Victim, villain, or scapegoat? Mediating organizational crises embedded in social problems and the transformation of order

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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)317-349
Number of pages33
Journal / PublicationCommunication Monographs
Online published17 May 2023
Publication statusPublished - 2023


Western crisis communication theories focusing on individual attribution and stable underlying norms fail to account for crises embedded in larger social problems that lead to regulatory changes. By analysing three cases that Chinese crisis managers initially identified as “commission”, “control” and “agreement” situations (Bradford & Garrett, Citation1995) but ended up as crises involving “absent standards”, “bad standards” and “overrated standards”, in which the first two resulted in normative changes, we highlight the deliberative potential of crisis communication embodied in the “standards situation”. When neither journalistic narratives portraying the accused as a “villain” nor organizational accounts foregrounding a “victim/scapegoat” self-perception can contain attribution at individual levels, the society enters a deliberative mode that interrogates actors’ collective guilt complicit in a crisis.

© 2023 National Communication Association

Research Area(s)

  • Crisis situation, communication strategies, investigative journalism, social problem, irony, China