Goffman’s primary framework
In Frame Analysis (1972), Goffman defines primary framework as an interpretive schema which “allows its users to locate, perceive, identify, and label a seemingly infinite number of occurences defined in its terms,” and is the basis by which a scene is meaningful. It makes certain aspects of the information environment more salient, and others less; it is a cultural definition of reality which serves as a basis for sense-making, decision-making, and action.
(Compare Chapman’s “stance”—a pattern of feeling, thinking, & acting—and Bourdieu’s habitus—which “functions at every moment as a matrix of perception, appreciations, and actions and makes possible the achievement of infinitely diversified tasks, thanks to analogical transfers of schemes permitting the solution of similarly shaped problems.”)
Goffman suggests two broad classes of primary framework—natural frameworks (e.g. a scientific weather report) and social frameworks (e.g. a weather channel newscast):
Social frameworks… provide background understanding for events that incorporate the will, aim, and controlling effort of an intelligence, a live agency, the chief one being the human being. Such an agency is anything but implacable [in the way “nature” is]; it can be coaxed, flattered, affronted, and threatened. What it does can be described as “guided doings.” These doings subject the doer to “standards,” to social appraisal of his action based on its honesty, efficiency, economy, safety, elegance, factfulness, good taste, and so forth… Motive and intent are involved, and their imputation helps select which of the various social frameworks of understanding is to be applied.
(Any “socially guided doing” is “continuously conditioned by natural constraints,” such that “effective doing will require the exploitation, not the neglect, of [these] condition[s],” and so any happening placed in a social framework may also be translated into a natural framework.)
The set of primary frameworks in a given society constitute its “cosmology.” We pay special attention to frame-breaking displays and events—for instance, an interest in stunts, and “willed agency” under seemingly “impossible conditions,” or in the supernatural, which we take on faith will eventually be explicable within our current naturalistic frame, even if they are currently inexplicable. Or, say, our special attention to “flubs,” “gaffes,” and extraordinary turns of chance—concepts which must be at hand in order to handle and accommodate such decorum slippages in our analytic system.
Kahneman and Tversky have explored the “biasing” of decision-making through framing, which they term “frame effect”—but this understanding seems reductive. It is not that a frame “biases” our making of a decision, but that a frame is the entire basis by which we are able to make a decision in the first place. It is the system of meaning—pragmatic, cultural, and baked-into our language—with which we can understand and navigate a world at all. When we enter a situation, we use cues or surrogates to tell us what “type” of situation it is; this type provides the basis for selecting and generating responses or reactions. This is the sense in which “analogic transfers” undergird the extensibility of the frame: novel situations can be related back to encountered situations of similar “type” (that is, which share goal-relevant features), and understandings of these previous encounters “ported” over to the present.
Of the connection between frame and language, George Lakoff counsels, “When you are arguing against the other side: Do not use their language. Their language picks out a frame—and it won’t be the frame you want.” From the frame issues value clarity: the idea of “tax relief” implies affliction and a heroic reliever or “cure,” with those who stand in its way cast as villains. Like all linguistic descriptions (see e.g. Nietzsche, “Truth & Lies in a Nonmoral Sense”) it is a metaphor which picks out similarities between parts. This picking out is strategic, in the sense that similarities are chosen with an expectation of cash value, but not necessarily “pragmatic” in the sense that they are geared toward fulfilling some task beyond the alteration of social reality (“politicking”). We can call this strategic conceptualization or strategic framing: a description of a situation which is not so much geared to selecting among possible responses in the advancement of a goal, but to persuading others that a pre-selected response is in fact the right one.