Author ORCID Identifier


Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Baotong Gu

Second Advisor

George Pullman

Third Advisor

Elizabeth Sanders Lopez


This study explores public crisis communication related to multinational corporations through a high-profile case, Apple’s after-sale policy crisis that happened in China in 2013. Defining public crisis as a rhetorical contest in Ulrich Beck’s postmodern, world risk society, this project constructs a public crisis communication model based on Manuel Castells’ network society theory and further investigates the rhetorical structure using Kenneth Burke’s pentad/hexad model. My purpose is to investigate the transcultural rhetoric of public crisis in the age of global information through careful description of communication components, contexts, process, and transformation, and critical explanation of the mechanism for crisis development.

To achieve this goal, I propose a prototype of public crisis communication model and argue that in corporation-related public crisis, participants’ roles shift compared with those in traditional corporate crisis. The semantic network research methods in computational science is adopted to extract textual data and draw the intuitive semantic networks for 17 variables (the tuple as the independent variables and the tuple as depend variables) in the corpus of 120,354 words from print media and 7568 social media posts. Based on the quantitative results, this study examines the semantic relationship of hexad and uses this hexad as rhetorical grammar to build rhetorical networks of public crisis communication. The rhetorical networks of the Apple case demonstrate its failure to identify the conditions of accusation, a fundamental mistake contributing to the crisis aggravation. Surrounding the rhetorical networks of this case, contextual elements in cultural, economic, and political aspects playing in the local market and global situation also underlie the crisis initiation and development.

It concludes that the rhetorical network of public crisis is an intricate ecosystem during which participants pluralize their identities, increase their dependence and mutuality, and transform crisis roles while contesting for and collectively architecting the meaning of crisis and finally negotiating solutions for the crisis. It also suggests practitioners to pay close attention to the shifting power dynamics in global and local business, politics, and society and act proactively to intentional agency acts in the media.

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