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Article

The Agenda-Setting Process and Crises: Toward a Conceptual Framework  

Sandra L. Resodihardjo

An agenda is a list of issues being discussed and sometimes decided upon. This discussion can take place in society (the public agenda), in media outlets (the media agenda), and in government institutions (the political agenda). The number of issues that can be discussed in these fora is limited and thus not every issue will get onto the agenda. Actors will therefore try to put some issues on the agenda while blocking others. Not all issues, however, have the same weight. Some issues (such as the economy) are of such a magnitude that they can bump other issues off the agenda. This ability to push issues from the agenda is also attributed to crises. After all, an event with such an impact on society will surely affect what is being discussed. Reality, however, is more complex, starting with the fact that society may not perceive an event to be a crisis even though it has a huge impact on those directly affected. And even if society defines the event as a crisis, which aspect(s) of the crisis will be put on the agenda? Will the focus be on, for instance, preventative measures, or the fact that some parts of the population were more affected by the crisis than others? By combining several strands of literature (most notably the agenda-setting, media, and framing literature), it is possible to discern five elements that need to be included in a conceptual framework if one wants to explain how crises affect the agenda-setting process. These five elements are (a) agenda interaction, (b) windows of opportunity, (c) entrepreneurs, (d) venue shopping, and (e) framing and problem definition. Agenda interaction refers to the interaction between and within the three types of agendas: the public, the media, and the political agendas. If political actors are, for example, able to define the event as minor and this definition is accepted by the public and the media, the issue will drop from all agendas. Windows of opportunity are moments in time when issues can be pushed onto the agenda and may even lead to policy change. Crises are one way to open these windows. A person who is trying to use that window to get a problem or solution on the agenda (and sometimes succeeding) is an entrepreneur. Other actions entrepreneurs can use include venue shopping—strategically selecting (and trying to access) those decision making arenas that seem to be a good bet when one tries to win a debate. To get access to these venues, however, entrepreneurs need to ensure that they frame the problem in such a way that a venue will decide that the issue falls under its jurisdiction. Framing also plays a role in whether an event becomes defined as a crisis, which type of window will open, and which particular aspect of the crisis will make it onto the agenda.

Article

Threat Framing  

Johan Eriksson

What is “threat framing”? It concerns how something or someone is perceived, labeled, and communicated as a threat to something or someone. The designation “threat,” notably, belongs to the wider family of negative concerns such as danger, risk, or hazard. Research on threat framing is not anchored in a single or specific field but rather is scattered across three separate and largely disconnected bodies of literature: framing theory, security studies, and crisis studies. It is noteworthy that whereas these literatures have contributed observations on how and under what consequences something is framed as a threat, none of them have sufficiently problematized the concept of threat. Crisis analysis considers the existence or perception of threat essential for a crisis to emerge, along with a perception of urgency and uncertainty, yet crisis studies focus on the meaning of “crisis” without problematizing the concept of threat. Likewise, security studies have spent a lot of ink defining “security,” typically understood as the “absence of threat,” but leave the notion of “threat” undefined. Further, framing theory is concerned with “problem definition” as a main or first function of framing but generally pays little or no attention to the meaning of “threat.” Moreover, cutting across these bodies of literature is the distinction between constructivist and rationalist approaches, both of which have contributed to the understanding of threat framing. Constructivist analyses have emphasized how threat framing can be embedded in a process of socialization and acculturation, making some frames appear normal and others highly contested. Rationalist approaches, on the other hand, have shown how threat framing can be a conscious strategic choice, intended to accomplish certain political effects such as the legitimization of extraordinary means, allocation of resources, or putting issues high on the political agenda. Although there are only a handful of studies explicitly combining insights across these fields, they have made some noteworthy observations. These studies have shown for example how different types of framing may fuel amity or enmity, cooperation, or conflict. These studies have also found that antagonistic threat frames are more likely to result in a securitizing or militarizing logic than do structural threat frames. Institutionalized threat frames are more likely to gain and maintain saliency, particularly if they are associated with policy monopolies. In the post-truth era, however, the link between evidence and saliency of frames is weakened, leaving room for a much more unpredictable politics of framing.

Article

The Legitimation of Repression in Autocracies  

Maria Josua

In research on authoritarianism, both legitimation and repression have received growing attention since the late 2000s. However, these two strategies of political rule do not form separate pillars of power; they are interlinked and affect each other. Autocrats not only rule with an iron fist, but they also seek to legitimize their use of repression vis-à-vis at least some of their citizens and the outside world. These legitimizing discourses are part of political communication in autocracies and can be studied using the approach of framing. So far, few researchers of the protest–repression nexus have studied how protesters are being framed by officials in autocracies. The communication of repression varies widely across autocracies. Authoritarian incumbents differ in their degree of openness vs. opacity, impacting also on how they publicize, admit to, or conceal certain forms of repression. When choosing to justify acts of repression, multiple factors influence which types of justification are used. One decisive factor is against which targets repression is employed. In framing the targets of repression in a certain way, autocratic elites pursue a twin strategy in that they seek to attain the approval of certain audiences and to deter potential or actual dissidents. Furthermore, justifications diverge regarding which actors use them and towards which audiences. Past experiences and regime characteristics also impact on how repression is justified. This research program offers great potential for studying state–society relations in autocracies. It cuts across research on political violence, authoritarian legitimation, and political communication. For understanding the persistence of autocracies in times of contention, it is an important piece in the puzzle of authoritarian survival strategies illuminating the “dark side” of legitimation.