Constructing Authority in Times of Crisis: A Genre Analysis of Government Crisis Communication in China

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Purpose: This study investigates how the Chinese government generates authority during a crisis through discursive practices expressed in social media.

Design/methodology/approach: Using the theoretical framework of authority and the method of genre analysis, this study examined the top 100 forwarded posts on Weibo about a highprofile murder to determine the mechanisms involved in generating authority.

Findings: This study provides empirical support that building and maintaining authority distinguishes governments from other social actors during crisis communication. The genre analysis demonstrates that the strategic use of genre chain and genre mixing contributes to the construction of governments’ authority during a crisis. Furthermore, this study suggests the performative and social constructionist approach to understand governments’ authority in the digital age on two levels: a situationally-constructed concept that goes beyond the context of fixed institutions and a relationally-constructed concept that is promoted through discursive collaboration among various social actors.

Research limitations/implications: This study does not directly assess the effectiveness of a government’s ability to construct its authority. Nor does it examine the construction of governments’ authority outside the context of an authoritarian regime. These issues should be addressed in future research.

Practical implications: This study offers governmental organizations some practical insights
that can be used to infuse a constructive aspect of authority into their crisis communication
plans, practices, and processes.

Originality/value: Here, authority is seen as a social construction that foregrounds the
discursive, performative, constructive, and communicative dimensions of crisis
communication. Moreover, this study points to the need for a more complex integrated perspective in crisis communication that includes and connects corporate and government
crisis communication.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Communication Management
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2018 Jul 10

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Communication Studies
  • Media Studies


  • crisis communication
  • genre
  • authority
  • China
  • government
  • social construction


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