Volume 2, Issue 1, Spring 1995
Crisis and Narrativity
Despite the dramatic changes in international politics it appears that crises---episodes in which decision-makers hazard urgent, perilous choices---will remain a prominent and dangerous feature of international relations. This realization prompts the question that informs this paper: why do American decision-makers define a situation as a crisis in the first place? I argue that prevailing theories do not adequately account for crises: the same situation (or perception of the situation) may be interpreted differently by various decision-makers. Specifically, it may be construed as an endurable problem to be resolved in due course, or an unendurable crisis demanding immediate resolution at considerable risk. I entertain the possibility that crises occur because crisis discourse has become the lingua franca in the halls of power. Taking a semiotic approach, I argue that crisis narratives are read into ambiguous situations to render them meaningful and dramatically self-valorizing.