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Frame analysis theory is a social theory on social movements that employs framing and social constructionism paradigms, and more generally, on the large social interactionism paradigm. It focuses on the symbolic presentation of a movement to its participant and to general public.[Kendall 2005]

framing forms an important part of that approach, showing the importance of frames and labels in creating the movement's identity.[Kendall 2005]

This approach has been criticized for concentrating on psychology, ideology and identity, and marginalizing tactics, organization, mobilization and political struggle and opportunities.[Kendall 2005]

Framing Edit

The concept of framing is taken from Erving Goffman (1974, p. 21) to label "schemata of interpretation" that allows individuals or groups "to locate, perceive, identify, and label" events and occurrences, thus rendering meaning, organizing experiences, and guiding actions. Goffman's framing concept evolves out of his 1959 work, Presentation of Self, a commentary on impression management. It could be argued that these works evolve out of Kenneth Boulding's concept of image (Boulding, 1956).

Frame analysis Edit

Framing theory and frame analysis is a broad theoretical approach that has been used in communication studies, news (Johnson-Cartee, 1995), politics, and social movements among other applications. "Framing is the process by which a communication source, such as a news organization, defines and constructs a political issue or public controversy" (Nelson, Oxley, & Clawson, 1997, p. 221).

Frame analysis for social movements Edit

Framing has been utilized to explain the process of social movements (Snow & Benford, 1988). Movements are carriers of beliefs and ideologies. In addition, they are part of the process of constructing meaning for participants and opposers (Snow & Benford, 1988). Mass movements are said to be successful when the frames projected align with the frames of participants to produce resonance between the two parties. This is a process known as frame alignment.

Frame alignment - a process to explain social movement theory Edit

Snow and Benford (1988) say that frame alignment is an important element in social mobilization or movement. They argue that when individual frames become linked in congruency and complementariness, that "frame alignment" occurs (p. 198; Snow et al. 1986, p. 464), producing "frame resonance", which is key to the process of a group transitioning from one frame to another (although not all framing efforts are successful). The conditions that affect or constrain framing efforts are:

  • "The robustness, completeness, and thoroughness of the framing effort". Snow and Benford (1988) identify three core framing tasks and the degree to which these tasks are attended to will determine participant mobilization. The three tasks are: a) diagnostic framing for the identification of a problem and assignment of blame, b) prognostic framing to suggest solutions, strategies, and tactics to a problem, and c) motivational framing that serves as a call to arms or rationale for action.
  • The relationship between the proposed frame and the larger belief system; centrality – the frame cannot be of low hierarchical significance and salience within the larger belief system. Its range and interrelatedness – if the frame is linked to only one core belief or value that, in itself, is of limited range within the larger belief system, the frame has a high degree of being discounted.
  • Relevance of the frame to the realities of the participants; a frame must be relevant to participants and inform them. Relevancy can be constrained by it empirical credibility or testability, it relates to participant experience, and has narrative fidelity, that is, it fits in with existing cultural myths and narrations.
  • Cycles of protest (Tarrow 1983a; 1983b); the point at which the frame emerges on the timeline of the current era and existing preoccupations with social change. Framing efforts may be affected by previous frames.

Snow and Benford (1988) propose that once proper frames are constructed as described above, large-scale changes in society such as those necessary for social movement can be achieved through frame alignment.

Four types of frame alignment Edit

There are four types which include frame bridging, frame amplification, frame extension and frame transformation.

Frame bridging is the "linkage of two or more ideologically congruent but structurally unconnected frames regarding a particular issue or problem" (Snow et al., 1986, p. 467). It involves the linkage of a movement to "unmobilized [sic] sentiment pools or public opinion preference clusters" (p. 467) of people who share similar views or grievances but who lack an organizational base.

Frame amplification refers to "the clarification and invigoration of an interpretive frame that bears on a particular issue, problem, or set of events" (Snow et al., 1986, p. 469). This interpretive frame usually involves the invigorating of values or beliefs.

Frame extensions are a movement's effort to incorporate participants by extending the boundaries of the proposed frame to include or encompass the views, interests, or sentiments of targeted groups.

Frame transformation is a process required when the proposed frames "may not resonate with, and on occasion may even appear antithetical to, conventional lifestyles or rituals and extant interpretive frames" (Snow et al., 1986, p. 473). When this happens, new values, new meanings and understandings are required in order to secure participants and support. Goffman (1974, p. 43-44) calls this "keying" where "activities, events, and biographies that are already meaningful from the standpoint of some primary framework, in terms of another framework" (Snow et al., 1986, p. 474) such that they are seen differently. There are two types of frame transformation:

  1. Domain-specific transformations such as the attempt to alter the status of groups of people, and
  2. Global interpretive frame transformation where the scope of change is quite radical as in a change of world views, total conversions of thought, or uprooting of all that is familiar (e.g. moving from communism to democracy; religious conversion, etc.).


  • Boulding, Kenneth E. (1956). The Image: Knowledge in Life and Society. Michigan University Press.
  • Goffman, E. (1974). Frame Analysis. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
  • Goffman, E. (1959). Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. New York: Doubleday.
  • Johnson-Cartee, K. (2005). News narrative and news framing: Constructing political reality. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.
  • Diana Kendall, Sociology In Our Times, Thomson Wadsworth, 2005, ISBN 0-534-64629-8 Google Print, p.531
  • Leites, N. & Wolf, C., Jr. (1970). Rebellion and authority. Chicago: Markham Publishing Company.
  • McAdam, D., McCarthy, J., & Zald, M. (1996). Introduction: Opportunities, Mobilizing Structures, and Framing Processes—Toward a Synthetic, Comparative Perspective on Social Movements. In D. McAdam, J. McCarthy & M. Zald (Eds.), Comparative Perspectives on Social Movements; Political Opportunities, Mobilizing Structures, and Cultural Framings (pp. 1-20). New York: Cambridge University Press.
  • Nelson, T. E., Oxley, Z. M., & Clawson, R. A. (1997). Toward a psychology of framing effects. Political Behavior, 19(3), 221-246.
  • Pan. Z. & Kosicki, G. M. (2001). Framing as a strategic action in public deliberation. In S. D. Reese, O. H. Gandy, Jr., & A. E. Grant (Eds.), Framing public life: Perspectives on media and our understanding of the social world, (pp. 35-66). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
  • Snow, D. A., & Benford, R. D. (1988). Ideology, frame resonance, and participant mobilization. International Social Movement Research, 1, 197-217.
  • Snow, D. A., Rochford, E. B., Worden, S. K., & Benford, R. D. (1986). Frame alignment processes, micromobilization, and movement participation. American Sociological Review, 51, 464-481.
  • Tarrow, S. (1983a). Struggling to Reform: social Movements and policy change during cycles of protest. Western Societies Paper No. 15. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University.
  • Tarrow, S. (1983b). Resource mobilization and cycles of protest: Theoretical reflections and comparative illustrations. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association, Detroit, August 31-September 4.
  • Tilly, C., Tilly, L., & Tilly, R. (1975). The rebellious century, 1830-1930. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press.
  • Turner, R. H., & Killian, L. M. (1972). Collective Behavior. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.
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