Feature 3: Categorisation

Definition and Analysis Method

The observation from my preliminary analysis which suggested categorisation as a feature for study was that the BP oil spill is included in groups and compared and contrasted with other entities both like and apparently unlike itself.

Examination of the data indicated that this categorisation process appears in a number of interrelated forms:

1. Comparisons

Events were referred to in constructions such as “one of ..“the biggest ...” and so on. Comparing crisis events explicitly and implicitly with other similar events is one form of categorisation common in media representation, and is intended to help the reader make sense of the current situation.

2. Lists ofentities

A number of entities were listed, for example, “Katrina, the BP oil spill and other events”, and the BP crisis was on the list.

3. Usingthe events as an index ofsomethingelse

This indexical process can be recognised where the events were a “shorthand” for something else. This analysis linked with naming choices for the events, where there began to be a socially agreed interpretation of what names for the events stood for. In this way, the BP events and the indexed phenomenon create a category together. Sometimes this process was realised through one of the other practices mentioned here, such as comparison or listing:

Whether you are the leader of one of the Arab Spring countries, the ex-boss of BP, or a fashion designer prone to drunken, racist out-bursts—if you don’t behave in the right way, people will remove you (Campaign Middle East, 27.4.2012)

This list refers to an element of the BP story as an exemplar of, or “standing for”, unacceptable behaviour.

4. Contrasts and absences: What the events are not

Sometimes the events were categorised with an emphasis on what they were unlike rather than what they were like. In the 2010 data, the expression “We’ve never seen anything like this magnitude” (Associated Press Financial Wire, 27.4.2010) did not imply that nothing as big as this has ever happened anywhere, but that this was an exceptional event amongst the group “oil spills” or “man-made environmental disasters”. Such exclusions, omissions and redefinition of categories were worthy of examination.

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