Expecting the unexpected

Beth Sundstrom (Department of Communication, College of Charleston, Charleston, South Carolina, USA)
Rowena Lyn Briones (Communication, University of Maryland, College Park, USA)
Melissa Janoske (Communication, University of Maryland, College Park, USA)

Journal of Communication Management

ISSN: 1363-254X

Publication date: 11 November 2013



The purpose of this paper is to explore a postmodern approach to crisis management through the lens of complexity theory to understand six non-profit organizations’ communication responses to anti-abortion terrorism.


Researchers conducted a qualitative content analysis of publicly available documents from six non-profit organizations, which included 62 news releases and statements on organization web sites, 152 tweets, and 63 articles in national and local newspapers.


A history of violence and rituals of remembrance emerged as important pieces of organizational, personal, and social history surrounding anti-abortion terrorism. The process of self-organization facilitated calling publics to action and combating the “terrorism” naming problem. The non-profits’ dynamic environment exemplified the importance of coalition building to construct digital attractor basins, or networks extending beyond permeable boundaries, through a variety of strategies, including new media. Twitter served as a strange attractor, where the concept of interacting agents emerged as a key component of relationship building.

Research limitations/implications

Findings provide opportunities to expand complexity theory.

Practical implications

Findings suggest practical implications for anti-abortion counterterrorism and crisis management, and provide opportunities to develop communication counter measures.


Applying a complexity lens to the study of anti-abortion counterterrorism builds on the growing emphasis of the postmodern approach to crisis management and answers the call for further inquiry into the application of complexity theory to crisis situations. Furthermore, this study fills a gap in the study of crisis management by investigating how multiple organizations handle a crisis.



The authors would like to thank Dr Brooke Fisher Liu for her help and guidance with this article.


Sundstrom, B., Lyn Briones, R. and Janoske, M. (2013), "Expecting the unexpected", Journal of Communication Management, Vol. 17 No. 4, pp. 341-363. https://doi.org/10.1108/JCOM-08-2012-0069

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