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Issues in Framing

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1. Framing versus Organizing?

Since George Lakoff's rise to public prominence in 2004, articles periodically appear critiquing the 'framing fad' as inadequate for social change or political success. No serious framing expert believes that framing is a substitute for organizing or finding effective political candidates. Nor has any serious organizing or campaigning been effective without good framing of the issues at stake. For best results, effective issue framing must be fully integrated with movement or campaign building.

2. Framing for quick results or long-term success?

Some framing theorists feel that for best results, a whole system of widely agreed-upon progressive frames must be worked out and publicized for a long time, before we will be able to succeed with any of our own new frames. In the meantime, we must do what we can to come up with mainstream language that a broad cross-section of the liberal and progressive community can join in using--something like a big do-it-yourself experiment for the short-term, hopefully backed up by polls and focus group testing as we go along.

3. Framing individual problems or issues versus framing to promote broad public policy?

Leaders of the progressive movement are especially concerned about fostering framing that will promote broad public policy changes, rather than addressing a patchwork of single issues or the problems of individuals. This distinction is also reflected in The Center for Communications and Community's preference for broader thematic reporting versus the episodic kind about individuals and their problems. To be most effective, we must keep these bigger goals in mind as we frame our own issues.

4. Framing for progressives and their friends or framing to reach mainstream Americans?

Activists have many different goals and audiences in their organizing. At times they may wish to activate their own constituencies, or those parts of the larger public who may already be sympathetic to their cause. At other times, they may need to reach as much of the voting public as possible and target public officials. Choosing the correct frames for the intended audience is vital to success. See Why Speak American? for a brief overview of the different varieties of cultural narrative in America as framing sources. Many fields of study have contributed to American framing theory and continue to shed light on this particular topic--especially political science and American history.