Framing; an Important Aspect of Discourse Analysis

One aspect of discourse analysis that is particularly easy to connect with is framing. Framing is a term that we hear very often in public discourse, as in “How was that issue framed?” or “How should this idea be framed if we want people to buy into it?” Framing is discourse analysis is similar, but it is a much more useful concept.

We understand a frame as ‘what is going on.’ This can be very simple. I can see you on the street and greet you. We can both think of it simply as a greeting frame, and we can have similar ideas about what that greeting frame should look like. I can say “Hey there, nice to see you!” and you can answer back “Nice to see you!” We can both then smile at each other, and keep walking, both smiling for having seen each other.

But frames are much more complicated than that, for the most part. Each of the interactants has their own idea of what the frame of the interaction is, and each has their own set of knowledge about what the frame entails. It would be easy for us to have different sets of knowledge or expectations regarding the frame. We do, after all, have a lifetime of separate experiences. We also could disagree about the framing of our interaction. Let’s say that I think we are simply greeting and passing, and you think we are greeting and then starting a conversation? Or what of we decide to enter a nearby bar, and I think we are on a date and you do not.

Frames also have layers. We might love to joke, but we will joke differently in a job interview than we will at a bar. Joking in a job interview is what we call an embedded frame in discourse analysis. The layering in the frames are an interesting point of analysis as well, because we may or may not have the same idea of what the outer frame of our interaction is.

I believe it was Erving Goffman who pointed out that the range of emotions we access is contingent on the frame we are working within. Truly, anger in an office is generally quite tame compared to anger at home…

Framing accounts for successful communication and misunderstandings. Its an especially useful tool with which to evaluate the success or failure of an interaction. It is especially interesting to look at framing in terms of the cuing that interactants do. How do we signal a change in frame? Are those signals recognized as they were intended? Are they accepted or rejected?

Framing is also an interesting way to view relationships. It is easy, especially early in a relationship, to assume that your partner shares your frames and the knowledge about them. Similarly, it is easy to assume that your partner shares the same priorities that you do.

Unfortunately, we tend to judge people by the frames that we have activated. So if I frame our interaction as ‘cleaning the kitchen’ and you view it as ‘chatting in the kitchen while fiddling with the dishcloth,’ I am likely to judge your performance as a cleaner negatively. Similarly, in a job interview situation, framing problems are often not recognized by the interviewers, causing the interviewee to appear incompetent.

Recognizing framing issues is an important element of what discourse analysts do in their professional lives when analyzing communication.


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