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Framing and social and religious conversion.

Given the focusing,

articulation, and transformative functions of
movements frames, it is arguable that how we see, what we
DAVID A. SNOW make of, and how we act toward the various
objects of orientation that populate our daily
Framing, within the context of social move- lives depends, in no small part, on how they are
ments, refers to the signifying work or meaning framed. Applied to social movements, the idea
construction engaged in by movement adher- of framing problematizes the meanings associ-
ents (e.g., leaders, activists, and rank-and-file ated with relevant events, activities, places, and
participants) and other actors (e.g., adversaries, actors, suggesting that those meanings are typ-
institutional elites, media, social control agents, ically contestable and negotiable and thus open
countermovements) relevant to the interests of to debate and differential interpretation. From
movements and the challenges they mount in this vantage point, mobilizing grievances are
pursuit of those interests. The concept of fram- seen neither as naturally occurring sentiments
ing is borrowed from Erving Goffman’s Frame nor as arising automatically from specifiable
Analysis (1974) and is rooted in the symbolic material conditions, but as the result of inter-
interactionist and constructionist principle that actively based interpretation or signifying work.
meanings do not naturally or automatically The verb framing conceptualizes this signifying
attach themselves to the objects, events, or work, which is one of the activities that social
experiences we encounter, but arise, instead, movement leaders and participants, as well as
through interpretive processes mediated by their adversaries, do on a regular basis.
culture. Frames contribute to this interpre-
tive work by performing three core functions.
First, like picture frames, they focus attention by DEVELOPMENT OF A FRAMING
punctuating or bracketing what in our sensual PERSPECTIVE ON SOCIAL MOVEMENTS
field is relevant and what is irrelevant, what
is “in-frame” and what is “out-of-frame,” in The link between framing and social move-
relation to the object of orientation. Second, ments was first noted in a 1982 experimental
they function as articulation mechanisms in the study of the conditions under which authority
sense of tying together the various punctuated is defined as unjust and challenged (Gamson,
elements of the scene so that one set of mean- Fireman, & Rytina 1982) and then developed
ings rather than another is conveyed, or, in more fully in a 1986 conceptualization and
the language of narrativity, one story rather elaboration of “frame alignment processes”
than another is told. And third, frames often (Snow et al. 1986). Since then there has been
perform a transformative function by recon- an almost meteoric rise in research on framing
stituting the way in which some objects of and social movements, with much of the work
attention are seen or understood as relating congealing into what is now called the framing
to each other or to the actor. Examples of perspective on social movements (Benford &
this transformative function in the context of Snow 2000; Snow 2004). The analytic appeal
social movements are illustrated by the trans- and utility of this perspective is based largely on
formation of routine grievances or misfortunes the conjunction of three factors. The first is the
into injustices or mobilizing grievances, and by neglect of the relationship between meaning
the reconfiguration of aspects of one’s biog- and mobilization, and the role of interpretative
raphy as commonly occurs in both political processes in mediating that relationship, by the

The Wiley-Blackwell Encyclopedia of Social and Political Movements,

Edited by David A. Snow, Donatella della Porta, Bert Klandermans, and Doug McAdam.
© 2013 Blackwell Publishing Ltd. Published 2013 by Blackwell Publishing Ltd.
DOI: 10.1002/9781405198431.wbespm434
2 fr aming and so cial movements

dominant perspectives on social movements terms of their primary mobilization functions:

that emerged in the 1970s; the second is the to mobilize or activate movement adherents so
rediscovery of culture and the so-called discur- that they move, metaphorically, from the bal-
sive turn that occurred during the 1980s; and cony to the barricades (action mobilization);
the third is the development of a framing con- to convert bystanders into adherents, thus
ceptual architecture or scaffolding which has broadening the movement’s base (consensus
facilitated more systematic theorization and mobilization); and to neutralize or demobilize
empirical assessment of framing processes and adversaries (counter-mobilization). Much of
effects. the research on framing and social movements
has focused on the empirical identification of
collective action frames and specification of
CONCEPTUAL ARCHITECTURE their functions with respect to the movements
in question. In the case of the environmental
Among the interconnected concepts and pro- movement, for example, numerous frames
cesses that have surfaced as the framing lit- have been identified, such as “an environmental
erature has expanded, there are at least nine justice frame,” a “runaway technology frame,” a
that can be thought of as cornerstone con- “conservation frame,” and a “landscape frame.”
cepts and processes in that they provide a Although most collective action frames
conceptual architecture that has stimulated are movement-specific, sometimes those that
much of the research exploring the relevance emerge early in a cycle of protest come to
of framing to mobilization both empirically function like master algorithms in the sense
and theoretically. These key concepts or pro- that they color and constrain the orientations
cesses include: collective action frames, master and activities of other movements within the
frames, core framing tasks, frame alignment cycle, such that subsequent collective action
processes, frame resonance, framing hazards, frames within the cycle are derivative (Snow
discursive processes, and discursive opportu- & Benford 1992). When the ideational and
nity structures and discursive fields. interpretive scope and influence of a collective
Collective action frames are the resultant action frame expands in this way, it can be
products of framing activity within the social thought of as a master frame. Examples of
movement arena. They are relatively coherent master frames in recent history include the
sets of action-oriented beliefs and meanings civil rights frame in relation to the resurgence
that legitimate and inspire social movement of the women’s movement and the flowering
campaigns and activities. Like everyday of movements accenting the rights of the aged,
interpretive frames, collective action frames the disabled, the American Indians and other
focus attention by specifying what is “in” and ethnic groups; the nuclear freeze frame in
“out of frame”; articulate and elaborate the relation to the peace movement of the 1980s;
punctuated elements within the frame so that and the environment justice frame in relation
a particular meaning or set of meanings is to various environmental movements (Snow
conveyed; and, as a result, often transform & Benford 1992; Benford & Snow 2000).
the meanings associated with the objects of The relative success of collective action
attention, such that some situation, activity, frames in performing their mobilization
or category of individuals is seen in a strikingly functions is partly contingent on the extent
different way than before, as when everyday to which they attend to the three core framing
misfortunes are reframed as injustices or status tasks or challenges of “diagnostic framing,”
groups like the homeless and cigarette smokers “prognostic framing,” and “motivational
are framed as legitimate targets for social framing” (Snow & Benford 1988). Diagnostic
movement protest. But collective action frames framing entails two aspects: a diagnosis of
differ from everyday interactional frames in some event or aspect of social life or system
fr aming and so cial movements 3

of government as problematic and in need Frame alignment processes encompass the

of repair or change; and the attribution of strategic efforts of social movement actors
blame or responsibility for the problematized and organizations to link their interests and
state of affairs. Diagnostic framing provides goals with those of prospective adherents and
answers to the questions of “What is or went resource providers so that they will contribute
wrong?” and “Who or what is to blame?” Much in some fashion to movement campaigns
research examining the substance of collective and activities. Four basic alignment processes
action frames suggests that diagnostic framing have been identified (Snow et al. 1986). They
typically defines or redefines an event or include “frame bridging,” which involves the
situation as an “injustice” (Gamson 1992; linkage of two or more ideologically congruent
Benford & Snow 2000: 615), but it is not but structurally disconnected frames regarding
clear that all collective action frames include a particular issue; “frame amplification,” which
an injustice component. Prognostic framing entails the embellishment, crystallization, and
involves the articulation of a proposed solution invigoration of existing values and beliefs;
to the problem, including a plan of attack and “frame extension,” which depicts movement
the frame-consistent tactics for carrying it out, interests and framings as extending beyond
and often a refutation of opponent’s current the movement’s initial constituency to include
or proposed solutions. Such framing, simply issues thought to be of relevance to bystander
put, addresses the Leninesque question of groups or potential adherents; and “frame
“what needs to be done.” Research has shown transformation,” which involves changing
that both diagnostic and prognostic framing prior understandings and perspectives, among
can generate considerable debate resulting in individuals or collectivities, so that things are
“frame disputes” within movements (Benford seen differently than before, as is commonplace
1993a). The final core framing task, motiva- with conversions and so graphically illustrated
tional framing, involves elaboration of a call to by the opening and closing refrain of “Amazing
arms or rationale for action that goes beyond Grace”: “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
the diagnosis and prognosis. Motivational That saved a wretch like me. I once was lost
framing entails the construction of “vocabu- but now am found, Was blind, but now I see.”
laries of motive” that provide prods to action Research on these alignment processes has
by, among other things, overcoming both the been quite extensive and has firmly established
fear of risks often associated with collective their importance in relation to mobilization
action and the so-called “free-rider” problem (Benford & Snow 2000; Snow 2004).
(e.g., why contribute to the attainment of some The ultimate measure of the effectiveness of
large goal when that goal constitutes a “public proffered collective action frames and the cor-
good” in the sense of being an indivisible and responding alignment strategies is whether they
nonexcludable benefit?). Motivational framing resonate with targeted audiences. Those for
attends to these impediments to action by which frame resonance is established facilitate
accenting and highlighting the severity of the mobilization; those that are nonresonant fall
problem, the urgency of taking action now on deaf ears, thus failing to inspire or influence
rather than later, the probable efficacy of the direction of social movement activity. Two
joining others in the cause, the moral priority sets of interacting factors have been postulated
of doing so, and enhancement or elevation of to account for variation in frame resonance.
one’s status (Benford 1993b), as when some One is the “credibility” of the proffered frame,
suicide bombers are promised various divine which is affected by the consistency between
favors for their “righteous” deeds (Snow & Byrd claims and actions, the relative empirical cred-
2007). Understandably, motivational framing ibility of claims and events, and the credibility
has been referred to as the “agency” component of the frame articulators, as determined by sta-
of collective action frames (Gamson 1992). tus and knowledge considerations. The second
4 fr aming and so cial movements

set of factors affecting frame resonance is the articulation of beliefs derived from Hinduism,
“salience” of the framing to the targets of mobi- Buddhism, and Christianity, and Martin Luther
lization, as determined by the centrality of the King’s potent civil rights frame derived, in
beliefs and claims to the lives of the targets of part, from his articulation and elaboration of
mobilization, the extent to which the framing strands of Christianity, democratic theory, and
is experientially commensurable with the past Gandhi’s philosophy of nonviolence.
or present lives of the targets, and the extent to The processes of frame articulation and
which the framings have narrative fidelity, such elaboration occur during the course of con-
that they are resonant with cultural narrations versations, meetings, and written communica-
and myths (Snow & Benford 1988; Benford & tions among movement leaders and members
Snow 2000: 619–622). within broader enveloping cultural and struc-
Affecting both sets of factors are various tural contexts variously called discursive fields
framing hazards or vulnerabilities that under- (Steinberg 1999) or discursive opportunity struc-
mine the prospect of resonance and/or frame tures, which have been found to facilitate and
alignment. There are at least three sets of constrain framing efforts (Ferree et al. 2002;
such framing hazards: ambiguous events or Ferree 2003; McCammon et al. 2007). Discur-
ailments, as when there is uncertainty about the sive fields evolve during the course of debate
correct application of two alternative framings about contested issues and events, and encom-
(Goffman 1974); framing errors or misfram- pass cultural materials (e.g., beliefs, values,
ings, as when a diagnostic frame is inappropri- ideologies, myths) of potential relevance and
ately applied or just wrong, or a frame is overex- various sets of actors (e.g., targeted authori-
tended (Snow & Corrigall-Brown 2005); and ties, social control agents, countermovements,
frame disputes, as when movement actors dis- media) whose interests are aligned, albeit dif-
agree and debate about appropriate diagnostic, ferently, with the contested issues or events,
prognostic, and motivational framings (Ben- and who thus have a stake in what is done or
ford 1993a). Inasmuch as concerted problem- not done about those events and issues. The
solving is contingent, in part, on interpretive discursive processes of frame articulation and
alignment regarding the diagnosis and prog- elaboration draw selectively upon these cultural
nosis of some problem, then framing hazards materials and are conducted in relation to the
constitute impediments to concerted collective various sets of actors that constitute the discur-
action. sive field. This suggests that the development
The generation and modification of collec- of collective action frames is facilitated and/or
tive action frames occur primarily through constrained by the cultural and structural ele-
the discursive processes of frame articulation ments of the discursive field and discursive
and elaboration. Frame articulation involves opportunity structure in which the evolving
the discursive connection and coordination frame is embedded. This further suggests that
of events, experiences, and strands of one or collective action frames constitute innovative
more ideologies so that they hang together in articulations and elaborations of existing ide-
a relatively integrated and meaningful fashion. ologies or sets of beliefs and ideas, and thus
Frame elaboration involves accenting and high- function as extensions or antidotes of them.
lighting some events, issues, and beliefs or ideas From this vantage point, social movements are
more than others, such that they become more viewed not as carriers of pre-configured, tightly
salient in an array of movement-relevant issues coupled beliefs and meanings, traditionally
(Snow 2004). Historically renowned move- conceptualized as ideologies, but as signify-
ment leaders, such as Gandhi and Martin ing agents actively engaged in the production
Luther King, were masters at frame articulation and maintenance of meanings that are intended
and elaboration. Gandhi’s principles of “satya- to mobilize adherents and constituents, garner
graha” and “ahimsa” were based, in part, on his bystander support, and demobilize antagonists.
fr aming and so cial movements 5

UNRESOLVED ISSUES SEE ALSO: Consciousness, conscience, and social

movements; Consensus and action mobilization;
Although the connection between framing and Culture and social movements; Discursive fields;
social movements has generated considerable Discursive opportunity structure; Frame disputes;
theorization and empirical research, there Ideology; Injustice frames; Master frame;
are a number of issues that have not been Narratives; Participation in social movements;
adequately addressed. One cluster concerns Resonance, frame.
issues specific to framing processes and their
consequences. Much research has identified
movement-specific collective action frames,
but comparatively little research has examined Benford, R.D. (1993a) Frame disputes within the
systematically the discursive processes through nuclear disarmament movement. Social Forces 71,
which frames evolve, develop, and change. The 677–701.
conceptual cluster of frame articulation and Benford, R.D. (1993b) “You could be the hun-
dreth monkey”: Collective action frames and
elaboration and the theorized discussion of
vocabularies of motive within the nuclear dis-
the discursive fields in which these processes armament movement. The Sociological Quarterly
are embedded provide the conceptual edifice 34, 195–216.
for research on frame discursive processes, but Benford, R.D., and Snow, D.A. (2000) Framing
to date the actual occurrence of systematic processes and social movements: An overview
research on framing processes (see Gamson and assessment. Annual Review of Sociology 26,
1992; Ferree et al. 2002; Snow et al. 2007) has 611–639.
not kept pace with the calls for such research Ferree, M.M. (2003) Resonance and radicalism:
(Steinberg 1999; Johnston 2002; Snow 2004). Feminist framing in the abortion debates of the
United States and Germany. American Journal of
A second cluster of issues that have not been
Sociology 109, 304–344.
sufficiently explored concerns the relationship Ferree, M.M., Gamson, W.A., Gerhards, J., and
between collective action frames and framing Rucht, D. (2002) Shaping Abortion Discourse:
processes and relevant cultural and social psy- Democracy and the Public Sphere in Germany and
chological factors such as narrative, ideology, the United States. Cambridge University Press,
collective identity, and emotion. Clearly these New York.
are overlapping concepts that interact in ways Gamson, W.A. (1992) Talking Politics. Cambridge
not yet fully understood. University Press, New York.
And last, our understanding of social move- Gamson, W.A., Fireman, B., and Rytina, S. (1982)
Encounters with Unjust Authority. Dorsey, Home-
ments will be advanced if more attention is
wood, IL.
devoted, both theoretically and empirically, to Goffman, E. (1974) Frame Analysis: An Essay on
how framing intersects with the issues and the Organization of Experience. Harper Colophon
processes examined via the theoretical lens of Books, New York.
resource mobilization, political opportunity, Johnston, H. (2002) Verification and proof in frame
and cultural perspectives. These perspectives and discourse analysis. In: Klandermans, B., and
should be seen not so much as competing but as Staggenborg, S. (eds), Methods of Social Move-
shedding light on different aspects of the char- ments Research. University of Minnesota Press,
acter and dynamics of social movements. The Minneapolis, pp. 62–91.
McCammon, H., Sanders Muse, C., Newman, H.D.,
framing perspective emerged not as an alterna-
and Terrell, T.M. (2007) Movement framing and
tive to other perspectives on social movements, discursive opportunity structures: The political
but to investigate and illuminate what these successes of the US women’s jury movements.
other perspectives glossed over, namely the American Sociological Review 72, 725–749.
matter of the production of mobilizing and Snow, D.A. (2004) Framing processes, ideology, and
countermobilizing meanings and ideas. discursive fields. In: Snow, D.A., Soule, S.A., and
6 fr aming and so cial movements

Kriesi, H. (eds), The Blackwell Companion to Social Activism and Social Movement Scholarship. Uni-
Movements. Blackwell, Oxford, pp. 380–412. versity of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, pp.
Snow, D.A., and Benford, R.D. (1988) Ideol- 222–238.
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197–217. micromobilization, and movement participation.
Snow, D.A., and Benford, R.D. (1992) Master frames American Sociological Review 51, 464–481.
and cycles of protest. In: Morris, A.D., and Snow, D.A., Vliegenhart, R., and Corrigall-Brown,
Mueller, C.M. (eds), Frontiers in Social Move- C. (2007) Framing the “French riots”: A compar-
ment Theory. Yale University Press, New Haven, ative study of frame variation. Social Forces 86,
CT, pp. 133–155. 385–415.
Snow D.A., and Byrd, W. (2007) Ideology, framing Steinberg, M.W. (1999) The talk and back talk of
processes, and Islamic terrorist movements. Mobi- collective action: A dialogic analysis of repertoires
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on deaf ears: Confronting the prospect of non- 105, 736–780.
resonant frames. In: Croteau, D., Ryan, C., and
Hoynes, W. (eds), Rhyming Hope and History: