Is the BP Oil Spill a ‘cultural anomaly’ pushing for alternative solutions to an environmental problem, shaping policy and legalistic approaches?


The BP Oil Spill as a cultural anomaly? institutional context, conflict, and change

From Journal of Management Inquiry

The BP Oil Spill off the Gulf of Mexico that started in April 2010 and lasted 88 days was, in terms of volume, the largest accidental spill in history. As the world looked on angrily, in the public media, there were multiple attributions of accountability for the disaster. When an event or issue poses a potential challenge to a dominant technological or economic institutional order, conflict ensues over the nature, meaning, and response to the event. If this challenge is significant enough to generate substantial conflict, the event can become a “cultural anomaly” for the current order. Cultural anomalies create a crisis and these result in the exploration of alternatives to long-held, taken-for-granted assumptions.  In the past some oil spills have supercharged policy and legalistic approaches to environmental regulation. This article considers if the BP Oil Spill has become a cultural anomaly, leaving a lasting legacy on our society’s views toward fossil fuels, environmental management, and energy use.


This article argues that the BP Oil Spill is, potentially, a “cultural anomaly” for institutional changes in environmental management and fossil fuel production. The problem as defined by the spill’s context, the potential solutions provided by the competing logics in that context, and the selection of problem—solution bundles through the fortuitous timing of events, and more calculative efforts of institutional entrepreneurs within that context have come close to acting as a catalyst for deeper change, but not quite. For reasons that this article discusses, true change in the approach to handling issues related to oil drilling, oil consumption, and environmental management have yet to occur.

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Article details
Hoffman, A., & Devereaux Jennings, P. (2011). The BP Oil Spill as a Cultural Anomaly? Institutional Context, Conflict, and Change Journal of Management Inquiry, 20 (2), 100-112 DOI: 10.1177/1056492610394940

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