Linus Salö*, David Karlander, Sirpa Leppänen, Elina Westinen
and Janus Spindler Møller
Introduction: spaces of upset in the Nordic
Abstract: This introductory article opens the thematic issue Spaces of Upset in the
Nordic Region. It introduces the contributions of the issue, outlines the concepts that
unite them, and discusses the sociolinguistic area in which they are set: the Nordic
region. Centering on Denmark, Finland and Sweden, the article offers an overview of
some of the sociolinguistic, ideological and political characteristics of the region and
the countries it comprises. The Nordic region is widely seen as a paradigm case of
social stability, consensus and cohesion. This vision is, however, a mirage. To be sure,
upset often lingers below the discursive veneer of Nordic harmony, concord and
agreement. Breaking with this outlook, this thematic issue takes a closer look at some
of the antipodes of this sociolinguistic and ideological condition. Its contributions
engage with ‘spaces of upset’, that is, with manifestations and experiences of socio-
linguistic rupture, upheaval or change, in and through which visions of sociolinguistic
stability and cohesion are disrupted and challenged. These spaces of upset bear
witness to social, ideological and linguistic tensions and changes, be they incipient,
enduring or surpassed. They accordingly provide a new take on processes of continuity
and change, pointing out the ideological faultlines of the orders they disrupt, or upset.
Keywords: migration; language ideology; language and the welfare state; social
cohesion; spaces of upset; The Nordic region
*Corresponding author: Linus Salö, Centre for Research on Bilingualism, Stockholm University,
106 91, Stockholm, Sweden; and Division of History of Science, Technology and Environment, KTH
Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm, Sweden, E-mail: email@example.com. https://orcid.
David Karlander, School of English, University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, Hong Kong
Sirpa Leppänen, Department of Language and Communication Studies, University of Jyväskylä,
Jyväskylä, Finland. https://orcid.org/0000-0002-7167-4649
Elina Westinen, Department of Music, Art and Culture Studies, University of Jyväskylä, Jyväskylä,
Janus Spindler Møller, Department of Nordic Studies and Linguistics, University of Copenhagen,
Copenhagen, Denmark. https://orcid.org/0000-0002-6343-6739
IJSL 2022; 275: 1–19
Open Access. © 2022 Linus Salö et al., published by De Gruyter. This work is licensed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
1 Introducing spaces of upset
The articles in this issue are united by their focus on three Nordic countries –
Denmark, Finland and Sweden. Adopting a sociolinguistic gaze, they take a close
look at relatively enduring forms of social change –with instant ruptures or pro-
longed upheavals that in some way “upset established orders”(Cresswell 2014: 712;
our emphasis) in these national spaces. Such orders may be grasped as normative
notions of regional and national signiﬁcance, akin to what Taylor (2004) terms ‘social
imaginaries’,“carried in images, stories, and legends”(Taylor 2004: 23). They
concern, more precisely, notions of Nordic idylls and utopias entrenched in regionally
distributed nation-state ideologies and, as such, are implicated in sustaining the
nations they concern (Heller et al. 2016). From the vantage point of the concept spaces
the contributions in this issue offer an empirical, analytical and conceptual
challenge to received views of Nordic cohesion and consensus –sociolinguistic and
otherwise. A critical interrogation of these dynamics calls into question state-
consecrated visions as articulated (or, at least presupposed) in dominant systems of
Heller, this is what this thematic issue seeks to accomplish.
This introduction serves toframe our collective endeavor. Itseeks to contextualize
the social fabric of Nordic region in pursuit of unraveling the threads of which it is
around which collective visions and social divisions have long been modeled. At the
regional level, a vocabulary of ‘consensus’,‘stability’,‘harmony’and ‘cohesion’,and,
more recently, ‘equality’,‘sustainability’and ‘well-being’,is often invoked to deﬁne,
and thereby sustain, a Nordic model society. At the level of each nation-state, it
includes an additional range of historicallyrootedwatchwords,notoriously hard to
translate, such as Danish hygge (an everyday philosophy of coziness), Finnish talk-
oohenki (a spirit for communal collaboration), and Swedish lagom (‘just about’,
connoting a balanced and moderate approach to life). Such quotidian shorthand for
conviviality has a cultural and political signiﬁcance that extends beyond the realm of
mundane linguistic exchange. As Thompson argues,
1The work presented in this issue emerged out of a series of inter-Nordic workshops 2017–2019,
with participants from the universities of Copenhagen (Denmark), Jyväskylä (Finland) and
Stockholm (Sweden), funded by the Nordic research councils in the Humanities and Social Sci-
ences (NOS-HS; grant 2016-00270/NOS-HS). The term ‘spaces of upset’was proposed by Monica
Heller as the invited discussant at the Stockholm seminar, September 2017. Since then, the term
has increasingly come to denote a phenomenon common to the participants, whose work dealt
with ideologically charged exchanges over visions of sociolinguistic normality. ‘Upset’eventually
became shorthand for the main themes in this body of work. We accordingly see it as a suitable
keyword for this special issue, an end result of the seminar series.
2Salö et al.
in using language we are constantly engaged in a creative, imaginary activity. We are […] also
involved, knowingly or not, in altering, undermining or reinforcing our relations with others
and with the world (1984: 6).
Language, in short, provides an inroad to Nordic nation-state ideologies as well as
to Nordic imaginaries upheld across the region (see also Anderson ; Heller
and McElhinny ).
It goes without saying that the received view of Nordic cohesion and
consensus of course conceals a more complex, fragmented, and conflictual reality.
Lived sociolinguistic realities, to be sure, are rife with counterpoints to this social
imaginary. Linguistic exchange in the Nordic countries abounds with momentary
and situated disruptions, all of which point to existing tensions between socio-
linguistic continuity and change, between unity and fragmentation, between
stasis and mobility. As proposed by the contributions in this thematic issue, these
dynamics can be captured by an analytical focus on the bisemic notion of ‘upset’.
As evidenced by this collection of articles, occurrences of upset do not only
constitute a break with normative visions of order, but may also serve as an
effective analytical framing, apt for pointing out the ideological faultlines and
expectations of the very order it disrupts. The notion of spaces of upset can
accordingly be used for capturing more or less momentary manifestations of deep-
seated sociolinguistic tensions as they unfold across a range of more or less
demarcated contexts where questions of language and communication occupy
central stage. Exploring this dynamic, the articles included in this thematic issue
should be viewed as a set of counterexamples and contrarian evidence to received
views of the Nordic countries as non-antagonistic and exceptionally harmonious,
prosperous and well-functional spaces. The contributing authors offer a varie-
gated set of analytical and empirical engagements with the unstable notion of
Nordic stability. All center on the propensity of language and communication to
become objects or arenas of social struggle, tapping into social change as it
manifests sociolinguistically. Before introducing the specific contributions, we
shall dwell in some detail on the spatial framing of this thematic issue, the Nordic
region, after which we will unpack the novel concept of spaces of upset.
2 Setting the scene: cohesion and consensus in
Denmark, Finland and Sweden
The Nordic region encompasses the sovereign states of Denmark, Finland, Iceland,
Norway and Sweden. As autonomous overseas territories under the Danish crown,
the Faroe Islands and Greenland also form part of the region, as does the Åland
archipelago, which constitutes an autonomous region of the Republic of Finland. The
indigenous Sámi people have a varying degree of subnational political representation
in Norway, Sweden and Finland. The history of the Nordic region contains many
troubled interrelationships, manifested in wars,politicalunions,conquests,coloni-
zation and other relations of dominance and subservience. The notion of Nordic
similarity is nonetheless of a more recent date. Following the Napoleonic Wars, which
effectively put an end to the imperial aspirations of Denmark and Sweden, a Romantic
idea of a shared Nordic identity began to emerge. It ushered in a vision of the Nordic
region as an exceptional case, united by a set of cultural and linguistic commonalities,
shared political interests and sometimes even a common fate (Czarny 2017). This
vision is still tangible today, albeit in a slightly modiﬁed form.
Following World War II, which affected the Nordic countries in dramatically
different ways, the region emerged as a firmly democratic space, with few expe-
riences of social upheaval or massive changes in the political system. Instead, a
regional style of governance –the so-called Nordic model –which combined
parliamentary democracy, Keynesian capitalism and extensive social welfare,
became ﬁrmly established across the region. Yielding not only economic growth
but also a redistribution of wealth, it gave the sovereign states of the region a
reputation as stable ‘consensual democracies’, set apart by supposedly non-
antagonistic modes of conﬂict solution and decision-making (Elder et al. 1982;
Petersson 1994). The idea of consensus can be understood as a vision of imper-
turbable agreement. It is as much imagined as a political culture as a civic ideal
and a personal virtue. Whereas differences between the Nordic countries exist
(e.g., Kulick and Rydström 2015), consensus features as a common trait of Nordic
model and its political mode of communication (Grøn et al. 2015; Skogerbø et al.
2020). In turn, consensus is considered a vital factor in the collective production of
‘stability’, whether this stability pertains to political economy, politics and culture,
or to social order more generally. At the historical zenith of this order, Swedish
political scientist and public intellectual Herbert Tingsten (1966: 12) tellingly
dubbed the Nordic countries “happy democracies”–united through national,
linguistic and religious cohesion, and supposedly void of social tensions.
To this day, the region has an international reputation of stability. It is widely
recognized as a benchmark for the combination of economic and social reform
emblematic of the modern welfare state (Kautto et al. 1999). Despite the onset of a
neoliberal dismantling of public and welfare institutions, ideas about regional
stability, harmony and cohesion remain vigorous. The region is widely seen –and
sees itself –as a forerunner of high living standards, economic growth, job secu-
rity, free education, gender equality, sustainability and minority rights. Somewhat
anecdotally, all the Nordic countries are also held to be among the seven
“happiest”societies in the world, as indicated by high GDP per capita, extensive
4Salö et al.
social support, long life expectancy, substantial freedom to make life choices,
personal generosity, trust and absence of corruption (Finland ranking ﬁrst,
Denmark second and Sweden seventh; see Helliwell et al. ). Reports from
the regional cooperation organization Nordic Council of Ministers –an organiza-
tion that is heavily invested in Nordic cohesion and consensus –tend to stress that
“the peaceful, democratic and inclusive nature of our communities helps make our
societies strong and resilient”(Grunfelder et al. 2020: 11). The Nordic countries
are ofﬁcially committed to becoming the most sustainable and integrated region in
the world by 2030, a goal that includes “an inclusive, equal and interconnected
region with shared values and strengthened cultural exchange and welfare”
(Nordic Council of Ministers 2020: 2).
It goes without saying that overly shiny images of the Nordic countries leave
out less flattering facets of the region. Visions of a harmonious past, a happy
present and an ever-improving future are necessarily selective. The reputation and
self-understanding of the Nordic region as the epitome of social cohesion and
consensus –the antithesis of change –has disguised many tensions lurking
beneath the ostensibly stable surfaces of these polities. The Nordic countries
are certainly not spared from inequality, antagonisms and conﬂicts: increasing
income gaps, political conﬂicts, discrimination and ever visible xenophobia are all
cases in point (Hervik 2019; Loftsdóttir and Jensen 2012). In European comparison,
the gap in the employment rates between foreign-born and native-born residents
are particularly high in Denmark and Sweden (OECD 2020). The radical right has
seen electoral success in most Nordic countries: far-right parties are ﬁrmly
established in Sweden, as well as in Denmark and Finland (Widfeldt 2018). In
stark contrast to widespread ideas of Nordic contentment, people suffer “in the
shadow of happiness”, as evidenced in disproportionately high suicide rates
(Andreasson 2018). Yet, the idea of the Nordic region as a space of cohesion and
consensus prevails. Notions of homogeneity loom large, despite being at odds with
social reality (Keskinen et al. 2019).
By the same token, despite attempts to add nuance and complexity, ingrained
ideologies of a Nordic way reach deep into the realm of sociolinguistic affairs (see
Hervik 2019; Hutton 2017; Strang 2016). The Nordic countries are thought of as
linguistically uniﬁed polities. Despite widespread multilingualism, the linguistic
market of each country is dominated by a national standard language, which
permeates all tiers of society (see Vikør 1993; Kristiansen and Sandøy 2010; Kris-
tiansen and Coupland 2011). With respect to regional linguistic cohesion, the
continental Scandinavian national standard languages –Danish, Swedish and
Norwegian –are mutually intelligible. While the transnational intelligibility does
not extend to Finnish and Icelandic, nor to Faroese and Greenlandic, Swedish is
one of the two national languages of Finland, and Danish is taught in Iceland, as
well as in the Faroe Islands and Greenland. As language, ideological representa-
tions, consensus and unity are similarly emblematized in linguistic conﬂict
avoidance, enunciative moderation, tactfulness, strategic silence, hedging and
even non-engagement (Kulick 2014; Østergaard 2002; see also Nordic Voices 1984).
In fact, even if there exists no consensus, a semblance of agreement and harmony
may still be discursively performed (e.g., Jenkins 2016). Such performances may,
too, be conceived of as consensus and thus are implicated in the construction of
Nordic idyll. The idea of Nordic noir has sociological –and indeed sociolinguistic –
Again, it must be remembered that apparent large-scale commonalities rarely
correspond to the situated realities of sociolinguistic life. Neither are they uni-
formly structured nor evenly distributed across regions and states. The discrep-
ancies and differences between the Nordic countries do indeed require some
further contextualization. We outline these below, offering some relevant pointers
on the historical, political and, not least, sociolinguistic contours of each country
covered here, adding necessary background to the articles included in this issue.
In medieval times, Denmark was a major power of substantial size controlling the
area around the Baltic Sea. However, a number of wars lost in 1600–1900 signif-
icantly reduced the country’s size. In this way, Denmark is an old monarchy with a
relatively new status as a peaceful pocket state that needs to adjust to stronger
powers. Remaining neutral in World War I and adhering to a so-called “policy of
collaboration”when occupied by Germany in World War II, Denmark came rela-
tively unharmed out of both. An increasingly strong Danish resistance movement
towards the end of World War II saved Denmark’s reputation in the eyes of the
victorious side. On a national level, the stories about these “freedom fighters”have
become a myth (see Stenius et al.  for a comparison on Nordic narratives).
In the 1950s, the construction of unified Danish people taking care of each
other was strengthened by the increased political focus on public welfare,where,
for example, tax-funded health services and social security beneﬁts were consid-
ered civil rights. The economic boom in the 1960s made it possible to carry out
many of these visions for a welfare state. Today the idea of public welfare has been
naturalized across the range of political parties from left to right. Generally, Danes
consider their welfare system unique compared to countries outside Scandinavia,
and it is sometimes referred to as the Danish model (Østergaard 2002). In this way,
the welfare system has become synonymous with Danishness in the eyes of many
Danish citizens (e.g., Jenkins 2016). Politically, the welfare program was connected
6Salö et al.
to the arrival of a wave of migrants in the late 1960s and 1970s. Men from Turkey,
Pakistan and the former Yugoslavia were welcomed into the labor force in order to
enhance the economic boom. The political expectation was that they would leave
when the work possibilities were exhausted, but many of the migrants chose to settle
in Denmark with their families. Consequently, the government introduced stricter
rules on immigration, but still accepted refugees, reuniﬁcation of families, and
workers utilizing the free movement of labor within the EU. Today 14% of the popu-
lation in Denmark consists of immigrants and their descendants. Since the arrival of
the ﬁrst wave of migrants, Danish politicians have debated to what degree and how
this group should have access to welfare beneﬁts (Padovan-Özdemir and Molden-
hawer 2016). Language has been a central component in many of these debates. To
what degree should, for example, the public school system integrate minority lan-
guages (Kristjánsdóttir 2018; Lehtonen and Møller this issue)? And how does the legal
system handle (and ﬁnance) interpreting in cases where the accused does not speak
Danish (Karrebæk and Kirilova this issue)? Another characteristic of the construction
of Danishness is the notion of hygge –the ability and responsibility to create coziness
and social well-being. Recently, social media and especially mobile phones have been
constructed in public discourse as a threat to hygge in, e.g., families and relationships.
Madsen (this issue) investigates how an eminent voice in this public debate constructs
digital communication as a bad habit that not only constitutes a risk to social relations,
Unlike Denmark and Sweden, Finland lacks a history as a former empire. It gained
independence relatively recently (1917), following centuries of imperial “foreign
rule”, first as a part of Sweden and later as part of the Russian empire. A short but
brutal civil war broke out in early 1918, dividing the nation into conservative
“whites”(supported, in part, by the Germans) and the socialist “reds”, associated
with the labor movement. Reconciliation and reunification after the war was a
prolonged process. A nationally “united front”, an iconic example of the Finnish
spirit of communal collaboration, emerged, for instance, in the Winter War against
the Soviet Union (1939–1940) (Tepora and Roselius 2014), as well as in the national
consensus in the construction of the welfare state, the reach of which encompassed
all public institutions. In the decades after World War II, in the spirit of national
consensus, Finland managed to evolve into a country characterized by social
security, equality and democratic governance. Internationally, Finland is nowa-
days well known for the high level of its technological know-how and public
education. For instance, it has been ranked as one of the top countries for years
both in The International Digital Economy and Society Index (Foley et al. 2021) and
in the U21 ranking of national higher education systems (William and Leahy 2020).
In contrast to other Nordic countries, and largely due to its strict immigration
policies, Finland was long a country of emigration, rather than of immigration. Thus, it
also remained ethnically, culturally and linguistically rather homogeneous, at least on
the surface. Beneath, the diversity concealed various long-term linguistic and ethnic
minority groups including the Sámi, Roma, Russian-origin minorities and Swedish-
speaking Finns. From the 1990s onwards, and, in particular, after the enlargement of
the European Union in 2004 (Rapo 2011) and the European “refugee reception crisis”in
2015, this picture of static homogeneity started to change: at this point, a larger-scale
immigration to Finland properly began. Currently, people with a “foreign background”
constitute some 7% of all people inhabiting Finland, with roughly half living in the
Helsinki metropolitan area. Currently, the largest ethnic groups residing in Finland are
people from the former Soviet Union or Russia, Estonians, Iraqis and Somalis. Besides
ﬁrst-generation immigrants, there are some70,000secondgenerationpeoplewitha
“foreign background”, i.e., people born in Finland, which means that every sixth
person with a “foreign background”was born in Finland. Despite this diversiﬁcation of
the society, as well as its long-term ethnic and cultural minorities, white, Finnish-
speaking ethnic Finnishness is still seen by many as the norm (Keskinen et al. 2019;
Rastas 2012). Recently, the myth of homogeneity has, however, clashed with the
evolving multiculturality and multiethnicity of Finnish society, triggering upsets that
range from debates for political, social and educational reform to public protests,
xenophobic and racist practices and discourses, and conﬂictual and disparaging social
media reactions. Such tensions are at the center in both the analysis of classroom
interactions investigated by Lehtonen and Møller (this issue) and the social media
performancesfocusedoninLeppänen’sandWestinen’s analysis (this issue).
Sociolinguistically speaking, since 1922, Finland has officially been bilingual,
with two national languages, Finnish and Swedish. Currently, out of the 5.5 million
citizens, 87.3% state that Finnish is their first language; for 5.2% it is Swedish.
Swedish is offered as an obligatory second language to Finnish-speaking students
and vice versa. The language rights of the official minorities are protected by the
Finnish constitution; it ensures that the three Sámi languages, as well as Roma,
Karelian and Finnish Sign Language, are to be maintained and developed. Many
members of minoritized linguistic communities are bilingual or multilingual,
having either Finnish or Swedish as their ﬁrst language. With the recent
demographic diversiﬁcation, the number of languages spoken in the country
has increased considerably: in 2019, there were approximately 400,000 “foreign
language speakers”in Finland, compared to roughly 25,000 in 1990 and about
200,000 in 2009. The top ﬁve foreign languages spoken in Finland include
Russian, Estonian, Arabic, English and Somali.
8Salö et al.
Among the Nordic countries, Sweden is the largest sovereign state, with the largest
population, as well as the highest number and ratio of inhabitants born abroad
(Brochmann and Hagelund 2012). Beginning in the 1930s, Sweden became known
for its middle-way approach to economic politics (Childs 1936), as well as for its
rational use of social engineering, as materialized in the reformist political project
folkhemmet,‘the People’s Home’(Andersson 2009; Eyerman 1985; Hirdman 2010).
By and large, Sweden’s twentieth century was marked by Social Democratic
dominance –including 44 years of undisrupted governance (1932–1976).
Consensus and stability came to be characteristic traits of “the Swedish model”as
the country transitioned from an agricultural society dominated by an urban
bourgeoisie into an industrialized, urbanized welfare state (Lewin 1998; Tingsten
1955; Rydell and Hanell this issue). Here, the word lagom (‘not too much, not too
little –just enough’) became the conceptual signiﬁer of a social ideology of
moderation, incorporating an element of moral judgment (Ruth 1984), which in
turn bolstered the rationality of Swedish middle-way politics (Zetterberg 1984).
The Swedish take on questions of linguistic and cultural difference is rife with
paradoxes and historical shifts. Sweden long maintained an official self-image as a
monoethnic and monolingual space –a stance largely at odds with the existence of
subjects or folk whom the People’s Home was not designed to encompass
(Andersson 2009). This ideology nonetheless prevailed well into the second half of
the twentieth century, as exempliﬁed by an egregious comment by long-standing
prime minister Tage Erlander (1965): “the population of our country is homoge-
nous, not only with respect to race but also in a range of other respects.”(Riks-
dagen 1965: 60, our translation). As a paradigm case of “sanctioned ignorance”
(Spivak 1999), any such contention glosses over the existence of minority groups
and a history of oppressive policies. Indeed, it was only in the mid-1970s that
Sweden became an early European adopter of an ofﬁcial policy of multiculturalism
(e.g., Borevi 2012). This change of tack should be viewed precisely against a
backdrop of centuries of state-backed subordination and subjugation –economic,
cultural and political –of its minoritized communities, including the Sámi, Roma,
Finns, Jews and Catholics. Viewed as such, the multicultural shift was a repentant
response to institutionalized monoculturalism and monoglossia –historically
manifested in forced segregation and assimilation, ofﬁcial support for scientiﬁc
racism, and restrictive immigration policies –not least during World War II. It can,
furthermore, be read as an institutional response to the increase in labor immi-
gration, and subsequently in refugees, that followed upon the country’s industrial
expansion in the postwar period (Byström and Frohnert 2013).
Language was and continues to be a key element in Sweden’s official
commitment to multiculturalism (see Salö and Karlander 2018). In terms of policy,
Sweden is the most pluralist state of the Nordic region. The approximately 200
languages that are estimated to be spoken in the country enjoy a degree of support
in Sweden’s language political framework. Five so-called national minority lan-
guages –Sámi, Finnish, Meänkieli, Romani and Yiddish –as well as the Swedish
Sign Language are recognized and ofﬁcialized through the Language Act of 2009.
According to the same law, speakers of all other languages are to be given the
opportunity to “develop”and use their languages. In practice, this commitment
precedes the Language Act, with minority mother tongue instruction being
provided in the public education system since 1977 (see Salö et al.  for a
comparison with Denmark). The recognition of pluralism notwithstanding,
Swedish is ofﬁcialized as the “principal”language of the Swedish state and nation.
The Language Act underscores that Sweden’s commitment to multilingualism is
upheld within the language ideological framework of the nation-state. It is hier-
archical in nature, ranking Swedish as the sole language of institutional trans-
actions. Indeed, a “native-like”command of standard Swedish is often deemed
vital for participation in public life. Linguistically non-conforming, racialized
agents may be severely punished (see Salö this issue).
As outlined with reference to Denmark, Finland and Sweden, visions of sta-
bility, consensus and cohesion are foundational to a national self-image widely
upheld in the Nordic countries. This image is a porous one that far from always
corresponds to the social realities of sociolinguistic life in the region. On the one
hand, however, whenever discrepancies prevail, the notion of Nordic stability
effectively disguises the manifold facets of sociolinguistic differentiation and hi-
erarchization that are at play in late-modern nation-states (Duchêne and Heller
2012). On the other hand, whenever the screen of cohesion shows signs of
cracking –in moments of manifest or perceived rupture, upheaval or change –
these very cracks can be regarded as testimonies of ongoing struggles over the
regimentation of social change, and of the notions of stability and upheaval
existing on a par with these struggles. They tend to occur in relation to what we
have termed ‘spaces of upset’, as outlined presently.
3 Approaching spaces of upset
Theories of space at once enable and constrain our analytical freedom. Any
sociolinguistic theory of space has a direct effect on the possible scope of socio-
linguistic analysis (Karlander 2021). In this thematic issue, aligning with scholars
like Massey (2005), Cresswell (2019), Bourdieu (1992) and Heller (2011), we
10 Salö et al.
approach space as being closely linked to social practice. We assume space to be
deﬁned and delineated in the course of social practice, treating it less as a
precondition for than as an outcome of practice.
In the contributions of this special issue, space implies an interplay of
emplacement and mobility. The authors engage with the sociolinguistic econo-
mies of three different countries, focusing on occurrences of upset across different
sites and settings. Some studies engage with institutional milieus, ranging from
analyses of controversies surrounding outsourced courtroom interpreting in
Denmark (Karrebæk and Kirilova) to exposés of racist attacks on a news presenter
for Swedish public service television (Salö) and to conﬂict and interactional
breakdown in two multilingual classrooms (Lehtonen and Møller). Other studies
engage with the forms of upset that unfold in the indistinct borderland between
public and private space. They analyze the threat of upset that encapsulate the use
of migrant domestic workers in Sweden (Rydell and Hanell); they scrutinize
medicalized and panic-ridden debate on the use of smartphones and social media
in Denmark (Madsen), and they offer a detailed analysis of performative social
media interrogations of the racist and xenophobic undercurrents in the Finnish
interaction order by people of color (Leppänen and Westinen). While all these
different practices can be described in a register of emplacement –as unfolding in
“domains”or “institutional contexts”,as“online”or “ofﬂine”, and so on –this
construal would be reductive and hence would not serve our ends (see Heller 2008,
2011). By opting for a practice-driven approach, we privilege space over a range of
kindred concepts such as sphere, domain, setting, moment, event and so forth.
Spaces are by no means hermetical or static. Spaces of upset may extend across
or unite a range of sites, modalities and media. Institutional deliberations and
exchanges are discussed across a range of settings and media, locating the main
manifestations of upset outside the institutional frame (Karrebæk and Kirilova this
issue; Salö this issue). Small-scale online exchanges may effectively serve to
comment on durable discursive formations that permeate society at large (Madsen
this issue; Leppänen and Westinen this issue). Seen through the lens of practice, it
is clear that even a seemingly demarcated space vibrates with mobility, originating
beyond and reaching outside the space in question (see Heller 2011; Cresswell
2014). This intentional sensitization to reasonably regularized social action allows
us to develop an approach to ‘upset’in which practice occupies center stage.
As evidenced by the contributions to this issue, upset is also an element and a
configuration of practice. Upset is indeed experienced individually, but must
nonetheless be enacted socially, played out in the actuality of communicative
practice. Just like space, as argued by Doreen Massey, upset is embedded in ma-
terial practices “which have to be carried out”in order for upset to matter (2005: 9,
our emphasis). Upset is not merely an internal response, the effects of which lie
beyond the reach of agentivity, but a controllable and contestable feature of
deliberate human action. Upset does not simply occur, but is actively made and
Semantically, upset may denote a sense or occurrence of change, a rupture or
destabilization in an apparently durable order of things. Upset implies mobility in
that it brings something into motion. As such, it “shifts our gaze from stability to
mobility”(Heller 2011: 5). Understood in this way, upset refers to moments when
normative expectations are shattered, or when attempts to uphold normative
expectations are met by unforeseen or unexpected reactions or outcomes. This
form of upset may be “turbulent”, insofar as it arises in “moments of dissonance,
disagreement and contest”(Stroud 2016: 15; see Cresswell and Martin 2012), where
upset may surge on an individual –bodily or private –scale, as felt and conveyed
by acting subjects. In this regard, the notion of upset directs attention to a variety of
strong reactions or emotional expressions, often ushered in by change.
Upset is consequently a two-tiered notion. Invoking it, we seek to profit
analytically on its dual meanings. To perceive an external order as having been
‘upset’or disrupted seems often to coincide with the ‘upset’of an internal order.
Upset, in these cases, may thus denote the ways in which affects and emotions are
enacted, linguistically and otherwise. Yet, upset may likewise denote disruptive
events or reactions to the perceived disruption of order. The latter object in fact
makes an important point for analytical reflection. Upset resonates with the idea of
affect, sentiment and emotion, be it in classic accounts (e.g., Spinoza, Descartes or
Kierkegaard) or more recent applications (e.g., Ahmed 2004; Thrift 2004), not least
in research on the interrelationship between affect, language and discourse (e.g.,
Milani and Richardson 2021; Wee and Goh 2020; Wilce 2009). Indeed, a change in a
given state of affairs may be manifested most vividly in expressions of an upset
mind. It connotes real or perceived social change, along with reactions –felt or
expressed –to such forms of change.
Our construal of upset thus gestures at a fundamentally social phenomenon.
Whatever makes an individual angry, depressed, cheerful or ‘upset’, as argued by
late Husserl (1970 : 322), “are questions relating to persons; and so are
questions of a similar sort relating to communities of every level”(our emphasis).
The idea that “what the person does and suffers”(Husserl 1970 : 322) is not
merely a private reality, but at once a social and socially formed one, resonates
with the way in which the notion of ‘upset’is treated by the articles in this issue. A
case of upset may occur when a given state of affairs is brought out of order, or
when it is perceived as having been brought out of order. Upset may be a
momentary or prolonged event. It may go away, endure or integrate into a new
state of normality. Upset is not an exclusively private sentiment, nor is it a dis-
embodied discourse, but rather a feature and an outcome of social practice.
12 Salö et al.
As such, it offers a means for “negotiation between continuity and change”
(Cresswell 2003: 269), and may serve as a lens for grasping the interplay between
stability and mutability, between mobility and inertia, and between change and
effects of change, along with the representations, stakes and sentiments that this
However, upset not only pertains to the movement of a feeling, an affect or a
discourse. As seen in the contributions of this special issue, upset in the Nordic region
often unfolds in relation to contemporary forms of migration. Arguably, such forms of
human mobility constitute some of the most pervasive challenges to notions of Nordic
cohesion and consensus. As outlined above, in the postwar period the Nordic coun-
tries have, albeit to a different extent, transitioned into increasingly heterogeneous
societies. Debates on immigration, diversity and the politics of difference indeed loom
large in all countries under study here (see also Brochmann and Hagelund 2012;
Kivisto and Wahlbeck 2013). The interplay of sociolinguistic manifestations of immi-
gration with the imaginary of Nordic stability is likewise a paramount example of a
condition under which upset occurs. As shown in the contributions to this thematic
issue, notions of stability, cohesion and consensus are concerns and stakes that take
primacy across a range of spaces. When nationally coded notions of stability are
framed as threatened, they easily become bound up with expressions of anxiety,
distress, anger or rage. This dynamic is often sociolinguistically invested, with lan-
guage and communication being the standard topics and objects of upset. Such
tumultuous moments add to protracted language ideological debates, latching onto or
challenging nationalist imaginaries, including the imagined ethos of the Nordic
nation-states (see Blommaert et al. 2012; Madsen et al. 2015; Milani 2020). The included
articles tap into these issues.
4 Introducing the contributions
In the opening contribution, Karrebæk and Kirilova discuss the legal system in
Denmark, where matters of language and multilingualism have come to attract
ample, and somewhat unexpected, attention when court interpreting has been
outsourced. Danish law demands that suspects accused of crimes are to be heard in
a language they understand. In order to meet this requirement in a diverse,
multilingual society, the use of professional interpreters has become widespread
in Danish court proceedings. As Karrebæk and Kirilova show, this practice triggers
upset across a range of scales, from the minutiae of courtroom interaction to racist
Salö, in the next article, explores similar sociolinguistic matters in another
institutional space: Swedish public service television and one of its subspaces, the
newsroom. The contribution discusses the experiences of a news anchor –Dina
Haddad –who speaks Swedish with a “foreign accent”,andtheﬁerce forms of upset
that have been directed at her on account of her speech. Members of the public, but
also some of her peers, target Haddad’s language use with racist insults and injurious
remarks. What is at issue in this case is the broadcasting of a subject whose speech
ruptures with long-standing expectations of who is allowed to speak, where and
how –and who ultimately can become an index of undesired change.
Lehtonen and Møller explore linguistically diverse classrooms in Denmark
and Finland, tapping into the sociolinguistic realities of two Nordic polities. While
their account is not straightforwardly a comparative one, certain country-speciﬁc
differences as well as similarities surface in their analyses. Their article focuses
on classroom situations where resources associated with minority languages are
introduced or highlighted by teachers and researchers. They also explore
the ensuing upset, such as the hostility or embarrassment that the teachers’
interventions cause among their young students. The investigated classrooms in
the two states can be viewed as spaces of upset where sociolinguistic friction is
generated by competing normativities for language use, as well as by negotiations
of linguistic ownership, characterized by questions of legitimacy and expertise.
In Rydell and Hanell’s contribution, the relationship between the notions of
“language for work”and “work for language”provides the entry point to an in-
quiry into the valorization of language in domestic labor. Here, the avoidance of
‘upset’is a major concern. Adopting a historical lens, the authors explore how the
willingness to learn a new language has been strategically invoked by domestic
workers and companies as a way to mitigate and prevent upset, and thereby
facilitate the commodification of labor. Historically, domestic workers’aspirations
to immigrate to Sweden, as Rydell and Hanell show, have been presented in public
as an ambition to learn the Swedish language. Early twentieth-century immigrant
domestic workers often claimed to seek out the language, rather than seeking out
work. Reiterating this discourse, contemporary cleaning companies frame lin-
guistic integration as a positive effect of their services, thus marketing a socially
questioned enterprise as beneficial to precarious workers, and to society at large.
Madsen explores how upset arises in public discussions about digital
communication technologies. Her article analyzes the medicalization of the use of
smartphones and social media in contemporary Denmark, focusing on how no-
tions of normality, emergency, self-control and neurochemistry are mobilized in
popular accounts of these modes of communication. She analyzes how digitally
mediated communication has become a pervasive space of upset, replete with
anxieties over social, communicative and medical deviation and abnormality.
Upset, in this case, implies moral and media panics over digital practices, and
broaches the expansion of digital communication technologies in the Nordic
14 Salö et al.
societies more generally. Madsen’s analysis shows how reluctance and skepticism
are rearticulated by a medical authority, and how this intervention becomes a
powerful means of enforcing communicative norms, invoking notions of distur-
bance of normality and lack of control. This mode of panic effectively taps into
people’s private concerns –in particular of their families’well-being and safety.
More broadly, Madsen demonstrates how the notion of upset can serve as a con-
ceptual frame for cases and topics lying beyond the politics of difference.
In the final article, Leppänen and Westinen explore how the ripple effects of
societal debates on integration and belonging seep into grassroot social media
practices, where upset in the form of hate speech can be expressed and debated in
more direct ways than in more traditional media. In their case, however, social
media is shown to function as an arena for interrogating and countering such
upset. Here, language-related upset is investigated speciﬁcally in two social media
videos by performers of color. Their ﬁrst case focuses on a job applicant whose
supposedly unintelligible heterogeneous language is translated using an app.
Their second case deals with a vlogger who investigates and critiques racist
remarks, and, in particular, their poor linguistic form. In both cases, upset is
crucially related to the entanglement of language(s) intertwined with the (im)
possibility of belonging for ethnic and/or racial minorities. The article shows how
performers of color take center stage in social media for their carnivalist yet critical
performances that challenge the supposed normative order of white Finnishness
and the language of which it claims to have sole ownership.
The issue closes with a commentary by Monica Heller, who offers a three-
dimensional, dialogic reading of the contributions, contextualizing the Nordic
cases in relation to globally pervasive themes: the legacy of empire, the durability
of racial doctrines, the advent of post/neocolonialism, and the North as frontier.
These optics –we agree with Heller –place the Nordic cases in a more expansive
social and historical frame. As guest editors, we share her hope that they –just like
the cases, frameworks and analyses presented in the articles –“eventually allow
for the extension of the problematics pointed to in this issue to the obvious next
places to examine”(Heller this issue). As an analytical notion, then, spaces of
upset may serve well to detect and grasp disruptions of durable sociolinguistic
orders –in the Nordic region and beyond.
Research funding: This work is supported by the Joint Committee for Nordic
Research Councils for the Humanities and the Social Sciences (NOS-HS) funded by
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