Analytic frame

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Analytic frame is a detailed sketch or outline of some social phenomenon, representing the initial idea of a scientist analyzing this phenomenon. Charles C. Ragin defines it as one of the four building blocks of social research (the other three being ideas (social theories), evidence (data) and images (new ideas synthetised from existing data). Thus, analytic frames are used to elaborate on starting ideas and usually consist of a list of some key elements found in most of the analysed phenomena (for example, social movements).

Two specific types of analytic frames are case and aspect based frames. Framing by case refers to researchers using concepts to classify the phenomena they study, while framing by aspect refers to using concepts to characterize the phenomena. For example, a scientists describing a restaurant, a bus, a coffeehouse and a waiting room as a noninteraction places is assigning them into the same category, thus framing them by case. Framing by aspect is going further and differentiating between cases in a given category (how exactly is noninteraction achieved in those places, what forms of social interaction are permitted in those places, etc.).

Frames can be also divided into fixed, fluid, or flexible. Fixed frames don't change in later research states. They are common in quantitative research, and are used to test and prove or falsify a hypothesis. Flexible frames are common in comparative research, where they show which factors may be more relevant in specific research context, helping to explore the problem without making specific hypothesis. Fluid frames are used when researcher wants to limit the influence of the existing, more established theories; they are thus subject to much change and the researcher can use several frames switching between them depending on the gathered data. Fluid frames are most common in the qualitative research.