Frame analysis (also called framing analysis) is a multi-disciplinary social science research method used to analyze how people understand situations and activities. The concept is generally attributed to the work of Erving Goffman and his 1974 book Frame analysis: An essay on the organization of experience and has been developed in social movement theory, policy studies and elsewhere.
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 as rhetorical criticism
Political Communication researcher Jim A. Kuypers first published work advancing framing analysis as a rhetorical perspective in 1997. His approach begins inductively by looking for themes that persist across time in a text (for Kuypers, primarily news narratives on an issue or event), and then determining how those themes are framed. Kuypers’ work begins with the assumption that frames are powerful rhetorical entities that “induce us to filter our perceptions of the world in particular ways, essentially making some aspects of our multi-dimensional reality more noticeable than other aspects. They operate by making some information more salient than other information. . . .”  In "Framing Analysis From a Rhetorical Perspective" Kuypers details the differences between framing analysis as rhetorical criticism and as a social scientific endeavor, in particular arguing that framing criticism offers insights unavailable to social scientists.
In his 2009 work, Rhetorical Criticism: Perspectives in Action Kuypers offers a detailed template for doing framing analysis from a rhetorical perspective. According Kuypers, "Framing is a process whereby communicators, consciously or unconsciously, act to construct a point of view that encourages the facts of a given situation to be interpreted by others in a particular manner. Frames operate in four key ways: they define problems, diagnose causes, make moral judgments, and suggest remedies. Frames are often found within a narrative account of an issue or event, and are generally the central organizing idea."  Kuypers’ work is based on the premise that framing is a rhetorical process and as such it is best examined from a rhetorical point of view.
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.
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 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
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 transpose in terms of another framework" (Snow et al., 1986, p. 474) such that they are seen differently. There are two types of frame transformation:
- Domain-specific transformations such as the attempt to alter the status of groups of people, and
- 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 market capitalism; religious conversion, etc.).
- Argumentation theory
- Code word (figure of speech)
- Concept driven strategy
- Communication theory
- Figure of speech
- Language and thought
- Idea networking
- Personal Construct Theory
- Political frame
- Power word
- Rhetorical device
- Spin doctor
- Thought Reform (book)
- Unspeak (book)
- Jim A. Kuypers, Rhetorical Criticism: Perspectives in Action , Lexington Press, 2009
- Jim A. Kuypers, "Framing Analysis From a Rhetorical Perspective", P. D'Angelo and J. A. Kuypers, eds., Doing News Framing Analysis, Routledge, 2010.
- Rhetorical Criticism: Perspectives in Action
- Jim A. Kuypers, Bush's War: Media Bias and Justifications for War in a Terrorist Age , Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2006.
- Snow, David A. and Robert D. Benford (1988). “Ideology, Frame Resonance, and Participant Mobilization”. Pp. 197-217 in Bert Klandermans, Hanspeter Kriesi, and Sidney Tarrow (eds.), From Structure to Action: Social Movement Participation Across Cultures. Greenwich, Conn.: JAI Press.
- Snow, David A., R. Burke Rochford, Jr., Steven K. Worden, and Robert D. Benford. 1986. “Frame Alignment Processes, Micromobilization, and Movement Participation.” American Sociological Review 51: 464-481.