3/23 Discussion: Project Proposals and “Master Frames”

Most of this class was spent on final project proposals, with around the final thirty minutes used to discuss “Master Frames and Cycles of Protest” (Snow and Benford, 1992). Below are summaries of the questions that were asked of presenters after their presentations, followed by a summary of the discussion on the Snow and Benford reading.

Summaries of Questions for Presenters:

Presenter: Pravina

Pravina’s project proposal was to create an interactive web timeline that would educate users on the Black Lives Matter movement. A question that was brought up during the discussion was whether or not the project would have an analytical component, or just display information about BLM. Additional questions were asked on what sources would be used to gather the information, and if interviews with activists involved with BLM might be included.

Presenter: Hairuo

My project proposal was to investigate the media strategies and tactics that were used by the Occupy movement, where those methods came from, and what impacts they had. The main concern that was brought up was that the scope of the project was too large. Some suggestions for more specific topics were the discursive outcomes of the movement (i.e., how it shaped how terms such as “socialism” are used in the public discourse) and biographical outcomes (i.e., how the lives of those involved with the movement were altered by their participation).

Presenter: Jorge

Jorge’s project proposal was to follow the development of the upcoming Day Without Immigrants (planned for May 1st), and also to assess the event itself and the media narratives that emerge from it. A question that was asked was how his intention to interview business owners fit into the frame of media narratives. The need to protect the identities of undocumented workers/activists who are interviewed was also emphasized.

Presenter: Mariel

Mariel’s project proposal was to examine the street art that has been used by activists and groups such as the Rexiste collective to call attention to the unsolved kidnapping and disappearance of 43 students from the Ayotzinapa Rural Teacher’s College. The question of how to approach collective, multiple actions was brought up – it was suggested that a deep dive on a particular case would probably be enough, and that interviews with participants would be very helpful.

Presenter: Aziria

Aziria’s project proposal was to investigate the effects that humorous tactics employed as part of culture jamming have on the spread of political ideas. A major point that was brought up in the discussion was that the tactics that were mentioned in the presentation were part of the global anti-corporate globalization movement. This then led to the questions of whether or not “culture jamming” was dead, if it had evolved into something new, and if it should be considered an important historical moment or a continuing influence on political humor.

Presenter: Jessica

Jessica’s project proposal was to research SESPA (Scientists and Engineers for Social and Political Action), a MIT activist group that was against the Vietnam War and military R&D. It was recommended that she take a look at November Actions, a documentary of the on-campus antiwar protests made by Richard Leacock, who was the Institute’s filmmaker-in-residence at the time.

Presenter: Irena

Irena’s project proposal was to look at movements in the United States that involved the establishment of identity and the associated struggle for civil rights. There were multiple suggestions for how to narrow down this topic, including: looking at only one of the identity categories, focusing on tactics and the different media responses between movements, researching the groups that pushed for the changes that were accomplished, and investigating how identities are utilized, co-opted, or ignored by corporations in advertising (e.g. while Facebook allows for many gender identities to be displayed on profiles, these options are mapped to only male/female when displayed to adspace buyers as possible target audiences).

Presenter: Garrett

Garrett’s project proposal was to either look at organizations that plant trees in neighborhoods or to investigate how local groups use media to raise awareness of brownfields (potentially polluted land) in order to start the process of reclamation. The discussion ended up focusing mainly on the former idea, touching on i-Tree, a project that maps tree plantings and outcomes, and which Aziria worked on in Santurce, Peurto Rico. Also mentioned were forms of guerrilla planting, such as seedbombing.

Presenter: Ashley

Ashley’s project proposal was to study the tactics that youth in Cambodia employ in their fight against government oppression. The discussion focused mainly on the distribution of access to social media, and whether there were offline forms of media and cultural production that youth also use. Another question that was raised was what role, if any, those in the Cambodia diaspora play in the production and consumption of opposition media.

General comments:

It was noted that it is usually better to start with a narrow topic and to broaden it with time permitting than to try to take on too much from the start and end up with a sprawling mess.

Summary of Discussion on “Master Frames and Cycles of Protest”: 

Our discussion of the Snow and Benford reading started off with an evaluation of the propositions that they give as being illustrative of the concept of the “Master Frame.” The utility of these propositions was brought into question, as the collection as a whole seemed to be posed so as to capture all possible cases under a single framework. An example of this somewhat confounding generality is Proposition 7 (“The shape of a cycle of protest is in part a function of the mobilizing potency of the anchoring frame”), a statement that teeters on the edge of tautology. Another is the seeming contradiction between Proposition 4 (“Movements that emerge later in the cycle will typically find their framing efforts constrained by the previously elaborated master frames”) and Proposition 8 (“The shape of a cycle of protest is in part a function of the capacity of incipient movements within the cycle to amplify and extend the master frame in imaginative yet resonant ways”). While many of the propositions are illuminating in themselves, this scattershot presentation makes them almost succumb to the fallacy of the “overwhelming exception” when viewed as a whole.

We also approached Proposition 1 within the context of the recent groundswell of activism, asking if there is a certain master frame under which this surge has happened. We determined that it is that of “resistance,” or solidarity against the Trump administration. Discussing this further, we observed that although this frame is extremely useful for spurring engagement and interaction between different activist groups, it casts as a common enemy an entity that is temporary, running the risk of losing momentum once Trump leaves office. To ensure that systemic and longstanding problems continue to be tackled after the next (hopefully) four years, it will be necessary to shift the framing yet again so that it continues to capture people’s energy.

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