Social Research Glossary


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Citation reference: Harvey, L., 2012-20, Social Research Glossary, Quality Research International,

This is a dynamic glossary and the author would welcome any e-mail suggestions for additions or amendments. Page updated 19 December, 2019 , © Lee Harvey 2012–2020.


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Frame analysis

core definition

Frame analysis argues that that people classify their experiences according to guiding frames of reference.

explanatory context

Introduction and general definition

Frame analysis is underpinned by the idea that people must somehow classify their experience if they are to grasp its significance and communicate the experience to others.


Frame analysis exists in a variety of disguises. Probably the best-known exposition is that associated with the dramaturgical approach to symbolic interactionism. Goffman (1974) argues that definitions of social situations are built up in accordance with basic 'frames' of understanding. These frames permit us to make sense of events by permitting us to dissect experience into easily manageable wholes.


Frame analysis is paralleled by the domain analysis of cultural anthropology , the discrete categorization of cognitive psychology , the atomistic notions of 'facts' and frame networks in artificial intelligence, and the framing and partitioning of areas of study into academic subjects (as in switch-signals) in the sociology of education.


Goffmanesque frame analysis

Goffman's approach is based on the idea that making sense of social situations is done by constructing meaning through frames of understanding.


Social frameworks can be distinguished from natural frameworks. Natural frameworks are physical and undirected. Social frameworks incorporate the will, aim and controlling effort of an intelligence and provide a way of describing the events to which they are applied. Primary frameworks describe events and give them social meaning.


The meaning of an activity can be transformed in several ways. Keying is the process of transformation of an activity that is already meaningful as a primary framework into something patterned on it but quite different. Such as ceremonies, fantasies, contests, etc. Fabrication is one process for transforming frames of meaning, it is the process whereby another actor is induced into a false belief about what is going on. Self-deception is a possible form of fabrication. Theatre is an example of a benign fabrication.


Transformation is not one way, retransformation is possible.


Framing is not a perfect process, people mis-frame, frame ambiguously or frame disputatiously. The notion of clearing the frame occurs when each participant has a workably correct view of what is going on and also, usually, a correct views of other's views, which includes others views of the participant.


Arguably frames organise involvement as well as meaning. Such that if an individual 'breaks frame', thus leading to inappropriate behaviour, the subject will (normally) be aware of it and suffer a negative experience. This is negative in the sense that it takes its character from what it is not, and what is not an organised and organizationally affirmed response.

analytical review

Allen (2017) wrote:

Frame analysis offers a theoretical, methodological, and critical tool for exploring processes of meaning making and influence among governmental and social elites, news media, and the public. ...According to Stephen Reese, a frame is a socially shared organizing principle that works symbolically to shape democratic discourse and influence public opinion by creating and promoting particular vocabularies. Frames appear most vividly in media coverage...

associated issues


related areas

See also

Researching the Real World Section 2.3.1


Goffman, E., 1974, Frame analysis: An essay on the organization of experience, London, Harper and Row.

Allen, M., 2017, 'Frame analysis', The SAGE Encyclopedia of Communication Research Methods, available at, accessed 3 June 2019.

copyright Lee Harvey 2012–2020


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