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Discourse 4: Naturalisation

At the same time as, and in tension with, the discourse of redeployment is the tendency to fix and normalise meaning by presenting interpretations of the crisis as “given”. This discourse is aligned with Barthes’ concept of the naturalisation of representation, and can be seen as a progression of the discourse of positioning, whereby once events are located within known frameworks, they are presented as naturally understood in certain ways.

So throughout the three data sets, but particularly by 2012, sit discourses that are concerned to normalise the catastrophic events, and absorb them into the general consciousness. These discourses are part of a longer-term naturalisation of the understanding of events (Barthes, 1972), by which the meaning of the BP oil spill is seen as presumed and unarguable. They are evident in a number of linguistic patterns. There is a continued decrease in modal expressions of uncertainty, suggesting that propositions are not open for question or challenge. The range of naming terms for the events is smaller, and the terms are longer, incorporating shorthand descriptions of the events that propose brief and selective ways of understanding them. The BP story is increasingly reduced to an explanatory footnote or an illustrative example within a different story. For the BP oil spill to have any resonance as explanatory footnote or illustrative example suggests that a process of naturalisation is under way.

Strategies by writers to present the events as naturalised can be seen to serve both business and socio-cultural interests. With time, events are positioned as no longer new and unique, but past and “other”. From a specifically business perspective, a return to business as usual is the key aim for business management (de Cock, Cutcher, & Grant, 2010; Stephens et al., 2005), for whom crises are seen as part of the nature of business development. Coverage in my set of texts draws upon a number of entrenched assumptions about business in general, and the oil business in particular. [1] [2] [3]

So texts such as those of the business and market reports genre present the events from the perspective that crises such as oil spills are inevitable, but that measures have been taken to mitigate their likely future occurrence. In two of the researched texts consultancy services advise on crisis management and restoring business reputations. I have mentioned in analysis texts which deal with BP’s forward planning, as well as calls for the resumption of deepwater drilling in the Gulf.

Outside the business context, media coverage refers to the BP events within the context of known social phenomena. The events are no longer the exclusive province of business and the environment, but part of a shared history, and aligned with quite disparate concepts through the processes of redeployment. One difference between business and nonbusiness media coverage is that outside the area of business, there is less concern to naturalise the events by treating them as part of the “rough and tumble” of business. Rather, they are a resource to be drawn on as a representative token of a certain type of human experience, be it an environmental issue, a huge lawsuit or an example of complacency about safety. This is a more complex reading of the representation than the business reading. By 2012, resistant discourses are still evident (environmental protest being the most obvious example) and at that time it was still clear that discourses of naturalisation are by no means complete and meanings are still being argued, and their boundaries contested.

In Summary

I found four discourses of media representation across the three data sets:

  • 1. Objective factuality.
  • 2. Positioning.
  • 3. Redeployment.
  • 4. Naturalisation.

While there was a broad progression from each of these discourses to the next over the course of the media coverage, nevertheless, there was also evidence of overlap and interplay between them within each of the data sets. The progression was not necessarily fully sequential or systematic, and I explore this observation in Chaps. 13 and 14. Meanwhile, the fourth stage of analysis is to investigate how the findings from the Stage 3 depth analysis can be understood within single texts, and the following chapter offers an example of this type of holistic analysis.

  • [1] That business needs to continue to grow, whether or not this is logicalfrom the point of view of sustainability (Western, 2010).
  • [2] That business involves inevitable risks and setbacks. These need to be“dealt with”, “beaten” and “recovered from”. Indeed, the business crisis can be construed as an opportunity to expedite desired change orrenegotiate leadership practices (Mitroff, 2005; O’Reilly, Lamprou,Leitch, & Harrison, 2013).
  • [3] Business in general, and the oil business in particular, is regarded asadventurous, exciting and pioneering. Seen in this way, risk (althoughnot its negative outcomes) is potentially both exciting and admirable.
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