Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Message Framing

Framing a message can bring it within the boundaries of symbolic legitimacy or attempt to further an insurgent discourse.

As Cox explains “[t]he term frame was first popularized by Erving Goffman in his book Frame Analysis: An Essay on the Organization of Experience (1974). Goffman defined frames as the cognitive maps or patterns of interpretation that people use to organize their understanding of reality…By providing this coherence, media frames help people cope with new or problematic experiences, relating them to familiar ideas and assumptions about the way the world works…opposing stakeholders try to gain public support for their positions, often ‘not by offering new facts or by changing evaluations of the facts, but by altering the frames or interpretive dimensions for evaluating the facts’ (Miller and Riechert (2000, p.45 emphasis added)”(Cox, 2006, p. 178)

The FrameWorks Institute conducted extensive research on the subject for the Climate Message Project. They explain the central concepts of framing:

1) People use mental short-cuts to make sense of the world--frames allow us to instantly assign meaning to events

2) Understanding is frame-based rather than fact based-we need a conceptual framework to process information. Once we have this we can integrate the facts into this framework and not before

3) Incoming information provides cues that connect to the pictures in our heads-we make a mental match between the stories we know and the new story

4) People get most information about public affairs through news media which eventually creates a framework of expectation or dominant frame

5) Frames connect us to different levels of thinking

They explain that every frame defines the issue, explains who is responsible and suggests potential solutions and that all of these are conveyed by images, stereotypes and anecdotes. Of particular importance are the three levels of thinking. Frames work at these three levels:

1) Level 1: Is the level of big ideas, like freedom, fairness, community, responsibility and choice
2) Level 2: Is the level of issue types, like civil rights, education or the environment
3) Level 3: Is the level of specific issues like rainforests or school readiness (FrameWorks Institute, 2007)

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