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The year 2011 showed a marked increase in a particular type of categorisation. This was the practice of placing BP within a particular category either explicitly, by including it in an enumerated list, or implicitly, through expressions such as “the biggest”, “the worst” and so on. The instances of this type of usage increased substantially from 6 examples in 2010 (all tentative or mitigated, as the analysis shows) to 16 (in only 20 texts) in 2011.

The groups or categories in which the events were placed were generally predictable, including natural disasters, man-made disasters, business crises and specific BP problems. Nevertheless, it was clear that the BP events were no longer being represented as isolated, unique or irretrievably “messy”. Rather, they were being used in a process of interactive meaning-making that aligned them with other pre-existing or newly made groups. In this way, either the events took on some of the qualities of group members or other group members took on some of their qualities. If group members are subsequently placed in different categories, they bring with them some of the associations of their previous group membership. I will pursue this line of thinking in my discussion of the Symbolic phase of 2012, when the BP groups proved to be far more creative and disparate than in 2011.

BP Events as Index

The BP events are introduced as an Index of a number of other concepts in 2011. The data set includes texts from professionals offering crisis advice services, whose interest was to hold up BP as a salient warning to those who did not have crisis management protocols in place (BP events as cautionary exemplar of a very serious business crisis). Other texts were written from the perspective of the effect on other deep-water prospects (BP events as obstacle). Others focused on BP’s safety practices (Deepwater Horizon as Index of deep-rooted weaknesses in the BP culture). In these and other texts, the BP events either stand for or point towards something outside themselves. This can be seen as part of a process of meaningmaking whereby the phenomenon moves from a situation where it can be described but not yet understood, to one (the Indexical phase) where it is starting to be located within the known.

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