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Hui Zhao



Politicizing crisis communication via social media : A contextual understanding of organizational crises in China


  • Hui Zhao

Summary, in English

This dissertation aims to increase the knowledge about how societal contexts shape the social construction of crises in Chinese social media. It consists of four articles to advance current crisis communication research theoretically and empirically. Drawing on the social constructionist approach, Article 1 proposes a theoretical framework for investigating how societal contexts are embedded in crisis construction in China. Following the proposed theoretical framework, Articles 2, 3, and 4 present empirical analyses of the political and technological contexts in China that impact the construction and negotiation of meaning among social actors on the Chinese microblogging service Weibo, which consequently shapes crisis construction. The crisis construction is further excavated into various forms, including the constructions of crisis attribution, authority, and organizational misconduct, which are examined in the Articles 2, 3 and 4, respectively. This dissertation employs multiple qualitative methods for text analysis to examine posts and comments on Weibo regarding two organizational crises (i.e., the McDonalds’ crisis in 2014 and the United Airlines crisis in 2017). More specifically, the qualitative methods include framing analysis (Article 2), genre analysis (Article 3), and qualitative content analysis (Article 4).

This dissertation offers a novel depiction of crisis communication in China, which accentuates the influences of political and technological contexts. The findings from the four articles justify and validate the complex and mutually constitutive relationship between politics and technology that underpin the construction of crises in the Chinese context. More specifically, the dissertation observes three ways of contextual influence on the construction of organizational crises: (1) the ascribing of crisis attribution through construction and negotiation of meaning; (2) the generation of authority through social actors’ actions and interactions; and (3) the debating of organizational misconduct through public interpretation and discussion. Moreover, a synthesis of the findings from the three empirical articles reveals that the politics, or the political dimensions, of crisis have become deeply ingrained —even unavoidable—in the Chinese context and are relevant not only to crises that derive from various political factors, but also for those that originate without political implications. This dissertation suggests the term “politicizing crisis communication” to describe the process through which social actors ascribe political meaning to and/or interpret organizational crises from political viewpoints. Three elements, namely crisis attribution, crisis management, and crisis implication, are discussed to conceptualize the idea of “politicizing crisis communication.”

This dissertation fleshes out and deepens our understanding of the relevance of political and technological contexts in the shaping of organizational crises by social actors via social media in China. More importantly, by integrating the social constructionist approach, this dissertation advances the context-oriented tradition by scrutinizing the large-scale dynamics of societal contexts in crisis communication.


  • Institutionen för strategisk kommunikation








Lund University


  • Communication Studies


  • strategic communication
  • crisis communication
  • Politics
  • social media
  • context
  • organizational crisis
  • China




  • Jesper Falkheimer
  • Charlotte Simonsson


  • ISBN: 978-91-7895-465-0
  • ISBN: 978-91-7895-464-3


9 juni 2020




U202, Universitetsplatsen 2, Campus Helsingborg / Digital disputation


  • W. Timothy Coombs (Professor)