Frame Essay

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The concept of frame designates interpretive structures that render events and occurrences subjectively meaningful, and thereby function to organize experience and guide action. Within sociology, the concept is derived primarily from the work of Erving Goffman, which is beholden in part to the earlier work of Gregory Bateson. For these scholars, as well as others who use the concept analytically, frames provide answers to such questions as: What is going on here? What is being said? What does this mean? According to Goffman, frames essentially enable individuals ”to locate, perceive, identify, and label a seemingly infinite number of occurrences” within their immediate life situations or spaces.

Frames do this interpretive work by performing three core functions. First, like picture frames, they focus attention by punctuating or bracketing what in our sensual field is relevant and what is irrelevant, what is ”in-frame” and what is ”out-of-frame,” in relation to the object of orientation. Second, they function as articulation mechanisms in the sense of tying together the various punctuated elements of the scene so that one set of meanings rather than another is conveyed, or, in the language of narrativity, one story rather than another is told. Third, frames perform a transformative function by reconstituting the way in which some objects of attention are seen or understood as relating to one another or to the actor. Examples of this transformative function abound, as in the de-eroticization of the sexual in the physician’s office, the transformation or reconfiguration of aspects of one’s biography, as commonly occurs in contexts of religious conversion, and in the transformation of routine grievances or misfortunes into injustices or mobilizing grievances in the context of social movements.

Bibliography:

  1. Benford, R. D. & Snow, D. A. (2000) Framing processes and social movements: an overview and assessment. Annual Review of Sociology 26: 611—39.
  2. Goffman, E. (1974) Frame Analysis: An Essay on the Organization of       Harper Colophon, New York.

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