has taken several initiatives such as creating scholarships, research projects, non-fiction literary prices, seminars and publications, contributing with financial investments. This has resulted in a progressively stronger institutionalization, also within academia, of the concept of sakprosa together with a wider attention and acknowledgment of texts belonging to that category. Advancing so strongly into the literary field, sakprosa engaged in a kind of competition with fiction, which we according to Bourdieu (1996) can define as a battle characterized by forces competing to achieve the power to define and create an autonomy in the cultural field. Today, as the institutionalization of sakprosa in many ways can be considered is a “success story”, we can recognize the existence of a relatively autonomous textual/literary fields which means that a battle has ceased to be as aggressive.
Two big research projects (Norsk sakprosa 1994–1998 and Norsk sakprosa 2000–2003) primarily financed by NFFO, and headed by emergent scholars, are the main initiatives that sign a turn for sakprosa as episteme. They produced a high number of publications, which framed what sakprosa is and what it wants to be in Norway. These projects have played a strong political role in confirming and consolidating the institutionalization of sakprosa and have in turn shaped the epistemic culture of sakprosa. Our master’s programme, which started in 2007, reflects these statements and was also founded to bring them forward in the practice field of non-fiction writing.
In this panorama it is essential to insist on the fact that much of the investment on the sake of sakprosa was addressed to the academy, aiming at introducing it in its curricula, as an academic subject, as a research field, again parallel to that of fiction. This is particularly relevant considering that non-fiction writers working outside academia compose the organization NFFO and that the origin of the organization is that of a kind of trade union whose primary aim is defending the interests of its members. This was at least its initial occupation, while today its area of interest and ambition is much wider. In what we may call a sakprosa project, which we also define as aiming at the constitution of an epistemic culture, we may argue that the trade union evolves from defending its members to defending a text type. Replacing the until then more frequently used term “faglitteratur”, sakprosa progressively positions itself as something new, which also implies a new perspective on non-fiction texts that in turn corresponds to higher consideration of them as texts, as valuable literature. To achieve this, getting access to the academic field is certainly among the most important steps in creating a central position for non-fiction in the greater knowledge society. Moreover, the development mirrors a trend of the knowledge society to use epistemic cultures in the definition of what is knowledge.
Another important investment on academia by NFFO consisted in financing a full professorship for three years at the three biggest universities of Norway. The master’s programme in non-fiction writing founded at University of South-Eastern Norway, in 2007, is another academic support of non-fiction partly financed by the same organization. The name of the programme does not involve the concept of sakprosa, but the broader concept “faglitterær” (literary non-fiction). The creation of the master’s programme in non-fiction writing can be considered as a kind of bridging between the greater field of non-fiction and the epistemic culture with a local and specific epistemic practice. Thus, the students were ideally seen as the future authors of a growing and expanding field of sakprosa. Professors as well as students that occupy this “new” field are all agents of a certain habitus that they both epitomize and produce according to a principle of circularity (Bourdieu 1996).
Introducing the study and analysis of non-fiction texts at the universities, providing them—thus implicitly—with equal consideration and prestige as fiction texts, represented an important part of what we can call a project of transforming the epistemic culture of sakprosa. This process was contributing to the very institutionalization of a field and the creation of what we have now defined as a new and progressive episteme. Positioning sakprosa so strongly, also at the universities and in education, is also to be considered as quite unique for Norway. The initiatives of creating new professor positions and university courses have of course been financially extremely expensive, an aspect that should not be underestimated and which invites to reflection on ideals about free research and knowledge, as well as it triggers questions of power relations. Which are the cultural, political and social impacts on a society’s cultural life and knowledge production when one institution has the economic power to introduce and support a new field of study, research and publications?
However, the positive effects the institutionalization has had for the development of a strong epistemic culture of sakprosa is unquestionable. One of the most important attainments is probably that of finally giving scholarly attention to the most common and numerous texts that surround our ordinary lives, the so-called hverdagstekster (ordinary life texts), or bureaucratic texts, or white books (Bjørkdahl 2018; Tønnesson 2012). In addition, this attention has generated research on important engines of the democracy.
On the other hand, from a theoretical point of view, institutionalizing sakprosa as a text type, and as an academic field of study and research (i.e., episteme), nevertheless, presents a few problematic questions. If a definition like that of sakprosa serves as a category to define the texts that certain authors write (products or objects) and thus support these texts’ authors accordingly, one can avoid dealing with theoretical questions with epistemological if not even ontological implications. However, as soon as we use that term to create a new academic topic, a new research field, or a new programme, we are obliged to define the term and its theoretic foundations, delimiting its range, deciding which texts are included in the category and which are not. How can we create such definitions without risking becoming essentialist? How can we include certain texts considering them as sakprosa, without excluding others as not belonging to the category without recognizing the risk of rigid fixity that it encompasses?
Kjell Lars Berge discusses exactly this in an article on the scientific study of sakprosa published in 2001, recognizing exactly the essentialist risk of considering and defining certain traits as proper to sakprosa, as if they were stable and universal, excluding automatically other traits. Nonetheless, the conceptualization of sakprosa that is dominating both inside and outside the academy is quite categorical, insisting almost exclusively on its direct relation to the reality. Johan L. Tønnesson, Norway’s first sakprosa professor, defines sakprosa as “texts that the addressee has reasons to consider as direct utterings on reality” (2012: 34), implying that fiction are texts in which the relation to reality, or the real world, is indirect. Tønnesson promoted this definition in his book, Hva er sakprosa, and it has become seminal and often it is used (improperly) as a measure for fixed genre definitions and distinctions.
It is precisely in this complex textual landscape of texts, categories, research and theories that our master’s programme positions itself. For us it has been a leading both epistemological as well as pedagogical challenge managing to create courses in sakprosa writing and authorship without operating with definitions and boundaries taken for granted. Insisting on the fact that genres and text types are cultural constructions and as such dynamic and changeable, we have tried to let our students explore and interrogate the possibilities of textual creations, experimenting genres. Our master’s programme stays somewhat in the middle of a tension between a category—that of sakprosa—which on the one hand wants to be recognized with a defined identity, and on the other strives to avoid rigid limitations and fixed genres for the texts that it wants to foster. The programme shows the true nature of any epistemic objects like “sakprosa”, trying not to be fixed but in continuous transformation (Knorr Cetina 2001). As will be clear from the analyses in the next paragraph, we try to have as few fixed a priori definitions of what a sakprosa text is and might be, letting the students explore and experiment around a theme or a genre, or both, to thus elaborate it and gradually define its language, its style, its voice, its proper genre.
Theories: Conceptualizations and Practicing of Genres
Determinations in a nexus of Practices
There are two main purposes of running the master’s programme: Graduating students and educate better non-fiction writers. The second purpose is a question of making/training a variety of authors serving different purposes in the cultural and epistemic field; agents for general participation, warranting of professions, and innovation, that we have named sheep, watch dogs and wolves. With what theories and methods can we explore how the pedagogy of the programme clears the way for this to happen? In an ethnographic rhetorical case study, one can follow the symbolic actions and search for repeating patterns of motives, and by that explore the “nexus” that over time will reveal some of the machineries of the rhetorical—or epistemic—practice and make the different types of agents (Brinch Jørgensen 2019, 2021; Scollon and Scollon 2004). The different forms of addressing the students intersect, the epistemic practices also overlap, and by that, the programme mirrors the nature of intersection and diversity and complexity of agents, actions and objects created in the greater field of non-fiction.
In an article on how Norwegian law students are “enrolled” in the expert culture that uses the method prescribed by Karin Knorr Cetina, namely an ethnographic method of observation and interview to grasp the epistemic practices (Jensen et al. 2015), a finding from the analysis of the architecture of the course and the teaching showed that
small and somewhat larger cycles of investigation and problem-solving become linked in productive ways and, through these connections, the students become introduced both to the local world of being a law student and to the wider epistemic machinery of the profession. However, the epistemic practices did not emerge from students’ work alone. Rather, these were mediated in significant ways by profession-specific tools, such as knowledge resources and methodological approaches, and were framed within the overall epistementality of the professional knowledge culture. (Jensen et al. 2015: 877)
In other words, the learning resources (or “knowledge resources”) and the teachers’ planning and actions had impact on the making of professionals as well. Not surprising, but important, because it points to the necessary method of ethnographic inquiry to understand how the epistemic practices (including use of tools (subject-object) and interactions (subject-subject, and the subject to itself or reflexivity)) form epistemic cultures. When we study the nexus of epistemic practices, we must consider that the materiality in form of things and places and the time (especially when it comes to the first ratio addressing the students as students) not just have impact on the practices but interact. This means that not just traditional learning recourses like the curriculum, books and articles together with instructive texts from the teachers are important study objects, but also the objects used like writing software and the places for writing (home, the café, the office, the library) and places for teaching and social interaction (auditoriums, the library, cantina, cafés, festivals). These recourses must be analysed together with the learning activities and social actions that supported the human relations. The switching between self-study/writing, collective discussions, writing groups and mingling is also a practice that counts as central for the epistemic culture of sakprosa. To make use of all learning resources, being able to navigate in this nexus of epistemic practices and transform it is the agency that is provided for the students according to the agent-scene ratio. It makes sense to conceptualize the agency aimed for as “transformative agency” (Lund and Vestøl 2020) because we took for granted that the students accepted the fluency of practices and knowledge presented to them and tried to make them capable of navigating in this epistemic culture.
We must mention the role of the teachers in the nexus of learning practices. Jensen et al. state the significant role of the teacher in their study when it comes to enrolment to a profession in higher education: “We suggest that being introduced to methodological principles to define, explore and solve legal problems in relation to various sources is a key mechanism for enrolment in the professional knowledge culture” (Jensen et al. 2015: 878; Nerland and Jensen 2012). The way of instruction, the teachers’ use of central concepts as sakprosa, and the teachers’ performance as authors and critics of non-fiction, together with the texts they produced themselves were not just contextual settings for the learning practices but learning recourses that contributed to educate the students for the epistemic culture of sakprosa. The teachers’ actions and engagement spanned contexts and time and created a mix of what Rachelle Esterhazy calls “epistemic and social relations” (Esterhazy 2019: 3): as epistemic relations the practices generated by the teachers relates to the greater cultural and epistemic field of sakprosa, and as social relations the participation of the writing teachers is part of the “relational-affective” that has proved to be as much important for the quality of the learning, despite of the programme or course (Esterhazy et al. 2020: 170). The master’s programme is with Mikael Bakhtin’s, terminology, polyphonic in that many voices join in the learning activities and speak through the participants and all the texts in the nexus of the practice. Anyway, it is the team of teachers that is the conductive power.
Genre Didactics: Rhetorical Genre and Dialogism
Central in the structure of the master’s programme was the genre. The methodological principles of understanding non-fiction were strongly connected to the activities of reading examples and writing in different genres, as well as the study of genre theory. As we have discussed in the paragraph on the field of sakprosa, the conceptualization of a new, or at least a revised genre was the driving machine behind the development of the field of non-fiction both as a cultural-literary field and as epistemic culture. Carolyn Miller writes about genre as the link between the actual objects like books and abstract, cultural structures and institutions (Miller 1994: 70). In her discussion of the knowledge objects, Karin Knorr Cetina (2001) says that we cannot understand the epistemic environment without understanding how the participating professionals relate to the epistemic objects. For the non-fiction writer/author or the academic scholar, the epistemic object is not that easy to define.
Since epistemic objects are always in the process of being materially defined, they continually acquire new properties and change the one they have. But this also means that objects of knowledge can never be fully attained, that they are, if you wish, never quite themselves. What we encounter in the research process are representations or stand-ins for a more basic lack of object. (Knorr Cetina 2001: 190, our emphasis)
We like to see our approach to sakprosa as an epistemic object using genres and different texts as “stand-ins”: By introducing to the variety of genres in our teaching, we showed the ever-transforming, overlapping complexity of sakprosa and by the writing pedagogy of writing in many genres, we opened the creative room for the students for both epistemic conceptualization and diverse writing practices connected to the different genres (Brinch Jørgensen and Askeland 2019).
The non-fiction literacy we aimed to teach each student was predominantly based on genre theory and genre didactics. We introduced the theory of rhetorical genre for the students already in the introduction course, pointing to “genre as social action” (Miller 1984), and we practiced writing for actual rhetorical audiences to make this theory into agency. The importance of creating writing tasks that are not just imitating writing for a public audience but make the students taking part in real debates is important, not just because the students perform better, but also because they become engaged citizens and develop their individual voices (Carlo 2020). Genre as “markers of identification” is discussed in a recent article in Text & Talk (Makmillen and Riedlinger 2021), and the authors point to the fact that writing in different genres makes the students play out identity and agency, including the playing out of the “we as” a certain profession (2021: 175). Writing as a “method for thinking” is well established in the epistemic culture of sakprosa (Brinch Jørgensen 2020; Johansen 2012), and reflexivity has long been seen as a central part of the practice in the writing pedagogies (Moon 1999).
The selection of different genres for our curricula was based on the idea that each genre has its own “affordance”, as Fiona English writes in Student Writing and Genre. Reconfiguring Academic Knowledge (2011): “Genres are chosen because they afford particular communicative possibilities for a given set of circumstances. Its specific communicative ‘-ableness’ results from the semiotic resources themselves. We choose the genre because of what it does, or allows us to do, rather than what it consists of” (English 2011: 80). By some of the genres, the students practiced the affordances of genre as rhetorical agency in a digital knowledge society (Hart-Davidson et al. 2005). The selection of genres in the curriculum shows how the team of teachers interpret the greater field of sakprosa as cultural and epistemic culture: what is interpreted by the faculty to be important to not just to know about but to master when it comes to the writing itself.
Findings and Discussions: The Roles of Sheep, the Watch Dogs and the Wolves
The Architecture of the Programme
The main idea of The Master in Non-fiction Writing was to introduce the students to (writing in) different non-fictions genres, through a continuous practicing of writing in the genres along with the study of theoretical texts and examples of the genres. By the knowledge, skills and practice, the students were supposed to acquire the ability to write a longer non-fiction text ready for publication, which was their final master’s thesis. The master’s thesis consisted of a book manuscript or a collection of texts and an introduction analysing and discussing the manuscript/text collection academically using theories from all thematic subjects.
From 2007 to 2020, 7 groups of students with 20–30 students in each class were matriculated which gives a total of about 200 students. Common for many of them is that they have a profession, a specific competence or a special interest that they want to learn how to communicate through writing. As most of the students were adults who were already employed and busy in their jobs, the study was organized in three two- or three-days sessions per semester, while the rest of the time they studied and worked on their writing at home. The programme would be a full-time master in two years, but it was functioning as a part-time study over three years.
With a few variations during the years, the master’s curriculum included the following subjects:
The Introduction subject had a curriculum which included the definition of text and non-fiction, theories on the personal essay, the travel essay and the formal essay, together with multimodal theory and practice in working with illustrations and text design. The writing tasks were writing a pastiche, writing essays or travel essays and a formal essay in their original profession. The subject also consisted of theories of the creative writing processes.
Biographic texts concerned writing tasks and theories in biographies of living persons and historical persons as well as personal biographic texts and the ethics of representation. The writing pedagogy focused on (auto)biographic aspects in all kinds of texts, not only traditional biographies but also personal biographic writings and representations of single persons or a group of people.
Dissemination and publishing included a curriculum with texts on literary sociology theories and discussions on the literary field historically and contemporarily. The genres to be written by the students were reflections on the role and positioning of themselves as an individual writer and a book proposal which included a discussion of the possibilities of being published (including digital publishing and self-publishing). The students practiced copy editing and reviewing of each other’s texts as a genre.
Narrative documentary focused on writing genres within documentary and journalistic texts and text analysis of narrative non-fiction texts. Literary theory of telling and plotting was used to guide the students together with theories of new journalism.
Rhetoric and debate with a focus on argumentation and use of examples in non-fiction writing, and theories from modern rhetorical theories with an emphasis on “the rhetorical situation”. The genres to be written were debate, manuscript for a speech performed before an audience of teachers and fellow students, and rhetorical criticism of a media text selected by the student.
Academic writing had a focus on academic style and use of correct citation and reference techniques. The curriculum consisted of a wide range of discussions on traditional academic writing and creative academic writing, and texts on audience-oriented writing for professionals.
The roles as sheep, watch dogs and wolves correspond to diverse types of non-fiction writers that we during the programme wanted the students to epitomize and can be seen as the actual outcome—or products—of the programme together with the “knowledge objects” (Knorr Cetina 2001) like books, academic articles and so on. The sheep are agents that consume non-fiction and participate as audience in seminars and festivals, and authors that write within known frames for a consuming audience. The watch dogs are those who explicitly are warranting the professions, both their individual, original profession and the profession of non-fiction authors, by arguing for certain standards in their own texts or by criticizing other’s texts. The wolves are the artists of both the epistemic culture of sakprosa and the writing processes in and across genres; they are inventive and have a distinct voice as authors. As the architecture of the programme shows, the students develop the roles in a mix, but still successively.
The teachers had a significant impact on the epistemic practice, not just as individuals building a bridge to the field of sakprosa and academics who cleared the road for the graduation, but also as engines in the machinery-making agents. The team of teachers running the programme consisted of six active members of the faculty and three associated members, one being the editor of the master’s programme’s own online journal Textualitet. The teachers were processual writing teachers and supervisors for a writing group of four to six students in every semester. The epistemic and social relations were the engines of the writing pedagogy in the writing groups. One evening at each gathering, the whole group, including the teachers, went to a café together where some of the students (often one from each feedback group) would read aloud from their own text. The sharing of texts and gathering around texts of quality mirror the greater field of sakprosa like festivals and public lectures by non-fiction authors reading from their texts.
The selection of genres and transformations of subjects over time mirrors the evolution in the greater field of sakprosa over time in Norway, both as a field of culture and as epistemic culture. The introduction subject and the subject on biographic texts were bearers of the tradition of non-fiction and to start here while showing the students the many possibilities of writing even in traditional genres opened the room for developing voice and being creative. To make a close connection to the epistemic culture of sakprosa, rhetoric and debate, which were subjects introduced at a second moment, gave room for working on non-fiction genres like debate books and for the oral tradition within the field exemplified with speeches. The subject introduced rhetorical criticism and a greater focus on the current rhetorical audience in Norway. Moreover, the subject had a profound impact on the learning environment: the student’s developed a greater awareness of each other because of the speeches hold and the group as a miniature of the greater field of sakprosa became clear in an early stage.
We had frequent guest lectures by non-fictions authors to demonstrate and shape the understanding of the rhetorical functions of texts. The lectures came from both other academic institutions, but foremost it was non-fiction authors representing the different genres. This machinery of guest lectures made the connections and power relations in the epistemic culture of sakprosa clearer for the students. Each semester censors were selected from the academia or the field of sakprosa (authors in the genre, publishers, etc.) to grade and give feedback to the students’ texts. The machinery of the epistemic practice also included a great amount of reflexivity, preparing the students for participation in a reflexive knowledge society: All students were supposed to keep a digital blog on a specific platform to be shared with the other students (and the public, if the students decided to). Every exam consisted of a collection of the three texts that the students had been working on during the course, and with an introductory essay with a discussion on the texts and process of writing them, using the theories from the curriculum. This collection with an introduction was read by an external examiner and discussed with the student and his or her supervisor. All the epistemic practices had a strong emphasis on conceptual-reflective epistemic work: we challenged our students to reflect on sakprosa by discussing the genres as stand-ins for the knowledge object of non-fiction.
The Roles in the Student’s Texts
In the introduction, we introduced our three diverse types of agents that the master’s programme made for the epistemic culture of sakprosa or general field of non-fiction—maybe as communicators of their original profession. In the following, we discuss how the student practices different roles by their writing and texts. Below, we analyse a few of the students’ texts that were submitted for the exams in some of the subjects presented above. The texts represent most aspects from the pedagogy of the programme as well as the tasks from the six subject courses of the programme.
We begin with the sheep. The sheep learn to write, read and participate in the non-fiction textual field according to the general and accepted standards, traditions and culture. To make the students able to act like sheep, we have used a pedagogy of imitation as well as a curriculum of general rhetoric and composition on narrative writing, academic writing as well as introducing them to the principles of publishing. When we address the students as students, this role is activated. In the text corpus, we have three texts from the very first task in the first semester. The task was to write a pastiche of a non-fiction book selected by the teachers. The writing task of writing a pastiche is a true way of strengthening the role as sheep: to identify, but not criticize, the style of another writer to make a similar text. You must be detailed in the imitation on several levels from choice of words and sentence lengths, use of focality and modality to the use of subtitles and the visual design over to use of the same topics and narration. The students do the analysis to be able to imitate, but without knowing it and without evaluation or devaluation. One text manages to imitate the style of an essayistic book by reproducing the topics very closely and even use a piece from musical lyrics just as the text imitated. Another student, in a course in which they were supposed to imitate a kind of debative, ironic book of self-help, imitates the use of subtitles and the significant use of concluding sentences of advice or “things to remember” and she imitates doing an interview with an “expert”, meaning she imitates one of the methods used in the book. However, the topics discussed are how and why she has chosen the master’s programme and what she expects to learn. She answers the addressing to her as a student and as a writer in her original profession and a better writer in general. The text succeeds in being ironic and self-criticizing and imitates the use of short and long sentences, scenes and essayistic discussions of other books. Nevertheless, the student only refers to one other book and by that appears as a student and not a true essayistic writer with many intertextual references. The use of “I” and the focality are done very precisely, so it appears that the student had done a close analysis on this to imitate. The writing task prepared the students for the next role, the watch dogs, because they were taught to be observant, close and slow when reading other texts, and they started to prepare for finding their own voice in the role of the wolf, because they sensed that their own writing not that easily could be done like someone else’s writing.
Watch dog is the second role that the students are invited to embody responding to a pedagogy of feedback on texts, with the aim of letting them make further steps to become actors that participate actively in the field by identifying, herding and watching over their own and other’s growing profession. The teaching situations in which the exercise of the watch dog role is most practiced is that of the writing groups where the students give feedback to their colleagues’ texts. This exercise takes place in all the writing groups during the whole master’s programme since we consider the analytic ability to assess texts as crucial for becoming an active text practitioner; the master’s is an education of not only future authors but also of critics, teachers, editors and in general of people who participate actively in the public debate.
Another watch dog exercise was that of acting as editors of a colleague’s book proposal, which in turn is partly also a sheep exercise since the students must imitate both text types and professional roles. Learning to become a watch dog means being able to consider, analyse, discuss and judge other texts. This ability is of crucial importance, since it is propaedeutic for the development of the capacity to evaluate one’s proper texts, which in turn is a mandatory skill that the students will exercise more deeply when they become wolves. While the role of the watch dog mainly gets developed through the analysis, reaction and comments to colleagues’ texts, we can add that it also gets exercised—albeit more indirectly—through the analysis that the students are doing along the whole master of their own texts. In conclusion, the role of the watch dog goes in both direction outwards, towards texts written by others, and inwards, towards one’s own texts.
As an example of the watch dog learning, we look at that in which the students simulate/embody the role of an editor responding to a student’s book proposal, in which they are invited to follow the standards for such specific text types, trying to use them as frames for the evaluation of the potential qualities of a manuscript. As editors, the students are supposed to consider issues such as structure, language, style and length, as well as the text’s possible market and possible publishing channels, including suggestions for how the manuscript can be improved.
Many students choose to follow quite closely a model for how to write an editor’s response and since this specific genre gives little freedom to develop creatively a personal style, it is exactly the student’s analytic and evaluative skills that get emphasized. Interestingly, though, one of our students chose to use the three classical categories of persuasion in rhetoric (ethos, logos and pathos) as a frame through which she developed her response to a colleague’s proposal. This is an example of how the students on the one hand through practice learn the “rules” and conventions of different genres, at the same time experiment how these genres can be challenged, developed and transformed. Of course, not all the experiments are successful, but they are all the same very useful learning tools, as they help the students becoming more conscious about genres and their rhetorical, stylistic and communicative potentials. In this specific example, using the rhetorical categories helps the student in focusing on how the colleague’s text can improve in becoming more persuasive.
Finally, the wolves can be described as agents that go their own ways, experimenting and crossing borders of genre; and in the programme they live by the teaching and curriculum that opens for creativity, development of individual voice and capability to capture the right moment and place for being published. The third and last role that we have tried to develop in our programme is also in temporal terms the last role that the students are asked to epitomize in their final thesis. At this point of the students’ course, they should have developed certain abilities such as choosing the appropriate language, genre and style for their texts, having a theoretic overview, which enables them to draw on the suitable theories for these same texts, together with the analytic ability of evaluating their own texts on a metalevel. To this, we can add the capacity to intersect different genres and roles in their texts. They are also supposed to have developed a certain confidence with genres and styles so that they can use them creatively, developing thus a proper voice. Finally, embodying the role of the wolf means that the students can act in the literary landscape being able to understand in which publication channels their texts are appropriate.
In one of our students’ master’s theses, the candidate, who is an obstetrician, writes about what she calls “birth stories”, based upon six interviews with six different women who tell about their experience giving birth. Most of the master’s theses submitted at our programme comprise the manuscript of what is meant to be a published book in the future and an academic article in which the candidate discusses and explains the linguistic, structural and stylistic choices made in the manuscript and the theories drawn upon.
The future publication of the birth stories is supposed to be a textbook for future obstetricians. The candidate’s choice of writing such a book, basing it primarily on interviews, is an example of her having developed the features of a wolf, and actually this student was the one starting with a pastiche answering as a student and thereby performing like a sheep. Textbooks are required to communicate exact knowledge and skills in an objective and neutral way, which are qualities that certainly do not correspond to interviews, which commonly are considered as subjective, personal and less precise. As the candidate explains in the dissertation’s theory chapter, she chose interviews after having experimented other genres, finding that the personal stories she achieved from the interviews combined with her scientific comments could guarantee exactly what she was seeking: readability, immediacy and scientific knowledge. Supplementing theory with experience was also a means to attain both pathos as well as ethos, since the interviews opened for identification, and the comments assured credibility. Moreover, the interviews were the best solution for giving voice to a variety of points of view, creating thus a text characterized by a plurality of voices, and however united.
Having created a somewhat ad hoc genre for her texts, breaking with traditional conventions and expectations, the candidate developed “wolf-skills” such as autonomy and individuality; she is nevertheless not an experienced author yet, as the uncertain first-person voice in the texts uncovers. Although appearing as an expert in the comments of the manuscript, her proficiency and expertise do not emerge in the very neutral voice in the interviews. In addition, as the examinators note in the explanation of the grade, the women interviewed should have been more clearly located in their environment, both geographically as well as socially, in order to create a stronger identification as well as a deeper understanding of their stories. The candidate’s unclear discussion on what she defines as the essayistic characters of her manuscript reveals that the wolf is still young, necessitating more study and more writing experience, but that there is good potential for becoming an independent author contributing actively to the expansion of the field of sakprosa.
Conclusion: The Master’s Programme as Epistemic Practice
From the very introduction and establishment of the concept of sakprosa in Norway, we argue that our master’s programme has had an active role making agents for the field of sakprosa. Moreover, the programme has practiced the episteme and by that over time contributed to sustain, warrant and develop the epistemic culture of sakprosa according to the different roles that the study practice and pedagogically develop—sheep, watch dogs and wolves. First, the programme included the double process of standardization and growth of the field of sakprosa that briefly is described above. A recirculation of the epistemic culture in the form of non-fiction genres is central in this work. Second, the programme succeeded in aims at a purpose of professionalization of authors—in the professions and as non-fiction authors. Third, we focus on the creative process not just developing innovative writers that can bring the epistemic culture into the future, but to create genuine agents that address back to the field and reform the very epistemic culture. We saw that the architecture and machinery of the programme and the students’ texts, the progression of subject and the variety and repetition work together to reach the purpose of making the students graduate and make professional writers and non-fiction writers for the field of non-fiction. The emphasis of both social and epistemic relations created a learning environment for growth of both sheep, watch dog and wolves.
The epistemic culture of sakprosa might have changed in new directions since the master’s programme ended in 2020 so that the programme would have had to implement other genres or even leave the architecture and machinery based on genres and more intensively work with rhetorical situations, larger audiences and free samplings of genres. We might have made a clone of the sheep and wolf to make more loyal and solidary artists and train the watch dogs to become more critical and able to participate outside their professions to benefit the larger knowledge society.
As explained in the introduction chapter in this book, the Norwegian concept “sakprosa” can be translated into the term non-fiction, but as the authors of the introduction explain something is lost in the translation. This means that the term sakprosa is used when we refer specifically to the Norwegian understanding of the term.
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Brinch, I., Nergaard, S. (2023). Sheep, Watch Dogs and Wolves: How the Master in Non-Fiction Writing Formed Actors for the Field of sakprosa in Norway. In: Nyström Höög, C., Rahm, H., Thomassen Hammerstad, G. (eds) Nordic Perspectives on the Discourse of Things. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-031-33122-0_5
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