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Norm-critical proofreaders want to edit out stereotypes

Published måndag 16 februari 2015 kl 16.47
"It's not like I have a checklist"
(2:22 min)
Books
In Sweden, "norm-critical proofreaders" want to rid texts of stereotypes. Photo: Nathalie Rothschild/Radio Sweden

Norm-critical proofreading can be a way to help writers avoid entrenching stereotypes, according to Majk Michaelsdotter, who offers editing services focused on removing what she calls "hurtful norms".

"Generally, someone wants an extra pair of eyes on what they're writing or they're worried about reproducing hurtful norms that have to do with gender, ethnicity, sexuality, class etc.," Michaelsdotter says of her clients.

Sweden is seeing a bit of a boom in editors who pay attention not just to punctuation and grammar, but also to how writers depict women, minorities, people with disabilities or different sexual orientations.

So, what criteria do norm-critical proofreaders use? How do they decide what a stereotype or a hurtful norm is? How do they determine what kind of writing is non-inclusive or discriminatory?

"It's a judgement call, but of course if a text reproduces any kind of racism or sexism etc... But that is a judgement call,” Michaelsdotter tells Radio Sweden. “So I guess it depends how you see it but obviously there are certain things that I'm looking for and that I will react to, but it's not like I have a checklist."

Michaelsdotter works mainly with companies and organisations that care about issues like anti-racism, feminism or LGBTQ rights, she says. Other norm-critical proofreaders also deal with books and academic texts. But what about old books, like novels written in the past? Should they also go through norm-critical proofreading?

"Certainly that would be interesting and good in many ways, but I also think it would involve a lot of work. I imagine that if you go through something that was written without any kind of norm-critical perspective you'd have to edit quite a lot for it to pass through something like this," says Michaelsdotter.

But if texts are edited along "norm-critical" lines, does that mean new norms will be introduced into the Swedish language? New norms for how to express ideas or portray characters for instance? Michaelsdotter doesn’t think so.

"It's not about delivering a ready-made concept. You have to think about who the reader is and what the purpose of the text is. So, no I'm actually not worried about that.”

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