Semiotic vagueness as a tool for goal fulfilment

‘Platforms of values’ in Swedish public administration

Authors

  • Anders Björkvall Örebro University
  • Catharina Nyström Höög Dalarna University

DOI:

https://doi.org/10.1558/jalpp.15693

Keywords:

Swedish public authorities, Critical Genre Analysis, professional practice, ‘platform of values’, semiotic vagueness, discursive identity

Abstract

Over the past 15 years, ‘platform of values’ texts presenting core values have become common in most Swedish public authorities. This article presents a study of how this genre is understood and used in professional practices. The aim is to show how semiotic vagueness in such texts serves a number of previously under-researched purposes in public organizations, including, rather paradoxically, concrete goal achievement. The framework of critical genre analysis enables the analytical process to move from text to practice, and further to the superordinate level of professional culture. Three different data sets are analysed: 47 ‘platform of values’ texts; a focus group discussion with seven senior civil servants/managers; and a quantitative questionnaire study answered by civil servants from three public authorities. The findings suggest that vagueness serves as a means to exercise managerial control through the promotion of interpretative work and continuous, identity-related dialogues on value related issues. The article argues that even though such uses of the ‘platform of values’ genre may be functional in neo-bureaucratic organizations, it is also problematic when semiotic vagueness is used as a tool for concrete actions such as internal promotions.

Author Biographies

Anders Björkvall, Örebro University

Anders Björkvall has a PhD in Scandinavian Languages from Stockholm University and holds the chair of Swedish at Örebro University, Sweden. His research interests include genre analysis, organizational discourse, multimodality, new literacy studies and social semiotics. Recent publications include ‘The critical analysis of genre and social action’ in The Cambridge Handbook of Discourse Studies and ‘Semiotics of destruction: Traces on the environment’ in Visual Communication (with Arlene Archer). His co-edited book Advancing Multimodal and Critical Discourse Studies: Interdisciplinary Research Inspired by Theo van Leeuwen’s Social Semiotics has recently been published by Routledge.

Catharina Nyström Höög, Dalarna University

Catharina Nyström Höög received her PhD in Scandinavian Languages from Uppsala University, and she is currently university lecturer at Stockholm University, Sweden. Her research interests include stylistics and text linguistics, plain language, genre analysis and organizational discourse. Her recent publications include ‘Legitimation of value practices, value texts, and core values at public authorities’ in Discourse & Communication (together with Anders Björkvall), ‘The multi-modal non-fiction’ in Sakprosa (together with Johan Tønnesson, Per Ledin and Gustav Westberg) and ‘Core values in public administration: Tools for openness and democracy?’ in CADAAD Journal.

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Published

2021-11-11

How to Cite

Björkvall, A., & Nyström Höög, C. (2021). Semiotic vagueness as a tool for goal fulfilment: ‘Platforms of values’ in Swedish public administration. Journal of Applied Linguistics and Professional Practice, 16(1), 5–28. https://doi.org/10.1558/jalpp.15693

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