A Critical Ethnography of Crisis Management Dealing with a Mudflow Crisis in Sidoarjo, Indonesia

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


School of Commuications and Arts


Education and Arts

First Advisor

Dr. Dennis Wood

Second Advisor

Professor Mark Balnaves


This PhD research focuses on the crisis management approaches of the company and government during a mudflow crisis in Sidoarjo, Indonesia, and the victims perceived a crisis management including the communication strategy and the programs of public relations conducted by officials from the Lapindo Incorporation (Inc) during efforts to deal with a mudflow crisis in Sidoarjo, Indonesia. The community, ranging from academics through to the victims who lost their homes, told local news media that Lapindo Inc., an oil company, was responsible for the mudflow - through a drilling mistake. On the other hand, when the Sidoarjo survivors of the mudslide and others took Lapindo Inc to court, the Indonesian courts supported experts that said an earthquake had caused the mudflow. The thesis explored ethnographically how the Sidoarjo community reacted to and perceived the communication strategies of officials from Lapindo and the Indonesian government during their efforts to deal with the mudflow crisis. I am interested in how the different actors construed the situation and how those constructions triggered a conflict. The critical approach is also applied based on the evidence presented from the interviews and focus group discussions. If certain actors have more power over others, then this would be reflected in both actions and in how people construe the world they are living in or the events that are happening to them. The paper is not to judge the company‟s responsibility, but to show how the different actors interact and the consequences of those interactions for the victims. The mudflow itself continues and has not been restricted completely. The result of this research is a comprehensive overview of the mudflow crisis itself and the reactions of many involved in it. The thesis gives contribution to the public relations issues and crisis management field. The research found that the crisis management conducted by the company and the government were not effective. Both of them were perceived to not taking an immediate appropriate action. The crisis management failed to ensure reliable and regular information, causing uncertainty. In addition, the crisis management focused more on maintaining the company‟s reputation than on the victims‟ fate. There are conflicts of interest between the company Inc, the government and the victims. This research described how power created knowledge in society by creating a social construction of the reality. The victims have been oppressed by more powerful groups therefore they must struggle against both the government and the company to gain their right.

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