Political Framing
In the beginning there was the word
language

Why we do not realise, what we do not expect, and how language influences and manipulates our perception. Explained by ALEXANDER ZIEM



A well known phenomenon: Is the glass half empty or half full? Both are undoubtedly true, however we need to choose one to refer linguistically to the amount of water in the glass. So how do we choose linguistic expressions or categories to capture an actual situation?

The above example uses linguistic tools to identify what is perceived, in order to discuss it. Objective linguistics are required for communication. Communication, the purposeful exchange between at least two individuals must not be confused with the mediation of objective facts. When we discuss a half-empty or half-full glass, the object we refer to remains the same, but the nature of its cognitive, conceptual-understanding, framing and linguistic acquisition changes. "Neutral" access is denied. We understand the world – or a glass filled with water – by the way we frame it.

The world as we frame it
Inspired by the term "frame", the process is also called "framing". We use framing to open up the world. Framing is not a product, but a process necessary for detecting an object or a situation. A distinction is made on three levels: linguistic, cognitive and neural.

On a linguistic level, the choice of an expression such as "a glass half full" versus "a glass half empty" is explored. Additionally, the phrase's meaning beyond its actual use, referring to its dictionary definition and explanation. On a cognitive (spiritually and conceptually) level, (background) knowledge is activated, relevant to understanding the selected expression in its actual context.1 For example, imagine an attentive host who wants to fill up their guests' wine glasses. A glass that is half empty cries out to be refilled, and a glass that is half full, less so. Therefore, cognitive framing has a real impact on the understanding of linguistic expressions and also suggests possible exclusion actions.

Due to recurring experiences neural patterns gradually emerge, similar to trails in a meadow.



On a neural level, brain functions and processes, such as memory performance, take place in the form of neural activity patterns. In a sense, they form the substantive equivalent of spiritual and conceptual knowledge frames. When understanding an expression of movement (for example "hand someone a glass", "ride a bicycle" et cetera), different areas of the brain are used, even those activated during the activity itself (for example "riding a bicycle"). Due to recurring experiences neural patterns gradually emerge, similar to trails in a meadow.

Framing processes are substantially involved on all levels, however they usually go unnoticed.This is due to the fact that to a large extent, knowledge framing escapes our conscious experience. What do you expect when you open a door? To see a toilet would be surprising – and would not match our expectations and assumptions. What image would spring to mind if you heard someone two seats in front of you on a train say: "Those bastard police"? A smartly dressed man in a suit and tie? No, this is not what you would expect. Also, what image springs to mind when you hear or read the word "locust"? – I will come back to this later.

As a result, framing processes allow the world to appear just as it is – natural. However, this is deceptive. What if behind the putative front door, is actually a garden? What if, sitting two seats in front of you, is actually a smartly dressed elderly gentleman? Through framing our sensations and non-sensory experiences, such as a painful relationship break-up, they become meaningful, tangible and perhaps even understandable.

Framing controls our visual perception, it gives meaning to seemingly meaningless, structureless and often chaotic impressions. We are all aware of picture puzzles.2 What we see depends on the perspective, such as the picture of Rubin's vase that transforms to silhouettes of faces when you switch your focus between the white and the black structures. The picture remains the same, but framing changes its contents: A construction of the mind. We perceive the visual data, but for this purpose we need to frame it.
 

This also works in a more abstract way: Take a colon, a slash and a round closing bracket – and you have a smiling face :-). Only two decades ago, it might have been difficult to explain that a semicolon would represent a winking eye. We understand the symbol as a proxy for something, due to a very abstract similarity and a convention or rule that we have learned.

Framing also works in automated body movements. Shifting gear whilst driving is below our threshold of consciousness; it is only exceeded when the gear change does not work easily or the engine protests. Gear changing is quite a complex and demanding task. Do you remember your first (pathetic?) attempt?

Language as a weapon
The world appears to us as it "is" only through our own spiritual and mental understanding. We usually do not notice anything. When we are reading, we are able to easily decipher the random "word salad" we are presented with.

The fsirt and lsat lteter is egonuh, our mnid teaks crae of the rset.

The mind's capacity for creativity is not a new concept. It has been applied to Immanuel Kant's transcendental knowledge theory,3 that questions the possibility and conditions of human knowledge. Michel Foucault´s book "Archaeology of Knowledge" challenged Immanuel Kant´s concept, by declaring that the historic conditions of potential perception or recognition are the main features of the discourse analysis.4 Cognitive linguist George Lakoff, philosopher Mark Johnson and scientists, such as: Benjamin Bergen, Lera Boroditsky and Teen Matlock, also used modern cognitive science research results and examined framing processes on a neuronal level.5

Framing is not only extremely interesting and important for knowledge analysis. Above all, framing is a powerful tool for strategic and political interest-driven communication. To put this into context, we have included a few examples from our cognitive framing research below.

The examples mentioned so far are harmless. However, framing can also leave traces of another kind. It can control political thinking and influence political action. It can be used as a rhetorical weapon to take down political opponents. It can impose a thought and a vision on us. This is also the case when "politics" is described as "war". If you follow this analogy and view political activity as a criminal act, it is already too late. There is no turning back from this and the person who "destroys" someone politically is automatically seen as a perpetrator who violates their political opponents-by shooting them. This scenario is by no means absurd. It says a lot about how we view the world of politics. The expression "to win someone over politically" is a linguistic relic of a political metaphor referring to war – and there are many more. The suggestion that war is actually politics, was made by Carl von Clausewitz almost 200 years ago.6

Political Framing
An example from the recent past: care allowance7. This term was introduced by the German CDU/CSU parliamentary group to name a now established and still controversial social benefit. Care allowance provides financial support for families whose children (aged 2-3) attend supervised daycare centres. You might think the term "care allowance" frames the designated facts properly or even suggests value-free. In much simpler terms, expressions that give clear explanations of how and what our senses perceive (consider "half full" and "half empty glass"), are not framed correctly and are greeted with a certain amount of skepticism. Are parents paid to supervise their own children? Can this be compared to the role of daycare centre staff?

An ideological perspective is taken on the term "care allowance", which is clearly seen by the alternative definitions which exist. The SPD chose (as did subsequent political parties) the term "stove bonus"8, which is without doubt judgmental: Someone will be rewarded financially for working in the kitchen. It also frames the likely situation, that due to the benefit recipients being paid for this work, they will be unable to engage in any professional activity.

"Care allowance" and "stove bonus" are two possible frames. Like any other words they do not represent what they mean. They act as instructions for how the designated issue is to be framed.

Why do we frame the world as we do?
Let's return to the word association experiment. What came to your mind when you read the term "locust"? Cognition takes place in the mind, and it is well known that one is unable to read another person's mind. However, a justified assumption can be made based on what you thought (and perhaps still think). What you think generally depends on what you have learned-meaning the type of framing has been formative.

A few years ago, the author carried out the same word association experiment simultaneously with students in Basel and Berlin. Just under 25 percent of the Swiss associated "locust" with the word "plague", followed by "insect" and "jump". 70 percent of the Germans asked, initially associated "locust" with a "financial investor".9 Associating financial investors with locust – is a type of framing resulting from successful political and strategic communication. Equating words with other words generates certain conditions and can provoke political consequences and activity. Although the person who created the metaphor may forget doing so, the framing is remembered. We do not have to remember Müntefering, but we will remember the fact that international financial investors damaged the domestic economy. Whether we like it or not – framing matters.



[1] This is also called "conceptualization".
[2] These images, which can simultaneously represent two things or can be interpreted differently depending on the perspective, lead to spontaneous perception changes.
[3] Cf. Kant, Immanuel: Kritik an der reinen Vernunft, Riga 1781.
[4] Cf. Foucault, Michel: Archäologie des Wissens, Paris 1969.
[5] Cf. Lakoff, George; Johnson, Mark: Philosophy in the flesh, New York 1999; Lupyan, Gary; Bergen, Benjamin: How language programs the mind, forthcoming; Thibodeau, Paul; Boroditsky, Lera:Natural Language Metaphors Covertly Influence Reasoning, in: PLOS ONE, 2013, Vol. 8, URL: http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0052961, 27.07.2015; Matlock, Teenie: Framing political messages with grammar and metaphor, in: American Scientist, Research Triangle Park, North Carolina 2012, Vol. 100, No. 6.
[6] Cf. Clausewitz, Carl von: Vom Kriege, Berlin 1932, Vol. 1, chap. 1, para. 24.
[7] The German original is "Betreuungsgeld".
[8] The German original is "Herdprämie".
[9] See also the detailed studies on using the metaphor "locust" for financial investors.- Ziem, Alexander: Frames und sprachliches Wissen, Berlin/New York 2008, chap. VII.



28.07.2015

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Tim Ehlers   10:07 Uhr 12.08.2015

Liebe Illejadh,

die Sprache wird praktisch ständig manipuliert - sei es durch eine undeutliche Aussprache, durch Akzente, die Wechselwirkung verschiedener Sprachen untereinander oder eben ganz aktiv und gewollt durch Metaphern. All das ist nicht problematisch. Es kann bisweilen sogar Spaß bereiten - und das dem Sprecher wie dem Hörer (von Heinz Erhardt bis Robert Gernhardt). Dass verschiedene Frames miteinander auf überraschende Weise miteinander verbunden werden, ist letztlich Kern jeder Pointe eines guten Witzes.

Problematisch wird es, wenn durch die Sprache das Denken manipuliert wird, vor allem, wenn dabei (menschenverachtende) Folgerungen nahegelgt werden. Das beschrieb besonders prominent bereits Victor Klemperer in seiner "LTI" über den Sprachgebrauch im Dritten Reich. Menschen wurden mit Vieh gleichgesetzt und auch so behandelt.

Dieses Überblenden (daher spricht man in diesem Zusammenhang auch vom "konzeptuellen Blending") kann potentiell zu neuen Verbindungen beim Denken führen und bei Menschen, die diese Manipulation nicht hinterfragen, möglicherweise zu einer Übernahme von Eigenschaften beider Begriffs-Konzepte führen und dadurch auch potentiell entsprechende Handlungen beeinflussen. Diese Übernahme funktioniert dabei besonders gut, wenn beide Konzepte ähnliche Eigenschaftsanteile aufweisen, wie oben in der Grafik angedeutet.

Dass in diesem speziellen Fall die Insekten aufgewertet werden könnten, ist eine witzige Idee. Allerdings wurden bei beiden Frames lediglich die negativen Vorstellungen der beiden Konzepte Heuschrecke und Finanzinvestor aktiviert/angesprochen, sodass eine Aufwertung unwahrscheinlich ist. Auch liegt das daran, dass die ähnlichen Eigenschaften zwischen den beiden Konzepten eben diejenigen sind, die negative sind. Niemand könnte ernsthaft behaupten, ein Finanzinvestor wäre so schön grün oder könne so toll hüpfen - außer, er oder sie meinte es witzig ;-)

Beste Grüße
Tim





Illejadh Wyle   14:21 Uhr 11.08.2015

Die Große Frage ist aber: Was bewirkt es wirklich? Führt die Verknüpfung Heuschrecken-Investoren tatsächlich zu einer Abwertung von besagt oder einfach nur zu einer Spaltung... gar einer Aufwertung der Insekten? Was passiert langfristig? Verschwindet der Rahmen kehrt sich ins Gegenteil oder wird einfach wieder neutral? All das ist völlig unberechenbar, deshalb ist es so gefährlich an Sprache herum zumanipulieren. Es kann Kommunikation verunmöglichen und auf diese weise Menschen entmachten.



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