Righting a Wrong: Meaning Conflicts After the Alexander L. Kielland Capsize
This paper investigates the role of meaning conflicts in crisis recovery efforts. By drawing on archival data from the 1980 Alexander L. Kielland capsize in the North Sea, the study shows how the meaning environment in which the recovery efforts took place changed from an environment of shared understandings to an environment of conflicts. One of the conflicts that dominated the meaning environment was whether the capsized vessel should be righted (i.e., brought back to its upright position) or dumped in deep waters. Inter-organizational sensemaking resulted in understandings that supported either righting or dumping. The findings suggest that these understandings were grounded in different perceptions of the following three issues: moral obligations, costs, and safety. The complexity of the meaning conflict led to a situation where the scope of the crisis was broadened as actors who were not originally involved in the crisis became implicated by entering the conflict. The same complexity also extended the duration of the crisis due to the conflict’s function as a barrier that prevented collective action. Combined, these findings provide new insights to how meaning conflicts have the potential to determine both the trajectory and the magnitude of organizational crises.