In the recent ten years, the world society was confronted with utterly devastating crises whose social, economic and political consequences are still noticeable nowadays. In particular the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the war in Iraq, the Indian Ocean tsunami disaster in December 2004, but also the current international economic crisis, which drove a number of the biggest international finance companies to bankruptcy, can be mentioned here. Besides operational crisis management activities of the involved institutions, particularly the appropriate (public) communication turned out to be an extensive challenge for professional communicators in those crisis situations. In spite of the high sociopolitical relevance of these issues, only insufficient attention was paid to research-based explanations of communication processes in the context of organizational crises, natural disasters or armed conflicts. Although a considerable number of studies on these topics exists, integrative theoretical approaches and comprehensive empirical studies, which could consolidate this fragmented field of research, are still missing (Löffelholz and Schwarz, 2008).
From a scientific point of view, communication plays a pivotal role in the analysis of crisis situations since crises can be conceived as social and observer-depending constructions (Hearit and Courtright, 2004, Löffelholz, 2004b). They run contrary to normal expectations of continuity, are considered as--at least hypothetically--threatening the existence of involved social systems and, moreover, are perceived to have highly negative impacts (Kohring et al., 1996). Consequently, crises can be influenced and mitigated by communication as a constitutive element of all crises. This underpins the outstanding importance of media and journalism as well as the different forms of strategic organizational communication.
Crisis communication as an interdisciplinary field of research provides very much potential for the scholarly understanding of communication processes as well as perceptions and the behavior of stakeholders in turbulent and threatening situations. Most relevant in this context are mainly those who are involved in the professional creation and management of public (crisis) communication, primarily journalism and public relations as well as their specific audiences. Although a number of studies from different theoretical perspectives are available, “there are many different disciplinary voices, talking in different languages to different issues and audiences” (Shrivastava, 1993). All in all, the current state of research regarding crisis communication can be described as respectable but highly fragmented (Coombs, 2007, Löffelholz, 2004b, Pearson and Clair, 1998), because the different approaches and empirical findings have barely been seen in relation to each other.
It is noticeable that present research mostly adopts isolated perspectives on psychological, organizational and societal crises or separates political crisis (including war and conflict) from economic crisis (including corporate crises). At first glance, this makes sense, because business crises evolve under different conditions and yield different effects than political crises, especially those that are related to armed conflicts. On the other hand, we assume that there exist common patterns of how such crises are socially constructed by involved actors and how the media bring up and frame crises. Therefore, we suggest that research in the field of war reporting / security related polical communication can benefit substantially from theoretical approaches and findings of research in the field of organizational crisis communication (e.g. (Coombs, 2006, Millar and Heath, 2004, Seeger et al., 2003), which mainly refers to corporate crisis. And vice versa, the analyses of journalistic news production, contents and the uses/effects of crisis and war coverage (Taylor, 1998, Löffelholz, 2004a) may provide insights into the comprehension of organizational crisis communication. Therefore, the International Research Group on Crisis Communication (IRGoCC) wants to stimulate and advance integrative research efforts in the fields of communication-oriented crisis research. In doing so, studies that focus on the analysis of communication on natural disasters (Nohrstedt, 2000) or terrorist attacks (Nacos, 2007) should be considered, too.
Conference goals and program concept
The international conference “Crisis Communication in the 21st Century” is inspired by these goals. We aim at bringing together different theoretical approaches and empirical findings of coexisting research fields related to crisis communication, which mostly lack any reference to each other. In order to avoid the reproduction of the above mentioned disciplinary ‘Tower of Babel-effect’ we created a two-dimensional scheme for the conference program, which facilitates communication and discussion between speakers and audiences of different backgrounds. On the one hand, scholars who studied the different types of crisis (organizational crisis, war, terror, natural disasters) will be considered and, on the other hand, different focuses on the communication process (WHO: communicators; CHANNEL/WHAT: media, journalism, contents; WHOM/EFFECTS: reception) will be integrated.
In previous conferences contributions to the study of crisis communication were organized according to crisis types or disciplines, for instance by including a panel on journalistic war reporting and another panel on public relations and organizational crisis. The IRGoCC conference will take a different approach: All contributions will be arranged according to their predominant communication process perspective (see figure1).
Along these lines, findings and theoretical concepts related to different crisis types can be discussed and analyzed comparatively. The IRGoCC hopes for an intensive academic discourse constituting a starting point for discovering theoretical intersections, complementary empirical findings, but also creating a platform for future interdisciplinary collaborative research., We have invited, therefore, some of the internationally most renowned scholars who contributed substantially to the development of crisis communication (management) as a field of study. As one of the results of the conference we intend to put together the conference papers in an edited volume, which is planned to be published by an internationally renowned publishing house.
Martin Löffelholz and Andreas Schwarz
COOMBS, W. T. (2006) Crisis Management: A Communicative Approach. IN BOTAN, C. H. & HAZLETON, V. (Eds.) Public Relations Theory II. Mahwah, New Jersey, Lawrence Erlbaum.
COOMBS, W. T. (2007) Attribution Theory as a guide for post-crisis communication research. Public Relations Review, 33, 135-139.
HEARIT, K. M. & COURTRIGHT, J. L. (2004) A Symbolic Approach to Crisis Management: Sears Defense of its Auto Repair Policies. IN HEATH, R. L. & MILLAR, D. P. (Eds.) Responding to Crisis. A Rhetorical Approach to Crisis Communication. Mahwah, New Jersey, Lawrence Erlbaum.
KOHRING, M., GÖRKE, A. & RUHRMANN, G. (1996) Konflikte, Kriege, Katastrophen. Zur Funktion internationaler Krisenkommunikation [Conflicts, wars, disasters. The function of international crisis communication]. IN MECKEL, M. & KRIENER, M. (Eds.) Internationale Kommunikation. Eine Einführung [International communication. An introduction]. Opladen, Westdeutscher Verlag
LÖFFELHOLZ, M. (Ed.) (2004a) Krieg als Medienereignis II. Krisenkommunikation im 21. Jahrhundert [War as media event II. Crisis communication in the 21st century], Wiesbaden, VS, Verl. für Sozialwiss.
LÖFFELHOLZ, M. (2004b) Krisen- und Kriegskommunikation als Forschungsfeld. Trends, Themen, Theorien eines hoch relevanten, aber gering systematisierten Teilgebietes der Kommunikationswissenschaft [Crisis and war communication as a field of research. Trends, issues, theories of a highly relevant but scarcely systematized sub-field of communication studies] IN LÖFFELHOLZ, M. (Ed.) Krieg als Medienereignis II. Krisenkommunikation im 21. Jahrhundert [War as media event II. Crisis communication in the 21st century]. Wiesbaden, VS, Verl. für Sozialwiss.
LÖFFELHOLZ, M. & SCHWARZ, A. (2008) Die Krisenkommunikation von Organisationen: Ansätze, Ergebnisse und Perspektiven der Forschung [Organizational crisis communication: Theoretical approaches, findings and perspectives of a research field]. IN NOLTING, T. & THIEßEN, A. (Eds.) Krisenmanagement in der Mediengesellschaft: Potenziale und Perspektiven in der Krisenkommunikation [Crisis management in the media society: Potential and perspectives of crisis communication]. Wiesbaden, VS, Verl. für Sozialwiss.
MILLAR, D. P. & HEATH, R. L. (Eds.) (2004) Responding to Crisis: A Rhetorical Approach to Crisis Communication, Mahwah, New Jersey, Lawrence Erlbaum.
NACOS, B. L. (2007) Mass-mediated terrorism. The central role of the media in terrorism and counterterrorism, Lanham, Md [u.a.], Rowman & Littlefield.
NOHRSTEDT, S. A. (2000) Communication Challenges in Connection with Catastrophes and States of Emergency. A Review of the Literature. Nordicom Review, 21, 137-156.
PEARSON, C. M. & CLAIR, J. A. (1998) Reframing Crisis Management. Academy of Management Review, 23, 59-76.
SEEGER, M. W., SELLNOW, T. L. & ULMER, R. R. (2003) Communication and Organizational Crisis, Westport, Praeger.
SHRIVASTAVA, P. (1993) Crisis theory/practice: Towards a sustainable future. Industrial and Environmental Crisis Quarterly, 7, 23-42.
TAYLOR, P. M. (1998) War and the media. Propaganda and persuasion in the Gulf War, Manchester [u.a.], Manchester Univ. Press.