This thesis addresses the issue of how special players (crisis entrepreneurs)
try to generate attention to a latent crisis and how government communication
can contribute to identifying and interpreting such a crisis.
In chapter 1, I show how crisis communication is an activity that is often
associated with organizations. This study takes a different view. It is based
on the concept that strategic crisis communication is used by those in
the immediate environment to achieve certain goals. In society, certain
individuals and groups can decide to oppose and denounce a given crisis.
Some of those involved often start signalling the risk of an impending
crisis before any such crisis has actually developed. In this study, I refer
to individuals who generate signals of this kind as ‘crisis entrepreneurs’.
These crisis entrepreneurs typically take the initiative when it comes to
airing their concerns about a potential crisis situation. However, such individuals
often have to deal with certain interactional problems that make it
difficult for them to raise the issue of a crisis. They have to deal with certain
‘interactional’ challenges, while running the risk that their signals will
not be picked up. For instance, they can be held responsible for raising the
problem in question. They can be accused of bearing some degree of personal
responsibility for the problem, through negligence, incompetence,
or laziness, for example. In this study, I have explored the way in which
crisis entrepreneurs issue signals. This is an attempt to identify the problems
that they encounter as they attempt to draw people’s attention to a
given crisis. The goal of this study is to enhance our understanding of crisis
entrepreneurs’ interactional problems. The study makes use of the ‘discursive
perspective’, which is based on the discursive psychological approach
developed in the 1990s by two British social psychologists, Derek Edwards
and Jonathan Potter. To date, this interaction-based approach has seldom
been used in the context of crisis communication.
Chapter 2 underlines the value of examining the way in which stakeholders
within an organization’s environment raise the issue of a crisis.
In terms of crises as a phenomenon, it is important to do justice to
the dynamics of risks and crises. In essence, this is about what happens
in the course of interactions. In such an environment, it is vital for an
organization to keep pace with those in its surroundings if it is to observe
signals in interaction with this dynamic environment. This requires a
view of crisis communication that allows sufficient scope for the interactional
Chapter 3 explores various elements that characterize crises in general,
while describing a particularly significant phase - the latent crisis. I have
identified two forms of latent crisis, a lingering form and a creeping form.
These two forms differ chiefly in terms of the dynamics involved. While
the dynamics of both types exhibit both peaks and troughs, there are differences.
Lingering crises are entirely lacking in dynamism for extended
periods of time. The dynamics of creeping crises, on the other hand, tend to
After describing the theoretical framework of the study, chapter 4 proceeds
to explore the theoretical and methodological scope of discursive
psychology, in terms of an interactional approach to crisis communication.
Discursive psychology offers the valuable option of using discourse analysis
to examine the social context of risks from the standpoint of everyday
reality. A discursive perspective characteristically focuses on a) everyday
interactions that are not shaped by the study itself and b) the transactions
that, either consciously or unconsciously, feature in such interactions.
The discursive perspective offers a specific form of discourse analysis that
communications professionals can use to understand how those in the
environment express their ideas relative to others. The significance of this
is that it can help professionals to understand the specific interactional
problems facing crisis entrepreneurs. These involve dealing with certain
‘interactional’ challenges, while running the risk that their signals will not
be picked up.
Chapter 5 discusses the two cases selected for this study. The selected
case domain is education in the Netherlands. I have investigated the ways
in which crisis entrepreneurs have signalled problems in this sector. I used
discourse analysis (Edwards, 1997; Potter, 1992) to first examine the interactional
efforts of those behind collective social movements, then those of
individual whistleblowers. To this end, I studied an interview with Matthé
Sjamaar, the rector of a secondary school, which was published in Onderwijsblad
(education journal) in May 1998. I also examined the manifesto of
Beter Onderwijs Nederland (better education for the Netherlands; BON),
which was published in the NRC Handelsblad newspaper in June 2006. Both
sources raised the issue of a crisis. One of the criteria that I used in selecting
these texts was whether the crisis entrepreneur in question had the ability
to influence the public debate. In both cases, both local and national media
responded to the statements made by these crisis entrepreneurs. Using a
discursive response analysis, I explored the way in which newspapers dealt
with the interactional problems faced by these crisis entrepreneurs.
Chapters 6 and 7 form the empirical part of this study. The analysis identified
three important discursive activities that are carried out by crisis
entrepreneurs. These are: 1. demonstrating the validity of the problem,
2. establishing the messenger’s credibility, and 3. creating the belief in a
solution. The analysis showed that Matthé Sjamaar creates indirectly undetermined
others in the environment as being partly responsible for the
cause of the problem, while exhibiting a degree of fatalism and holding out
no prospect of a solution. He makes an indefinite-side group responsible
for the problems. He shows he can not control the problem because it is
too large. He creates the crisis as an isolated entity. They are merely the
facts which he shows, which are independent of him. He suggests that he
has done a lot of hard work and now others have to do something.
The media portrayed Rector Sjamaar as symbolizing a problem that was
primarily a personal issue. BON, on the other hand, presents itself as a collective
that is committed to achieving better education in the Netherlands.
The writers display insight and overview of the education problem and
create the association to BON as a group consisting of ‘outspoken thinkers’
who are not hindered by doubts. The authors set themselves superior
in their attitude towards the education reformers. The writers poses the
problem as clear and relevant to everyone and so they create their own
need for existence. So now they start a movement and give voice to something
that has long been going on: BON is the solution to turn the tide. We
can jointly fate a twist. Various media sources reinforced this image, portraying
this social movement as the solution to the problem.
The study has shown that crisis entrepreneurs may differ in terms of the
strategies used and the interactional problems encountered. The solutions
put forward by BON have proved more effective than those suggested by
Rector Sjamaar. As a result, the discursive activities pursued by the former
have been more successful than those of the latter. The diverse reactions
exhibited by the media sources in this study serve to underline the precarious
nature of a crisis entrepreneur’s operation. For instance, the analysis
shows that rather than focusing on the authenticity of his signal, the
responses to Matthé Sjamaar’s article dismiss his views as a purely private
emotion. Based on this study, I show that the Rector’s initiative was undermined
by his presentation of the problem. It failed to trigger a general
sense of crisis as a result of segregation. BON fared very differently, as the
problem of educational reform is already widely recognized. Moreover, as
the analysis shows, BON’s spokespersons are important actors in this connection.
Ad and Marijke Verbrugge have put forward polarizing arguments,
in which they distance themselves from the New Learning concept. These
views have clearly been taken on board by supporters and opponents in the
debate triggered by these authors. The study has also shown that certain
interactional problems are not necessarily inevitable, but that such problems
can be triggered by crisis entrepreneurs themselves. Its content is
inextricably linked to people’s goals in making specific comments.
Chapter 8 summarizes the main observations in this thesis. It shows
that the problems created by raising the issue of a latent crisis are not
purely substantive in nature (‘is this crisis genuine?’), there is also an interactional
aspect (for example, ‘how do I get people to accept the urgency
and validity of the problem?’). My study provides a greater understanding
of the course that crises can take. It also shows that crisis entrepreneurs
can be seen as dynamic elements within society. They express dissenting
views, and launch new initiatives through various forms of traditional and
electronic media. This process can be very instructive. Communications
professionals can better understand how crises develop among those in
their environment if they are aware of the types of interactional problems,
and the types of responses, that can result from raising the issue of a crisis.
Moreover, this might also help communications professionals to achieve
better outcomes in their dealings with crisis entrepreneurs.
A discursive approach is valuable in this respect because it shows how
certain themes in communication can deal with policy development. This
approach can lead to a better hold on these themes in practice and can
provide another perspective to widespread failure of interaction between
government and citizens. The government is often unable to understand
what the citizen means, because their interactional problems are not recognized.
Knowledge of their doubts on an issue, can help the organization
to acquire a better understanding of objections – from inside and
out – against a particular policy. A discourse analysis of the interactional
contributions of crisis entrepreneurs may give a rich and structured insight
into latent crisis supply, including the strategies, interactional problems
and reactions of the actors involved and how they are able to recognize a