Framing processes and social movements: An overview and assessment

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Citation: Robert D. Benford, David A. Snow (2000) Framing processes and social movements: An overview and assessment. Annual Review of Sociology (RSS)
DOI: 10.1146/annurev.soc.26.1.611
Semantic Scholar: 10.1146/annurev.soc.26.1.611
Tagged: Sociology (RSS) Social Movements (RSS), Frames (RSS)


Robert Benford and David Snow were two of the four authors on the paper Frame alignment processes, micromobilization, and movement participation, the original paper in the sociological literature on framing processes in social movements. The two authors revisit the literature that their own work had spawned 14 years later in this literature review which, itself, has become an influential and highly cited work.

Collective action frames had become, in the period since their original article was published, a key theoretical means of understanding social movements alongside resource mobilization (e.g., McCarthy and Zald's (1977) Resource mobilization and social movements: A partial theory. Frames build on Goffman's work on frames and, in the decade after they were offered, became something like a half or two thirds of the social movement literature.

Collective action frames are essential a means that movement participants can build a shared understanding of a problem or an injustice and how movement creators can help coordinate understanding amongst a group of people both of an injustice that should be found and a means to address it. The authors call these, "diagnostic", "prognostic" and "action" or "motivational" framing tasks. The basic idea is that social movement's major problem in attracting others is building frames that connect to and are likely to motivate people to join or continue to participate in a movement.

The authors argue that frames can vary in a series of key ways that include:

  • Problem identification and the direction or locus of attribution
  • Flexibility and rigidity, inclusivity or exclusivity of a frame
  • Variation in interpretation scope and influence
  • Resonance (in that certain frames will "work" better or more effectively than others"

The authors then turn to the literature on framing processes and dynamics to answer the questions about where frames come from and they spread or diffuse.

The authors note that participation is the key dependent variable used in the framing literature but that frames are likely to have different types of effects on social movements as well which are, as a result, understudied.

Theoretical and practical relevance:

Since it was published 10 years, the review has been cited more than 1,000 times in the sociological literature on social movements primarily. The framing literature remains somewhat controversial and, as the authors point out, frames are limited in a number of ways in their ability to describe or predict participation in movements. That said, frames continue to be the dominant theory in the sociological literature on social movements and this review articles provides a frequent citation to that sub-literature or theory as a whole.