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Boudès Thierry, Laroche Hervé


Thierry Boudes

Hervé Laroche


The heatwave of summer 2003 caused several thousands of deaths in France. Most of the victims were old people in large towns. The health system proved unable to handle the event, though evidence was no clear at the time. When the scale of the event was more accurately assessed, several investigations took place that resulted in a series of official reports. In this paper a total of eight reports will be analyzed and compared. These reports are understood as narratives trying to make sense of a complex event. In such a context, sensemaking faces specific issues of public accountability. Reports are addressing these issues by attributing responsibilities with the overall purpose of justifying actions, defending legitimacy, reducing anxieties and restoring trust in social institutions and organizations. It appears that, on the same event, there is little room for different authors to construct different meanings of the same event, however complex and ambiguous. Using various tools for narrative analysis, we explore how reports make a narrative sense of these events by analyzing how reports:
transforming the chronicle of events into stories centered on a plot of responsibility and blame; build on the semiotic tension of predictability and vigilance; provide a narrative closure of the crisis. We conclude by discussing the place and the impact of narrative logics in the reports through two themes: the balancing of facts, story and lessons as a core characteristic of inquiry reports; the paradoxical inattention to participants sensemaking processes in the official accounts of crises. Implications are drawn for executives in charge of organizations with a risk exposure.