#CCK11 Frames: The Tools and Contexts We Use to Create Meaning in Joint Action

This post follows a discussion from CCK11 MOOC, where there has been some talk about framing, context, and rationality.  Lindsay Jordan says:

Frames which seem pretty much the same thing as ‘context’ – am I right?

and Jaapsoft2, who says:

Context is a means to think about words in a rational way. Frames do have a physical, neural source. Reframing is a neuro-linguistic method where a situation or context is seen in another frame.

I agree, but I am going to think of words, word meanings, frames and contexts at 3 different levels, in order to tease out a deeper understanding of these concepts for myself.

First Level – Society

I going to think of frames at a societal level.  Frames at this level are not associated with our personal contexts, but they can be thought of as the contexts of our words and word meaning in a larger shared societal sense.  In example, the meaning of the word surgeon can not be separated from the concept of hospital, disease, as well as many other concepts.  All of these words inter-relate to create a frame that gives depth to our understandings and meanings, but it does so in a ways that is generally shared with other people around us.

Second Level Personal Experiences

Our personal contexts do enter into our understandings through our past experiences.  You may have a different understanding of the word surgeon than I do.  We share a societal frame, but may differ on a personal level because of our unique experiences.

Third Level – Joint Action

When we are in a specific context and speaking to each other, we negotiate the meanings of our words and concepts to fit our context and intentions.  You might say that this is where our personal frames come together and we attempt to form a negotiated shared frame between us.  M.M. Bakhtin (I think) would say that interaction is where our unique frames, added to our intentions, come together to create meaning jointly as we act together.  I wrote about this before:

(I)n dialogue, once we have spoken, we have to wait to see how our utterance is interpreted by our counter-party before we can go on.  We can speak, but it’s like the meaning is in the hands of our dialogic partner.  I think it’s what Wittgenstein meant when he said that we don’t reach for certainty, but rather for the ability to go on and continue the dialogue.  Katerina Clark and Michael Holquist give a similar account of the psychological implications of this dialogic way of looking at things when they quote Bakhtin saying:

(T)here is no reason for saying that meaning belongs to the word as such.  In essence, meaning belongs to a word in it’s position between speakers . . . meaning is realized only in the process of active, responsive understanding. . .” (p.232)

In this way framing does not determine meanings, but it does set the stage, or maybe it’s better to say, it gives us the tools by which we can act together to create meaning in joint action.

This is also the conceptual space where reframing is able to happen.  Jaapsoft2’s reference come from a therapeutic technique of trying to find other frames that help us to think of our circumstances in new ways.  Goffman did this same thing when he pointed out that people with disabilities were stigmatized because of their deviance, but it was also possible to think of difference without a negative connotation.   However, at some level, we try to reframe things, at least in small ways, every time we speak together.  And that is just as I am doing now.