Crisis Management by Apology

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Closely related is the fact that the action is, at root, a performance. Bauman (1989) noted that a ritual is performed as “an aesthetically marked and heightened mode of communication, framed in a special way and put on display for an audience” (p. 262). As a social actor, an apologist is in many ways subject to criticism as to the quality of his or her performance; in communication terms, this means the degree to which communication competence was demonstrated (Rothenbuhler, 1998). Said another way, although the guilt is in many ways substantive, the repair to reputation is done in a thoroughly expressive manner (Goffman, 1971).

Summing up the ritual nature of confession, Foucault (1980) wrote: The confession is a ritual of discourse in which the speaking subject is also the subject of the statement; it is also a ritual that unfolds within a power relationship, for one does not confess without the presence (or virtual presence) of a partner who is not simply the interlocutor but the authority who requires the confession, prescribes and appreciates it, and intervenes in order to judge, punish, forgive, console, and reconcile; a ritual in which the truth is corroborated by the obstacles and resistances it has had to surmount in order to be formulated; and finally, a ritual in which the expression alone, independently of its external consequences, produces intrinsic modifications in the person who articulates it: it exonerates, redeems, and purifies him; it unburdens him of his wrongs, liberates him, and promises him salvation.

The company relented and donated the land to the school board with the understanding that it would be used for no more than a park. Against the company’s warnings the land was later developed and, as expected, hazardous wastes leached into the adjoining property. By 1978, the New York State Health Commissioner ordered the school closed, and a week later the governor announced that the 236 families who lived in the area would have to be moved. Again, to whom would responsibility be assessed? Hooker, although it tried to do the right thing, donated the property rather than face legal action.

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