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Article

Legitimacy and crisis are closely related concepts. A crisis may even be viewed as a process of legitimation. Legitimacy is a collective perception about which actors and institutions that have the right to rule, regulate, and decide. Crises put legitimacy at stake and may, depending on the premises and management strategies, challenge, enhance, or impair legitimacy. Legitimacy and communication are entwined into each other. Legitimacy as a process is dependent on communication in its original sense: ritual communication as a sacred ceremony that unites people and creates a community. When legitimacy is put at stake, organizations and other actors use strategic communication to respond to, confront, and impact the outcome by the use of different crisis (or legitimacy) communication strategies and tactics. But while legitimacy is an old concept, the premises for handling legitimacy have changed. One way to view this shift, from a societal theoretical standpoint, is to focus the shift between modernity and late modernity as an interpretative framework. Increased diversity and mobility, globalization, reflexivity, and mediation are new premises for legitimacy work. The multivocal and multifaceted character of late modern society challenges organizational as well as societal legitimacy, especially in crisis situations. Political debates and critical reasoning questioning the role and actions of different social institutions are necessary from a democratic standpoint, but when core societal institutions are delegitimized, risks occur. This may be happening in several Western societies, with increased polarization and fundamental questioning of important institutions. Crises (e.g., the coronavirus pandemic) and how they are handled and managed by existing institutions may be radical turning points of legitimacy in governance. Crisis management and communication have developed as possible tools for organizations to handle legitimacy crises. Simplified, one may use three theories of legitimacy strategies in crisis as developed in the applied field of crisis communication. These three theories include image repair theory (rhetoric), situational crisis communication theory, and a broader array of alternative network and complexity theory.

Article

Johan Eriksson

What is “threat framing”? It concerns how something or someone is perceived, labeled, and communicated as a threat to something or someone. The designation “threat,” notably, belongs to the wider family of negative concerns such as danger, risk, or hazard. Research on threat framing is not anchored in a single or specific field but rather is scattered across three separate and largely disconnected bodies of literature: framing theory, security studies, and crisis studies. It is noteworthy that whereas these literatures have contributed observations on how and under what consequences something is framed as a threat, none of them have sufficiently problematized the concept of threat. Crisis analysis considers the existence or perception of threat essential for a crisis to emerge, along with a perception of urgency and uncertainty, yet crisis studies focus on the meaning of “crisis” without problematizing the concept of threat. Likewise, security studies have spent a lot of ink defining “security,” typically understood as the “absence of threat,” but leave the notion of “threat” undefined. Further, framing theory is concerned with “problem definition” as a main or first function of framing but generally pays little or no attention to the meaning of “threat.” Moreover, cutting across these bodies of literature is the distinction between constructivist and rationalist approaches, both of which have contributed to the understanding of threat framing. Constructivist analyses have emphasized how threat framing can be embedded in a process of socialization and acculturation, making some frames appear normal and others highly contested. Rationalist approaches, on the other hand, have shown how threat framing can be a conscious strategic choice, intended to accomplish certain political effects such as the legitimization of extraordinary means, allocation of resources, or putting issues high on the political agenda. Although there are only a handful of studies explicitly combining insights across these fields, they have made some noteworthy observations. These studies have shown for example how different types of framing may fuel amity or enmity, cooperation, or conflict. These studies have also found that antagonistic threat frames are more likely to result in a securitizing or militarizing logic than do structural threat frames. Institutionalized threat frames are more likely to gain and maintain saliency, particularly if they are associated with policy monopolies. In the post-truth era, however, the link between evidence and saliency of frames is weakened, leaving room for a much more unpredictable politics of framing.

Article

Shari R. Veil, Chelsea L. Woods, and Ryan Crace

The development and maintenance plans of the three 9/11 memorials and museums are examined to explore how crisis memorials and museums strategically communicate to maintain collective crisis memory. Memorial professionals accept that the location of the memorial is nonnegotiable, engage community partners in the design and development of crisis memorial features, maintain focus on the mission to ensure long-term viability of the memorial, solicit and archive shared stories of remembrance to foster a prospective vision, and concentrate on learning to foster healing and adaptive capacity.

Article

Matthew Seeger

Crisis communication may be understood as the process of creating and exchanging messages between interdependent stakeholders in conditions of high uncertainty, threats to high-priority goals, and the need for immediate response created by a crisis. This process occurs through established channels and networks of communication, using a variety of message forms. Feedback, message consistency, message tailoring, message reach, transparency and openness, immediacy, credibility, and coordination with key groups, among other factors, are related to effectiveness. Communication within the context of crisis is necessary for coordination, sense-making, effective response, recovery, renewal, learning, and the development of resilience. Processes of communication generally follow the developmental nature of crises from pre-crisis conditions where risks develop and incubate to post-crisis conditions where social and organizational structures, processes, and norms are reconstructed. Crisis communication is closely related to risk communication that concerns the ongoing process of exchanging messages to monitor, understand, and manage risks. Effective communication is essential to the successful management of crises, and communication functions should be included in crisis and risk policy formation and planning as well as response and recovery. Communication may also promote the development of resilience and contribute to system renewal.