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).


One thought on “1… 2… 3: Lakoff vs. Luntz. In Glorious Frame by Frame Action!

  1. Pingback: Week 4 Megablog: Framing & Standing | Networked Social Movements

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