In 1974, one of the first attempts at identifying how individuals perceive, or “frame”, experiences subjectively was articulated. In Frame Analysis: An Essay on the Organization of Experience, sociologist Erving Goffman identified basic frameworks of understanding used by individuals to make sense of events. Theorists and other researchers from fields such as mass communication and media effects would also study frame analysis, further adopting and shaping the way it is defined and applied. Most recently, however, frame analysis has been used to examine the ways in which visual news media, such as photographs and editorial cartoons, communicate not only details about a news story, but also rhetorical information that can used to interpret events.Order now
Determining the ways in which visual frames exist, are created, and applied is a relatively new field. Pioneering work has been completed that applies frame analysis to photos of war and conflict, images that look to communicate events around the world as they take place. This work is extremely valuable, but more popular forms of news visuals have largely been excluded from frame analysis, including editorial cartoons. The way editorial cartoons frame news events is important in communicating how society generally perceives current times.
However, public figures are also an important focus of editorial cartoons. From celebrities to world leaders, editorial cartoons capture societal sentiment and opinion of the actions and decisions carried out by important people. By examining the literature on frame analysis since Goffman, we can identify specific concepts and practices that inform our understanding of the perception of public figures in editorial cartoons.
According to Gary Alan Fine and Philip Manning, Frame Anlysis: An Essay on the Organization of Experience, was seen by Goffman as his “magnum opus” (Fine and Manning, 2001, p. 460). Working from William James’ question, “under what circumstance do we think things are real?” (Goffman, 1974, p. 2), Frame Analysis sought to define the ways in which individuals organize their experience of, or perceive, the world around them. Borrowing a term from Gregory Bateson, Goffman determined that a “frame” is the basic element that helps to define the characteristics of a social situation or event, and how individuals subjectively determine their involvement (1974, p. 10). To use “frame analysis” would be to refer to the examination of an individual’s perception of their involvement in any given social situation.
Two primary frameworks are employed by individuals in any given situation. However, individuals are “likely unaware of such organized features as the framework has and unable to describe the framework with any completeness if asked…” (Goffman, 1974, p. 21). These primary frameworks are methods of interpretation that transform situations from meaningless to meaningful for an individual, and each allow its user to perceive a situation in any multitude of ways. The first primary framework Goffman recognizes is the natural framework — events or situations which are seen as undirected or free from individual action. As one may assume, the second primary framework is the social framework which can provide background of the situation in terms of an individual’s will, aim, and degree of control (Goffman, 1974, p. 22). In Frame Analysis, Goffman uses the weather as an example. The natural framework of the weather is what its current state may be when you walk out the door, as opposed to a social framework, which would correspond to a news anchor presenting the weather, as this person may alter one’s perception of the weather with their comments or actions (1974, p. 22). Goffman stresses that these frameworks can add weight to the act of the glance, the most casual act of perception, as this action contains much more penetration of a current situation that what might be first thought.
Goffman’s focus on perception follows through to his next two major publications. In Gender Advertisements (1979), the concept of the frame is used by Goffman to examine the ways photographs and photographic advertisements convey messages about male/female behaviours. These behaviours are referred to as “displays” and are related to the ritualization of emotional reactions in people to a situation. Displays also have a framing function that informs and establishes the terms of contact, and mode of action between participants in a situation, as well as how individuals may perceive the situation. According to Goffman, displays can iconically reflect fundamental features of gender in the social structure (1979, p. 8), referring to these as “gender displays”. Through advertising, gender displays frame how an individual should perceive their life by holding up idealized, and potential unreal, situations. Here, the act of the glance at an advertisement, even for just a moment, can carry substantial weight in terms of the viewer’s perception of their world.
In Forms of Talk, Goffman builds off a general point from Frame Analysis which states that natural and social primary frameworks affect participants in an activity and bystanders who may be involved in a more passive sense (1974, p. 38). In Forms of Talk, Goffman discusses the “participation framework.” This refers to how a conversation can “open up an array of structurally different possibilities” that encompasses not only the speaker, but also direct and indirect participants of the conversation (1981, p, 137). Individuals exist differently within the participation framework for the moment of speech and may perceive the situation in their own way, depending on their relation and proximity to the speaker. This aspect of perception in relation to participation is important as a framing device throughout Forms of Talk, and can be tied to Goffman’s concept of the display in terms of providing information of a social structure. As an individual talks, they may acquire information from their perception of a situation by way of participatory framework, in that the presence of certain individuals may alter their behaviour.
Though Forms of Talk may only show the ways in which frame analysis can help us understand how we perceive of public figures in editorial cartoons indirectly, when combined with Frame Analysis and Gender Advertisements, we can start to develop a foundational understanding of the power of perception as outlined by Goffman. This understanding is formed by determining what features from these publications could be found in any editorial cartoon. These features can include primary frameworks, types of displays, and participation frameworks. For example, identifying the kind of situation a figure seems to be in, and what kinds of behaviour they display, can give us clues as to what information is being communicated. However, to better understand the perception of figures in editorial cartoons, a well-known form of news media, it’s important to examine frame analysis as employed by theorists of mass communication and media effects.
Before the early 1990s, framing and frame analysis were defined and conceptualized in different ways. In Framing Public Life, co-editor Stephen D. Reese outlines the progression of the framing tradition since Goffman (1974). Reese cites examples such as David Morely ‘s call for the examination of how basic ideological frameworks give events dominant meanings; Todd Gitlin’s definition of frames as repeated patterns of cognition or interpretation that inform selection, emphasis, and exclusion; and William A. Gamson and Andre Modigliani’s definition of frames as central organizing ideas that help individuals make sense of relevant events. (2001, p. 11). Though all these definitions and conceptualizations of frames work from similar concepts, each are applied and articulated differently.
The first call for a unified definition of frame analysis came in Robert Entman’s 1993 article, “Framing: Toward a Clarification of a Fractured Paradigm.” According to Entman, frame analysis illuminates how communication can influence human consciousness through methods of selection and salience in text, adding that frames highlight “bits of information about an item that is the subject of communication…” (p. 53). In this case, salience makes parts of text more noticeable or meaningful to audiences, while selection pertains to how text may be included or omitted in media. When examined, these concepts show how our perception can be altered when information is communicated through text. Entman argues that universal concepts of salience and selection can create a common understanding of frames and establish framing as a general research theory.
Working from Entman’s characterization of frame analysis as a “scattered conceptualization” (1993, p.51), Dietram A. Scheufele attempts to adopt frame analysis as a theory of media effects. In his discussion on the creation of a typology of framing that can be used for further research aims, Scheufele points to a 1996 article by Friedland and Zhong which states that “frames serve as the bridge between…larger social and cultural realms and everyday understandings of social interaction” (1999, p. 106). Two types of frames help to create this bridge: media frames and individual frames. Media frames incorporate Entman’s concepts of selection and salience, turning meaningless happenings into discernible events (1999, p. 106). Individual frames, however, relate back to Goffman’s original primary frameworks, presenting individuals with inherent natural and social frames of reference or ideas that guide perception or the processing of information. For Scheufele, media frames and individual frames assist individuals in making sense of political discourse in the news, and when examined together, can comment on the way news media is digested by public viewers and audiences.
Both Entman and Scheufele provide important links of thought and theory from Goffman to their fields of study. Though these authors generally focus on the ways text can be framed, concepts such a salience and selection can be used to glean more information on how public figures in editorial cartoons can be perceived visually. Using salience, editorial cartoons highlight aspects of general social knowledge on current events or individuals and transforms them into meaningful information. Through selection, only certain details are included in an illustration, ensuring the that a specific and editorial point is made. However, literature since Entman and Scheufele needs to be examined in order to fully understand how frames and frame analysis can inform or affect our perception of public figures.
Paul Messaris and Linus Abraham provide the one of first explanations of how photographs can play a role in framing of news stories. In “The Role of Images in Framing News Stories,” Messaris and Abraham focus on three unique characteristics of photographs. The first of these characteristics is a photograph’s analogical quality. Unlike words, which depend on social convention for meaning, pictures largely correlate to what they represent based on similarity (2001, p. 216). The indexicality of images is Messaris and Abraham’s second characteristic. Here, the authors explain that indexicality refers to the degree of authenticity in news photographs. Building from the work of philosopher C.S. Pierce, Messaris and Abraham argue that photographs have a true-to-life quality, directly pointing to aspects of events that are known to be true (indices), thus having an “implicit guarantee of being closer to the truth than other forms of communication” (2001, p. 217). Lastly, Messaris and Abraham argue that photographs do not have an explicit set of syntactic conventions like words, allowing the viewer to make much more direct connections to causes and events (2001, p. 219). Through an analysis of television news coverage of African Americans, the authors conclude that viewers may be less aware of the process of framing when it occurs visually due to the fact it relies on less explicit forms of association and communication, and in turn, making it easier to communicate controversial messages (2001 p. 225).
Renita Coleman similarly examines these visual framing effects discussed by Messaris and Abraham, and by Goffman in Gender
Advertisements. In Coleman’s discussion, she opens visual framing to include photographs and illustrations in newspapers, and more secondary elements such as posture and gesture of journalists and other individuals who appear on television news. However, Coleman’s main argument is for additional frame analysis theory-building using visual framing research. Criticizing the largely word-based foundations of the nascent frame analysis tradition, Coleman points to a number of studies that show the effect of news visual on individuals. For example, in a 1990 study by Doris Graber, viewers remembered news stories better when they contained visuals, and in a 2006 study by Arpan et al., negative photographs of social protests elicited negative opinions in viewers about the cause (Coleman, 2010, p. 242-243). Coleman says these two lines of research are important in the further study of frame analysis as they can highlight stereotyping in visual news media when compared to what is being reported in text.