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The textual approach: risk and blame in disaster sensemaking

Author(s): Robert P. Gephart Jr.
Year Published: 1993

This article investigates responses to a gas pipeline explosion as a means of uncovering the methods that organizations and other participants use to make sense during disaster and to change situations. Sensemaking deals with how organizations and individuals explain or “make sense of” what goes on around them. Gephart is interested in how people use communication as a means of making sense of disasters. He finds that participants use communication to make sense of disaster situations in a number of ways, including conversations related to responsibility, risk, and safety; open avoidance of “blaming” participants and “allocating responsibility” to those who controlled events; and using common words and phrases found within the organization in order to explain the disaster. Looking at how people talk about disasters uncovers their values. For example, talk following the pipeline explosion centered around responsibility, risk, and safety, and it favored words and phrases commonly used in the organization. Understanding what people value allows managers to more effectively motivate them for change.

Citation: Gephart RP, Jr. The textual approach: risk and blame in disaster sensemaking. Academy of Management Journal 36 (6), p. 1465-1514.
Topic(s): Fire Communication & Education, Crisis Communication, Human Dimensions of Fire Management, Decisionmaking & Sensemaking, Risk
Ecosystem(s): None
Document Type: Book or Chapter or Journal Article
Hot Topic(s): Decisionmaking
NRFSN number: 16261
Record updated: Dec 19, 2017