An Analysis of Benfod's Critique of the Framing Perspective in the Social Movements

Categories: Sociology

Benfords recent critique of the framing perspective in the social movements literature posits the need for a sociology of framing processes (Benford 1997). The framing perspective was inspired by Erving Goffmans (1974) notion of invisible structures called frames (Ritzer 1992). The outcome of countless interactions that combine symbols and small-scale structures, frames prefigure the grievance(s) that lead to participation and activity. Consequently, frames foster meanings that, as Gonos (1977, 860) explains, are constituted of a set number of essential components, having a definite arrangement and stable relations.

Underlying the assertion of the need for a sociology of framing processes is a desire to expand upon the existing preoccupation with a means-oriented focus on micromobilization — to see the recruitment of the individual as occurring on contested terrain, where are fought battles over entrenchment versus change (Garner 1996; Alexander 1996). The pupose of expansion is to invigorate the frequently reified conceptualizations of social movements by recognizing the contribution of organized collective action to definitions of social problems and cultural knowledge in general (Eyerman and Jamison 1991; Sztompka 1993).

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As Benford (1997) explains, doing this entails focusing upon the framing process and providing an in-depth analysis of negotiation, conflict, and compromise in the development of the collective action frame.

The framing perspectives nodal point is frame alignment, what McAdam (1994, 37) calls “the efforts by which organizers seek to join the cognitive orientations of individuals with the of the social movement organizations (SMOs). Frame alignment highlights the fitting together of a frame (an individual interpretive map that marks things as significant or insignificant) and a collective action frame (an overall ideology for social action).

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Research into frame alignment describes two things: (1) the efforts of organizers to fit frames to and (2) the way in which the SMO presents its ideology in order to attract participants. Frame alignment is central to understanding that culture and ideology intersect in the individuals decision to acquiesce to, or resist, a SMOs recruitment efforts.

SMOs attempt to achieve social change by transforming the way people view a particular social issue. As Benford (1993a, 678) explains, SMOs devote considerable time to constructing particular versions of reality, developing and espousing alternative visions of that reality, attempting to affect various audiences interpretations and managing the impressions people form. The collective action frame is the meaning package that SMOs adopt in order to call attention to the roots of, and common solutions to, perceived injustices (Lofland 1996).

These junctures constitute a condition wherein framing efforts strike a responsive chord or resonate within the targets of mobilization (Snow and Benford 1988, 198). In short, the collective action frame most influences micromobilization at points rendered meaningful by the SMOs attempt to organize experience. This makes clear Gamsons (1992) position, which is that, in order to consistute a collective action frame, individual frames must share an awareness of the similarities between the latter and themselves. Similarities are most easily discovered in agreements in the use, for example, of art to promote the shared meanings of particular experiences (literally the art substantiates the frame).

This paper will outline the artistic factor inherent within the framing processes, in the choice of an image as a representation of social movements. The purpose of this paper therefore is to represent the enthusiasm for a further advancement in the direction of and social movement theoretical construction. It is this quality, with the capacity to retain the given imagery within the viewer’s mind, that is inherent in the visual arts, and makes it an effective strategy in the context of social movements. Images from both the seventeenth and the twentieth century that represent a particular ideology, will be used in order to ascertain the common factors that are inherent within the imagery of a social movement’s framing strategies.

We first examine the concept of the collective action frame with an eye to its usefulness in mobilizing social movement support. Next, we describe According to Robert D. Benford there is an underdevelopment in literature on frame analytic methods, and an over-development of frame types that are specifically related to a social movement.

Recent theoretical and empirical developments responsible for the concept of collective action frame entail an awareness of the links between the structural and cognitive aspects of mobilization (Cf. Freeman, 1975, 1982; McAdam, 1982; Piven and Cloward, 1977). In general, their works detail the structural and cognitive aspects of mobilization, combining factors that generate resources (the structural) with the new social movement’s concentration on factors that generate grievances (the cognitive).

Neither the macrostructural models nor those based on individual motivation are capable of explaining the concrete forms of collective action and the involvement of individuals in such action. What is lacking is the analysis of an intermediate level concerned with the processes by which individuals evaluate and recognize what they have in common and decide to act together.

Klandermans and his various colleagues (1986; 1988; 1991; 1992) worked broadly, introducing and developing consensus mobilization as a tool for illuminating the strategies involved in a social movement organization’s search for adherence to its particular point of view. There are two types of consensus mobilization: (1) mobilization potential (the generation of agreement among a set of individuals with a predisposition to participate in a social movement) and (2) action mobilization (the legitimation of concrete goals among the committed and the determination of a means of action).

In developing the ramifications of consensus mobilization, Snow et al. (1986, 467-74) divided frame alignment into four progressively sophisticated and complex categories (frame bridging, elaborated, extended, and transformed) that Tarrow (1992, 188) suggests are all based upon a shift from “existing values and predispositions” to “alternative meanings that challenge individuals’ beliefs and understandings.”

Theorists have deepened their focus on how the cognitive frames of individual participants and the ideological frames of a social movement are brought together. For example, Snow and Benford (1988, 207) acknowledge the need for a collective action frame to connect with what they refer to as the phenomenological life world; that is, the immediate personal world of the individual. The connection, or frame resonance, between the collective and the individual frame would be measured according to how well people are mobilized (Benford 1993a). Obviously, the higher the degree of frame resonance, the greater the effectiveness of the social movement. Understanding the roots of individual meanings that might present alternatives not only to the status quo, but also to the social movement itself, may be arrived at through the notions of empirical credibility, experiential commensurability, and narrative fidelity. Empirical credibility substantiates the frame according to the individual’s perception of the real world. Experiential commensurability addresses the integrity of the frame with reference to personal experience, providing “answers and solutions to troublesome events and situations which harmonize with the ways in which these conditions have been or are currently experienced” (Snow and Benford 1988, 208). Narrative fidelity checks the frame against the stories, myths, and folklore that constitute one’s culture. Gamson (1988, 227) measures the success of frame alignment through looking at cultural resonances — core ideas and symbols that mirror larger cultural themes but are also at odds with vested interests (i.e., the supposed bearers of dominant cultural themes). In other words, these themes are value constructs that are embedded in the prevailing political culture (Gamson 1988, 221; 1992) that lead to the development of critical judgements about extant circumstances diffused throughout Society creating the foundation for positioning the interests and values of a particular social movement. The implication is that SMOs should sponsor those ideological packages that strike a responsive chord with shared cultural themes so that they may prevail over opposing ideological packages.

Collective action frames are best assessed through diagnostic, prognostic, and motivational framing. Diagnostic framing is the central task of frame alignment. It identifies a set of conditions and specific agents responsible for the grievance(s). The larger the range of problems covered by the frame, the larger the range of societal groups that can be addressed, and, therefore, the larger the mobilization potential (Benford 1993b). Prognostic framing, which usually has some level of correlation with diagnostic framing, is an attempt to affect frame alignment through the establishment of a plan for the amelioration of problematic conditions. Interactive processes involving decisions about the audiences to be targeted, the effective frameworks guiding the interpretations and actions of the audiences, the selection of framing strategies from a field of alternatives, and an assessment of responses to previous framing activities are all aspects of prognostic framing (Benford 1993a). Motivational framing is a call to arms, a rationale for engaging in activities that help to forge new attachments and to reinforce existing levels of commitment (Benford 1993a).

“Human beings act toward things on the basis of the meaning things have for them” (Blumer, p.2). This is the basic premise for the framing perspective: meaning is pivotal and prefatory to action with respect to a social movementAlthough framing strategies have made significant contributions to the social movement field, Benford is still searching for a sociology of movement processes. The framing perspective studies have tended to focus on the analysis within a specific movement, while lacking in empirical studies across the movements and across time. In order to elaborate on the theoretical construction of collective action frames, Ragin suggests that relationships need to be further identified between conditions and framings, framings and collective beliefs, and collective beliefs and movement outcomes.

The use of imagery has, for hundreds of years, played a pivotal role as the articulator. An artist has the ability to assert his values and beliefs, and communicate understandings in a manner that could not otherwise be expressed. It has been said that a painting is worth a thousand words, a fundamental aspect of visual imagery is it’s ability to express meaning. However, the meaning cannot be fully comprehended without the context of time and circumstance. A work of art representing a social movement may likewise suggest aspects of culture and society. A visual image therefore has a profound effect working as a collective action frame for it’s ability to directly evoke emotion. Even if it is simply working as a “visual background noise”, as is often the case when dealing with the art of advertising (Janson, p.52).

Through the examination of the use of imagery within collective action frames one can determine common inherent factors that are shared across time and social movements. These common factors would generally have to follow a common pattern in order to achieve the consequential psychological effect. Through observation and empirical evidence the characteristics have been identified as follows: the image should have meaning in context, that is it should be contextual in order to have personal meaning – which is the very essence of an effective movement. The familiar image is manipulated, and is often achieved in an ironical, satirical, or even an obstructive manner. This manner usually creates an opposition to the original context, and hostility to the opponent. The consequential outcome that will occur with this process is in the viewers response, which should have the same effect as would a collective action frame, possibly an emotional awrareness.

These characteristics that are essential in the formation of visual art as a social movement can be found in the two following examples. Through the comparison of the work of the seventeenth century artist, Caravaggio, and the imagery found in a contemporary Powershift advertisement, inherent qualities can be determined across time, movements, and cases. These processes essentially contribute to collective action framing.

Chemo Joe

One contemporary group that invokes the use of collective action frames is the Media Foundation. The Media Foundation is a media activist organization counteracting those who “pollute our physical and mental environments” (Adbusters, 98). They claim to be neither left nor right, but rather straight ahead. The Media Foundation is the publisher of Adbusters magazine, a publication dedicated to reinventing the outdated paradigms of our consumer culture and building a new understanding of living. The Media Foundation also runs Powershift Advocacy advertising agency, who represent a group of social marketers and media activists. Powershift is responsible for a number of advertisements which are all featured in the Adbusters magazine, and are in fact in the process of fundraising for further advertisements. One of their images depicts the Camel Joe, from the American cigarette company, as a cancer victim. This parady of “Joe Chemo” shows him lying in a hospital bed, looking pale and sick, hooked up to intervenus machine.

This contemporary image demonstrate the inherent factors that determine it’s position as a collective action frame. First of all it demonstrates meaning in context, for the camel who is depicted here is not simply a cartoon version of an unknown camel. The cartoon figure is known to the viewer as Camel Joe, the icon of R.J. Reynolds tabacco company. A second factor that the advertisement demonstrates is the manipulation strategy. Camel Joe the familiar icon, has been manipulated in order to appear as a cancer patient. The cigarette advocator is ironically promoting good health. The consequence of this as a collective action frame provokes a sense of immorality and injustice, from what was previously seen as unfortunate but tolerable.

These factors that provoke collective action frames can not only be exemplified in the work of contemporary artists but are also evident in the work of pre-twentieth century artists.

The Death of the Virgin and Joe Chemo portray two entirely different time frames, movements and intents, and yet they are both apply representative of the effectiveness of collective action framing strategies.

What do they say about the content of collective action frames?????



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An Analysis of Benfod's Critique of the Framing Perspective in the Social Movements. (2021, Oct 08). Retrieved from

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