November 23, 2004

· Politics · Sociology

Kevin Drum writes:

LAKOFF FRAMING…. it’s finally time for me to get a copy of George Lakoff’s Don’t Think of an Elephant, which appears to be something of a Bible among despairing liberals who can’t believe that half the country likes George Bush and apparently doesn’t like us. Basically, Lakoff says we need to get our act together and “frame” our arguments in more positive ways

Although I know (and like) his work on Metaphor, I’ve only seen Lakoff’s stuff on this at one remove or more—snippets on TV shows here and there, and talk in newspapers and blogs. So I don’t know whether he’s pitching the idea of framing as new, or his own bright idea. But it’s worth noting that this concept is pretty old. I don’t mean some equivalent concept, either, I mean the same idea with the same name. Here’s a very short reading list to start you off. It has its prehistory in work in micro-interaction work in linguistics and cognitive psychology (going back to Gregory Bateson). It gets named in the sociological literature by Erving Goffman’s (1974) Frame Analysis, but like a lot of Goffman nobody could do anything with it unless they were him. It was developed into a useful tool explicitly oriented to the study of political processes (especially social movements) in Dave Snow et al’s Frame Alignment Processes (American Sociological Review, 1986). That paper spawned a very big literature. Benford and Snow’s Framing Processes and Social Movements: An Overview and Assessment, (Annual Review of Sociology, 2000) reviews fifteen-or-so years of theory and research in the field, including plenty of stuff on the limits of the concept and its potential for overuse. If Lakoff has managed to get the media to put his name in front of this idea then I guess he’s worth listening to, because he’s clearly very good at framing indeed.

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I am Associate Professor of Sociology at Duke University. I’m affiliated with the Kenan Institute for Ethics, the Markets and Management Studies program, and the Duke Network Analysis Center.

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