Week 4 Megablog: Framing & Standing

This megablog compiles some of the highlights of blog responses to the readings on framing and standing for the week of February 29th. I thought Vic’s approach last week was awesome, so I’m going to emulate it here, right down to the inclusion of a cartoon…

What Benford & Snow May Think About Framing Occupy –gaboosh/Gabi

  • The concept of the 99% attempts to act as a frame that encompasses a huge number of people, but because it’s vague the movement hasn’t seen as much attribution-related “rancorous conflict” Benford and Snow might have predicted.
  • Occupy as a “prefigurative movement” that attempts to enact change not just through messages or framing, but also through the form of its existence. Suggests problems in achieving this may affect frame resonance.
  • Credibility of frame elements doesn’t necessarily have to hold empirically or universally, but rather to a specific set of individuals. Mentions Mooney’s recent book, The Republican Brain as making a similar point.

Framing: a cliché? –pamamom/Pamela

  • Drawing on Benford’s An Insider’s Critique of the Social Movement Framing Perspective, asks whether the concept of framing has become overused by scholars.
  • Benford’s main argument: “the field is lacking a sociology of movement framing processes, but has an abundance of frame names.”
  • Framing as a way to take into consideration the role of emotion in social movements; in stark contrast to the economic analysis of resource mobilization.
  • Concludes in agreement with Benford: “Framing, however cliche, is an aspect of social movements that must continue to be analyzed, in the way that Bedford suggests: More analyzing how as opposed to naming the framings.”

Book Report: Shaping Abortion Discourse –huansun/Huan

  • Shaping Abortion Discourse offers a comparative study of the framing of abortion discourse by both journalists and other actors in newspaper articles in the US and Germany across a three-decade timespan. The book is divided into two parts.
  • In the first part, the authors articulate the concept of a discursive opportunity structure–a theoretical model that seeks to explain differences in framing strategies within a larger cultural or social context.
  • They employ concepts of standing (whether or not actors have a voice in the public sphere) and framing (the relative influence/power of a voice) at the level of both article and utterance.
  • In the second part, they evaluate discursive quality within the context of four models of democracy: Representative Liberal, Participatory Liberal, Discursive, and Constructionist/Feminist.
  • While the first part is persuasive, Huan offers some criticism of the second part: For example, using only a single case study to generalize a country’s democratic model is problematic at best.
  • Huan leaves us with the question of how today’s digital media, which has eroded the power of traditional media institutions, challenges their theoretical framework. Is the metaphor of a stadium for the public sphere—a metaphor they draw heavily on in describing different arenas of discourse—even useful today?

1… 2… 3: Lakoff vs. Luntz. In Glorious Frame by Frame Action! –harusaif/Amy

(Yes, I wrote a blog this week in addition to compiling the megablog. What can I say, I have a background in linguistics and am fascinated by frame analysis.)

  • Describes an 2010 article by George Lakoff on the relationship between framing, language, messaging, and cognition. In it he emphasizes the importance of considering bi-conceptuals—people who hold multiple, conflicting frames—when evaluating frames.
  • Contends that a larger corporate frame underlies the FrameWorks Institute’s presentation, while a traditional hierarchy of expertise grounds Benford and Snow’s article.
  • Draws on another article by Lakoff that directly responds to Frank Luntz on framing Republican vocabulary (one of our readings for this week); he contends that while Luntz frames the situation as one of panic and emergency, he is actually trying to activate specific, detrimental responses from progressives. This is a trap of frames within frames.

It Is All About Communication –khkern/Kelly

  • The readings this week evoke Castell’s contention that politics is communication; at the base of it all is winning over people’s minds.
  • Looks at the way the case of the Rutgers student who recently committed suicide after his roommate posted a video of him with another man online, has been used by the gay rights movement to draw attention to hate crimes and inspire action.
  • As more information about the case emerges, the accuracy of some details is disputed—does this affect how it is or can be used in framing?
  • Finally, “do movements with more resources frame their issues more effectively?”

Framing = Propaganda? –dpales/David

  • The FrameWorks Institute’s approach represents no more than client recruitment in a nonprofit, “true believer” format.
  • Highlights the continuity between how we use the concept of framing today and mechanisms of advertising and propaganda in the past, drawing specifically on cigarette advertising in the mid-twentieth century as a case study.
  • Argues we should consider the role that the polemic nature of movements with “highly defined boundaries” plays in the choice and construction of discursive strategies.

Elitism vs Pluralism vs *** –numeroteca/Pablo

  • Revisiting Sampedro’s article from last week, offers diagrams of the interactions of power, mass media, social movements, and communities within the frameworks of elitism and pluralism.
  • Offers a third diagram to explore a new model for the contemporary world, in which social movements have become active media agents.


Elitism vs Pluralism vs ***

The media politics of social protest‘ (Sampedro 1997) reviews three different ways social movements frame (or don’t) the media and policy agendas: elitism (top-down), pluralism and institutional-ism. The drawings show schematically the influences among the subjects and explores a third one for nowadays, where social movements (an society in general) have become active actors in the mainstream media ecology.

In which way people and social movements participate in the the Mainstream media? Should corporations be included as another source of non-governmental power?
What are all those intersections?

Framing = Propaganda?

This week’s readings, especially Benford/Snow, provide us with a structure to understand the flow of information/communication arising from social movements. Benford & Snow, however, are engaged in an effort to determine whether, a) the basic concepts arise from coherent theory or schema, b) the concept(s) enhances our understanding of social movements; and, the general utility of the concepts or theories. Their conclusion is a qualified, “yes”, but. They provide a brief insight concerning other views, citing literature from the mid 1990s.

Throughout the article and the Framework Institute weak attempt to explain the basics of framing, and the remaining articles, is the theme or implication of the “true believer”. References to the underlying effects of the “message” are present throughout: “making people smarter”, “improving the discourse”, “advancing social change”. The Framework Institute attempts to distinguish the framing approach from, “branding” and “marketing”. Indeed the Institute’s approach appears to be little more than client recruitment, wrapped up in a not for profit, “true believer” format: less expensive for the non-profit community.

In the 1960s to the 1980s, this was simply “advertising” or “propaganda.” Every NYC advertising firm lives/dies on campaign effectiveness. It simply is much more expensive for the non-profit organization. Yet, framing, as a communication concept is understandable and a medium for designing campaigns as explained by Benford/Snow and Framework Institute clients.

The cigarette campaign’s of the 1940s to 1960s, exemplified a counter framework to argue against anti-smoking advocates. As the Framework Institute notes, there are frequently issues outside the framing process: housing, income, health, etc. Cigarette advertising spoke to more than the act of smoking. It created an aura or atmosphere to which smokers could aspire. These campaigns were not developed by “true believers”. Rather, they were conducted to willfully lie to the public. They were propaganda to enhance the image of smokers and actively ignore the fatal health consequences. After such campaigns were banned in the USA, they were continued throughout Asia. Thus, in hindsight, we now conclude that these efforts were undesirable and socially harmful: bad, evil, now illegal. Thus, we see them as socially undesirable on a massive scale: propaganda.

The term, “Propaganda” also embodies the notion of political objectives, as does framing. Given the nature of the campaigns, we now understand that these programs had highly defined political and policy objectives as well. Indeed, they did embody the use of intentionally “false” information. Here, we now know the enormity of the misinformation that these campaigns contained.

What none of the articles address is the polemic nature of such campaigns which have such highly defined boundaries: abortion, education, employment, etc. Given the sometime radical differences, one campaign might consider the “opposition” as a source of misinformation as a way to discredit. We also find such efforts on the part of political campaigns.

The Benford/Snow reference to the term “schema”, may also be understood as a relational reference where process inputs have defined outcomes. Clearly, this is the case with the Idef1X framework for relational data bases advanced by NTIS. Indeed, it gives us a convenient way to map out the relationships in a “schema” format and track process results.

In summary, Benford/Snow provide a convenient framework in which to understand social movement communications. The Frameworks Institute simply wants non-profit business.

It Is All About Communication

The readings for this week, as well as the tutorial, reminded me of Castell’s article.  Castell talked about how politics is communication and really what it all comes down to is how to win over people’s minds.  Also, when I was going through the tutorial I felt as though it could have been a tutorial for how to create a campaign for someone running for public office.  I have never worked on a campaign before but I know campaigns find ways to show a politician’s values in order to reach the masses.  They do this through visuals, numbers, tone, solutions and messengers.  Campaigns are a time when I am reminded that I need to have a certain degree of media literacy.

I know that I am part of a public that has little contact with social issues.  How can we when 60% of all local TV news stories are under 30 seconds, and there is such a high percentage of air time devoted to weather forecasts? I have been hearing about the trial in New Jersey over the suicide of the gay freshmen.  The student, Clementi jumped off the George Washington Bridge after his roommate put a video on the internet of a tryst Clementi had with another man.  The media was overflowing with reports about the suicide and it was used as a way to garner attention for gay hate crimes.  In reading about the trial, more is coming out about the roommate and perhaps some elements of the story were left out when the media reported on the suicide.

This particular incident is not a social movement in and of itself but was used by a social movement to gather attention and inspire action.  How much does it matter that the reports of the incident are not totally true?  How do individual flare-ups play in to the overall framing especially when the reporting on an incident is not controlled?  I understand that frames need to think systematically, long-term and thematically but I am still curious as to the connection.

The Benford and Snow piece comments on the proliferation of scholarship on framing.  If people are more aware that issues are being presented to them a certain way, does that change their reaction?

Framing is something that anyone advocate can and does do.  However, do movements with more resources frame their issues more effectively?  For instance, will a more financially endowed movement spread frame its issue more effectively because it is able to disseminate better visuals and work with the Frameworks Institute.  Oh but wait!  ICTs are changing the way communication, and thus framing, happens.

1… 2… 3: Lakoff vs. Luntz. In Glorious Frame by Frame Action!

This week’s readings reminded me of an excellent article I read a couple of years ago by George Lakoff, one of the linguists involved in articulating the concept of conceptual metaphors, an element that intertwines with framing. In the article—entitled Why Conservative Lies Spread and What Progressives Can Do To Fight Them and written as Tea Party candidates were picking up more and more momentum before the 2010 elections—Lakoff lays out the relationship between framing, language, messaging, and the brain. He further discusses why disaster messaging is, well, a disaster, and the importance of considering bi-conceptuals, or people who hold multiple, conflicting frames. I highly recommend it.

Given our focus this week, I thought it would be interesting to spend some time examining the framing implicit in our readings themselves. The style of the FrameWorks Institute’s presentation indicates their foundational frame: corporate-style strategies lead to success. This is evident in their glorified Powerpoint presentation, the linked executive interviews, the use of colorful visuals that don’t actually add any useful information (e.g., slide 41), the thinness of factual detail offered, and even the use of unnecessarily complicated jargon to describe obvious concepts (e.g., metaphors become “simplifying models”). Given that their clients are presumably not corporations but nonprofits, wouldn’t this reduce the resonance between their message and clients’ internal frames? Or are they instead positioning themselves as available to help corporations greenwash?

Benford and Snow operate within a different frame. The goal of their paper, as they explain, is to investigate “the analytic utility of the framing literature for understanding the social movement processes” (612). In other words, how useful are all of these academic studies and articles? To a certain degree, this goal dictates choice of structure and content. But taken together, goal, structure, and content also reveal an important frame: knowledge is acquired through careful historical study (e.g., literature review) and the production of organizational schema (e.g., diagnostic vs. prognostic vs. motivational framing). It is ironic that an article about framing and social movements relies itself on a very traditional hierarchy of power and expertise. And not surprising that they would conclude that yes, the literature, though spotty in places, is analytically useful—at least to a certain degree that conclusion was already established by their foundational frame.

Finally, while searching for the Lakoff article mentioned above, I found this article, in which Lakoff directly responds to Luntz’s discussion of Republican framing and Occupy. To paraphrase, Lakoff argues that while Luntz frames the situation as one of panic and emergency, he is actually trying to activate specific, detrimental responses from progressives. On the one hand he limns an image of catastrophe, on the other he offers specific words and phrases that supposedly trigger this catastrophe—implicitly urging opponents to embrace these words. Luntz’s very public assertion of a state of emergency is thus, according to Lakoff, a trap constructed of frames (the specific word choices Luntz discusses) within larger frames (of panic).

Book Report: Shaping Abortion Discourse

Ferree, Myra M., William A. Gamson, Jürgen Gerhards, and Dieter Rucht. 2002. Shaping Abortion Discourse: Democracy and the Public Sphere in Germany and the United States. Cambridge, UK & New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

The body of literature on framing has been growing since 1970s (Goffman, 1975; Bennett, 1975; Gitlin, 1980; Gamson 1980, 1992; Snow and Benford, 1988, 1992; Gernards 1995;  Oliver and Johnston 1999) , but few of them like Shaping Abortion Discourse offered us grounded comparative empirical research. This book is an outstanding empirical study on how actors frame abortion discourse in the public spheres across two countries. The authors provides us with an exemplar model of frame analysis for future similar work. As can be seen from their online notes of coding, they successfully operationalized the procedures of analyzing the explicit and implicit frames in news articles. The nuances in human language require researchers to carefully investigate the hidden meanings of various claims. In this specific study on newspapers, these researchers pay special attention to distinguish between the frame of journalists and frames of quoted actors in the same articles. The amount of work they have committed to this study is impressive and the end result is an influential work for future frame analysis studies.

Their comparative approach is the counter-argument to the sweeping globalization theories in the beginning of the century. They select the topic of abortion because it is highly contested in both countries, but transnational network on the same issue has not influenced their discourses in fundamental ways. By establishing the differences of the forces that are shaping the abortion discourse in these two mature democracies, the authors naturally lead our attention to the culture and history of specific countries. They describe how some absolute terms can be differentiated from a comparative approach, “By adopting a comparative perspective, we use each country as a lens through which we can make visible the assumptions of the other. The comparative perspective also provides a valuable standard against which we can measure the discourse in each country – not, for example, as ‘inclusive’ or ‘civil’ in absolute terms, but as relatively inclusive or civil compared to the other country.” The results of the frame analysis have supported the importance of the nation state in highly contested universal issues even in the age of globalization.

The authors accomplished two tasks in this book. The first one is that they bring up and test a theoretical model of the cultural contest in the abortion discourse. The second one is to discuss the quality of the discussions on the abortion issue according to four theories on democracy. I find the second part is less compelling than the first part or maybe they could split this one book into two if they intend to give more comprehensive analysis on how the reality of politics connects with theoretical conceptions. I will describe their questions, approaches, and findings of their two parts in the following paragraphs and come back to discuss their limitations at the end.

In the first part, they ask how key actors frame the abortion discourse in these countries and they come up with the concept of “discursive opportunity structure” to encompass the larger cultural or social structural reasons for the differences of the framing strategies.

In this theoretical framework provided by these authors, many concepts such as public discourse can be applied as other politically contentious issues in other settings. They describes “a forum includes an arena in which individual or collective actors engage in public speech acts; an active audience or gallery observing what is going on in the arena; and a backstage, where the would-be players in the arena work out their ideas and strategize over how they are to be presented, make alliances, and do the everyday work of cultural production.” The public sphere refers to the set of all forums in a society in their work. For them, the mass media forum is the main site where political forces that shaping the discourse take place. It also partially justify their use of influential newspapers as their data source to test their theories.

The most challenging part of their study is to measure how the frames are used in the public spheres. They randomly sampled over 2500 news articles from four quality newspapers in US and Germany in a period of three decades. They develop concepts of standing and framing as the measurements of actors’ success in the discourse competition. Standing refers to whether the actors have a voice in the public sphere, and framing is to examine how dominant the voice is in comparison with other rival voices. Linking these concepts with concrete coding process, they examine the standing and framing at two levels: the article and the utterance. At the article level, we can see to what extent certain types of actors have their presence in the media. At the utterance level, we would know specifically what statement is made by any single speakers. They also measure the idea elements in the utterances into eight large categories in which many sub ideas exist. For example, in the abortion discourse, many claims contain the idea element of “the fetus has a right to life”. By looking at how often a certain type of idea appears on the utterances by particular speakers, we will understand how strong a discourse is in this debate by which actors. Except for their large set of data from analyzing newspaper articles, they also conducted the survey with various institutions and organizations and interviews with journalists and participants in these organizations to reconstruct the backstage of the media forum.

Then they discuss their findings in the framework of “discursive opportunity structure” that the different cultural and political contexts have played a role in the difference of the outcomes of the framing by the players in the public spheres. For instance, the authors find the state, political parties and churches have higher standing in Germany, while civil society actors and individuals are more prominent in the United States. For the framing contest, the “fetal life” frame is more obvious in Germany than in the US. They also find “German discourse has generally moved toward a more anti-abortion framing of what the issues are and the American debate has moved in a more pro-abortion-rights direction from the beginning of the period.” From chapter seven to chapter nine they analyze the representation of the women’s movements, religious institutions and the tradition of the left in the public abortion discourses. I am not going to discuss more on these findings because the results are more useful for the researchers specialized in abortion discourse, but our focus is their frame analysis that can be used for other issues that involve the participation of these key players.

The second part of the book is about the evaluation of the debates to see how the democracy functions in these two countries. They layout four theoretical models of democracy in chapter ten: Representative Liberal, Participatory Liberal, Discursive, and Constructionist/Feminist. These models are the normative criteria about the desirable qualities in a democratic public sphere. In chapter eleven, they use their data to measure these criteria and compare German and the United States to see how well they met the standards. Their result of analysis is that Germany does relatively better on those emphasized by the representative liberal tradition, while the United States does better on those emphasized by the participatory liberal and constructionist/feminist traditions.

I find this part is less compelling than the first part. The models of democracy come from the abstraction of the political systems in different countries, and using one case(abortion discourse) to generalize the democratic model of a particular country is less convincing because another discourse analysis probably will attest the US as another model. The logic of the second part is to use one case for generalization, while the logic of the first part is to create a generalized analytical model for other examples to test, and they have already successfully tested one.

Another weakness of their theoretical framework is about the role of media shaping the larger culture. They expressed in their introduction that having the voices in the mass media is not only an indicator of success in framing, but also having the function to influence in the larger cultural change. However, their theoretical framework seems to have neglected this part, and judging from their empirical data, I find how much this change can be measured is still unknown. If including the analysis of the media’s influence, the study might turn into a massive work, but this direction is useful for future works.

In their theoretical framework, they see media as a space where discourses from different actors are contested largely because the mass media dominates the public spaces. A question I think we could discuss further is how the media in digital age challenges their theoretical framework. Since the professional journalists and news institutions are no longer directly serve as the gatekeeper in the public sphere, questions such as how the discourses are contested in this new age, who are the actors, and whether the metaphor of stadium as the public sphere is still useful, deserve much more observations.

When I look at their methods, the first questions come to my mind is why they select these newspapers rather than other newspapers, and why they do not include televisions which are also the most important players in mass media. Although I am not so sure about the hidden ideologies that the New York Times (liberal but a bit left?) has, my guess is that the selections are not strictly representative of the American mass media and the bias in the selection of the samples are inherently undermining the validity of their studies.

There are also some other criticisms I find in some reviews. For example, Staggenborg (2004) mentioned some sociologists are not satisfied with their broad use of “discursive opportunity structure” where all kinds of social and cultural factors are put. She also pointed out that “the book is less successful in offering potentially generalizable theoretical propositions, as those listed in the book are really findings specific to the comparison between Germany and the United States rather than more general hypotheses or arguments.” Chang (2005) also digs into their arguments on the abortion discourse itself, and challenges their analysis from a view of religious studies, “the researchers fail to mention U.S. Catholicism’s historically tenuous position as a minority religion.”.

Despite the existence of the criticisms, this book is still a great example of frame analysis and comparative studies. Also they provide us with the exceptional methodological model that inspires future studies to work on other issues of contentious politics.

Staggenborg, Suzanne. “Shaping Abortion Discourse: Democracy and the Public Sphere in Germany and the United States [book review].” American Journal Of Sociology 110, no. 3 (2004): 818-820.
Chang, Perry. “Abortion, Religious Conflict, and Political Culture.” Journal For The Scientific Study Of Religion 44, no. 2 (June 2005): 225-230.
Pfetsch, Barbara, and Silke Adam. 2005. “Shaping Abortion Discourse: Democracy and the Public Sphere in Germany and the United States.” Political Communication 22, no. 2: 250-252.

A website has brief introductions to frame analysis:

Framing: a cliché?

In the readings, the point that resonated with me the most was in Benford’s piece, An Insider’s Critique of the Social Movement Framing Perspective, when he mentions that “the term ‘frame’ has become a cliché in the study of social movements.” It raises the question: Has “framing” been overused? The framing itself, of course is not something that can be overused since it is an action, but the scholars of social movements have created several types of frames that may have lost their meaning.
The point is made more solid when he composes a list of different frames that take up a good portion of the page. The main argument is that the field is lacking a sociology of movement framing processes, but has an abundance of frame names.
From the evidence he presents, I have to agree with the claim Benford is making.  Even in our everyday lives we hear of “framing” that is going on. Just yesterday, The Indypendent blog reported on movements occurring in Chicago, and mentioned framing problems,

The issue of violence in the movement is at least in part a framing issue. Successful framing for a movement, as John A. Noakes and Hank Johnston highlight in Frames of Protest: Social Movements and the Framing Perspective, is more than just analyzing and identifying the issues: “individuals must be convinced that an injustice has occurred, persuaded that collective action is called for, and motivated to act if a social movement is to occur.” The identification and analysis are there, but thus far, a powerful, culturally-attractive frame or story has yet to appear that articulates and mobilizes the NATO-G8 protests as a positive force.

This recent event ties in perfectly with Benford’s critique, because the article claims that the negative framing occurring is because of the prevalence of the violent protestor’s narrative. The “neglect of emotions,” as Benford writes, negatively affects understanding of a movement, and since resource mobilization scholars neglect the passions of the people that compose of  a movement, it is easy to understand why personalization and emotion are being improperly framed in this movement (That and of course the media’s personal agenda). The organizers of this particular movement seem to be trying to reframe the situation, attempting for a “family-friendly” frame.

All things considered, framing is a term we hear so often that it probably has become a cliche to many people. There are “framing wars” that happen between movements and the media, and we probably attempt to frame our own personal conquests. The word has been used too often, but to write-off framing would be like trying to ignore a giant elephant in your dorm room; it is just going to cause you a lot of grief. Framing, however cliche, is an aspect of social movements that must continue to be analyzed, in the way that Bedford suggests: More analyzing how as opposed to naming the framings.