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Framing of Environmental Disputes
Imagine two young brothers tumbling in the family playroom. They tussle back and forth giggling as they wrestle each other to the ground. Although they are rambunctious, they do not hurt each other. They are roughhousing—playing. Next, imagine that one of the boys cuffs his brother rather sharply on the ear and the second boy stops cold. Suddenly, they are no longer playing. The fists fly fast and furiously as both boys start to hurt each other and try to win the fight that has emerged.
Why did their interaction shift from playing to fighting? To answer that question, think about their perceptions. At first, they saw their tussle as play; then they saw it as fighting. The shift occurred because they viewed their interaction in a new light. What was considered play initially was reframed as fight when the play became too rough. Their perspective about their interaction changed, or, to use our terminology, they framed their interaction as playing and then they framed it as fighting.
So what does it mean to say they are "framing" their interaction? Framing involves shaping, focusing, and organizing the world around us. The brothers were having fun until one experienced pain in his ear. Suddenly the frame "play" didn't make sense anymore. Fun does not include pain; in reaction to the pain the first brother reframed the interaction as a "fight" and expressed the result of this reframing by slugging his sibling. Sure enough, his brother responded by framing the interaction as "fight" as well, and the fists flew.
When we use the words "shaping," "focusing," and "organizing" we are talking about framing, and when we use the words "fight" and "play" we are talking about the frames the boys created by framing. Framing is the activity and process of creating and representing frames. It is important to keep in mind, however, that frames may not be permanent. They can change through future reframing activity. For example, we can frame our favorite hockey player as a "hero" when she scores the winning goal, and as a "bum" when she misses the open net; our parents as "loving" when they pay our tuition, and as "demanding" when they tell us to get a summer job; and ourselves as "studious" when we prepare diligently for an exam, and as "clever" when we pass the exam without reading the textbook.
Environmental disputes are shaped, focused, and organized by the disputants as well as the observers. In this book we argue that the process of framing offers a powerful, if partial, explanation for why some environmental disputes resist resolution. Framing refers to the process of constructing and representing our interpretations of the world around us. We construct frames by sorting and categorizing our experience—weighing new information against our previous interpretations. Through this process we focus attention on an event or issue by "imparting meaning and significance to elements within the frame and setting them apart from what is outside the frame" (Buechler 2000, 41). Framing also involves a representational process in which we present or express how we make sense of things. Constructing and representing, however, are not necessarily separate activities. It is often necessary to represent our thoughts in words to know what we really think of a situation or experience (Weick 1979, 1995).
In addition to being an interpretive process that helps us to understand and clarify what we are experiencing, framing also enables us to locate ourselves with respect to that experience. Through framing, we place ourselves in relation to the issues or events—that is, we take a stance with respect to them (Taylor 2000). Taking a stance involves making attributions about how and why events have occurred (i.e., causality) and who is responsible (i.e., acknowledging or blaming). A frame reflects our interpretation of what is going on and how we see ourselves and others implicated in what is happening.
When we frame a conflict, we develop interpretations about what the conflict is about, why it is occurring, the motivations of the parties involved, and how the conflict should be settled. And we are likely to frame the conflict differently depending on whether we are an observer of others involved in the conflict, a supporter or an opponent of the disputants, or one of the disputants. For example, in the year following the accident at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant, technical experts from the utility and some citizens held different frames about the risks associated with cleaning up the reactor. The utility was eager to release the radioactive krypton gas remaining in the crippled reactor to reduce any threat of a further catastrophe from keeping the gas bottled up. Local citizens, on the other hand, were worried about suspected health effects from releasing the krypton into the atmosphere. Each framed the potential risk differently
We all use frames to make sense of the world around us. A frame provides a heuristic for how to categorize and organize data into meaningful chunks of information. When we frame something, we put it in perspective by relating it to other information that we already "know"
Numerous definitions of frames have been provided by researchers in cognitive psychology, microsociology, and sociolinguistics. Cognitive psychologists view frames as cognitive structures in our memory (Bartlett 1932) that help us organize and interpret new experiences (Minsky 1975). In this view, frames are retrieved from memory to guide interpretation of new experiences. The choice of which frame to adopt in a given situation depends on the cues that others in an interaction send as well as on one's own repertoire of memories (Bateson 1972, Van Dijk 1977,1987). For example, if your friend Tom says to you, "I've been surfing the last two hours" you could frame the meaning of his message in at least two ways. You could assume he meant that he had been "surfing the net" on his computer or that he had been to the beach. Which of these you "heard" might depend on your own frame of reference. If you and Tom have spent time together surfing at the beach, you would likely interpret his message as being about swimming, whereas if you were both computer jocks you would likely assume he had been on the Internet for two hours.
Another perspective suggests that frames are social constructions—that is, they represent agreed-upon "ways to make sense of a situation" (Tannen 1979). When two or more people define a situation the same way, we say they are socially constructing it. Most definitions of frames generally share the fundamental assumption that frames are like road maps that help us to organize our knowledge and to sort and predict the meaning of new information, events, and experiences (Tannen 1979).When people frame conflicts, they create interpretations of what a dispute is about, why it occurred, the other disputants, and whether and how they envision its potential resolution. The frames we construct during a conflict often attribute blame and offer predictions about how the conflict will unfold. And, as we shall see in the following text, framing can also be used to try to influence others to adopt our interpretations of the conflict.
Sociolinguists claim that frames are created when people engage in conversation (Donnellon and Gray 1990, Dore and McDermott 1982) and that disputants use conversations to find out whether or not they share frames. A primary aspect of negotiating, for example, involves testing to see if one's interpretations are compatible with those of one's opponent. Frames, then, are re-created through conversation (Donnellon and Gray 1990, Putnam and Holmer 1992) and reveal how speakers organize what is going on in the midst of an interaction. Frames help us decipher what someone means at any point in a conversation as well as which points are important and which are not (Gumperz 1982). Consider the following conversation:
Driver: Excuse me, can you tell me the way to get to Bloom Lake?
Old man by roadside: Sure, you go down this road another 3 miles past the Grantley place. You know some say Grantley was crazy. He certainly was a mean ole cuss—killed three of the neighbor's dogs for no reason last year. After you pass Grantley's place, turn left at the next stoplight and go another 2 miles to the lake.
The directional cues and the initial question suggest that, for the driver, this episode deals with "asking for and receiving directions." Framed in that way, the information the old man provides about Mr. Grantley is subsidiary and even irrelevant. For the old man, however, the conversation was framed as "storytelling" or "characterizing" in which the details about Mr. Grantley were central, and the directions were ancillary. Not only do disputants present their frames in conversations, it is also possible that, by interacting with each other with or without the help of a third party, disputants may also reframe their understanding of the conflict or of the other party. We explore this possibility in the section entitled "Reframing" below.
Research on framing has been conducted at several different levels of analysis—on individual decision frames (e.g., Tversky and Kahneman 1981), on negotiations between individuals (e.g., Donnellon and Gray 1990, Pinkley and Northcraft 1994), and on the intergroup and the societal level (e.g., Schön and Rein 1994, Snow et al. 1986, Taylor 2000). Since all of these approaches are relevant for understanding environmental conflicts, we draw on all three levels to build a comprehensive typology of frames that individuals in environmental conflicts may adopt. (We describe these in detail in the section Frames Analyzed.) However, the second and third levels of analysis—those that occur between negotiators and among different interest groups—are the most useful for linking framing with intractability. We now turn our attention to the effects of framing on environmental disputes.
Framing in Environmental Disputes
Framing plays an important role in the creation, evolution, and perpetuation of environmental conflicts. Frames are used to (1) define issues, (2) shape what action should be taken and by whom, (3) protect oneself, (4) justify a stance we are taking on an issue, and (5) mobilize people to take or refrain from action on issues.
Frames Define Issues
People use different frames to define whether a problem exists and, if so, what the problem is (Vaughan and Seifert 1992). One area in which these differences in framing abound is in how people view environmental hazards and whether they pose health risks for the community. Parties in a dispute or those confronting environmental hazards develop considerably different frames about what the dispute is about and what should be done about it and by whom (cf. Vaughan and Seifert 1992). For example, people who favor nuclear power tend to frame the issues in terms of economic and technical benefits, whereas opponents focus primarily on psychological risks (Otway, Maurer, and Thomas 1978). Differences also occur frequently in how technical and lay populations frame risks: the former stress prediction and prevention of risks, whereas the latter are concerned about risk detection and repairing damage from risks that have occurred (Elliott 1988). In another example from the occupational health arena, corporate stakeholders framed the health issues in terms of cost and gains, while employees were unwilling even to place monetary valuations on issues they considered fundamental to their well-being (Hilgartner 1985). In still another example, differences were found in whether employees and nonemployees perceived that there was danger from living near an arsenic smelter. Some framed the smelter as hazardous; others did not (Van Liere and Dunlap 1980).
Stakeholders in environmental disputes often base their views on vastly discrepant frameworks of environmental values (Gray 1997, Hunter 1989, Rolston 1990, Vaughan and Seifert 1992, Wildavsky and Dake 1990). For example, distinctions have been made between the "deep ecological" or the "new environmental" paradigm (cf. Dunlap and Van Liere 1978, Hunter 1989, Milbrath 1984) and the "dominant societal" paradigm (also referred to as the "exploitative capitalist" paradigm). Followers of the deep ecological paradigm believe that "humans are an integral part of nature and all natural entities have intrinsic value" (Hunter 1989, 29). They stress the oneness of nature, whereas those espousing the dominant societal paradigm view humans as separate from nature and believe nonhuman life-forms have only instrumental value (i.e., nonhuman life-forms exist only to support human life-forms). Others have suggested that fundamental values or worldviews about society shape where people stand on environmental issues. Four worldviews in particular (hierarchist, individualist, egalitarian, and fatalist) were strong predictors of both risk perceptions and risk preferences (Wildavsky and Dake 1990). These are discussed in more detail under social control frames in our framing typology below.
Other types of frames that factor prominently in environmental disputes are frames about fairness. Such frames involve notions of justice that carry entitlement claims. That is, when disputants believe they are deprived of something they deserve or are entitled to, they may evoke a fairness frame to represent their grievance. For example, if I believe I am entitled to drill for water as part of my private property rights, I am likely to conclude that a tax on how much water I use will be unfair. Another example of entitlement claims rooted in fairness frames can be found in the environmental justice movement. This movement asserts that African American communities in the United States bear a disproportionate share of risk for exposure to toxic materials because the plants that produced the toxic materials were located in these communities (Bullard 1990, Bullard and Wright 1989, Taylor 2000). Proponents of this view use "entitlement" rhetoric to frame their concerns and to seek redress for the health effects that such exposure may have caused.
Frames Shape Actions
Frames not only shape what parties think about the issues, they also influence their preferences for whether and how a dispute should be resolved (Merry and Silbey 1984; Sheppard, Blumenfeld-Jones, and Roth 1989; Vaughan and Seifert 1992). For example, as noted earlier, in conflicts over the risks associated with toxic pollution, if parties frame a problem from a technical perspective, they may prefer to develop an accurate cost–benefit analysis of technical alternatives before taking any action and then base their action on this analysis. In contrast, parties who frame the issue as a health risk may insist on immediate protection from the risk no matter what the cost. These differences in framing are reflected in both the Drake and the Chattanooga cases described later in this book.
Frames Are Used to Protect Ourselves
Different assertions about rights often move disputes into the legal arena, where dispositions about whose rights will prevail are decided. Disputants who feel aggrieved by the actions of others and resort to "rights" framing are likely to seek legal recourse for their grievances. Rights frames are evoked to redress perceptions of injustice or to prevent injustice from occurring.
However, disputants frequently frame their rights differently (Gray 1997). Differences in rights framing can be seen in disputes between ranchers and Native Americans over access to water. Ranchers framed the issue in terms of property rights (as prescribed by state law), whereas the Native Americans based their rights to water on aboriginal possession (as defined by the federal courts). The Native Americans considered these water disputes to be sovereignty issues (i.e., ones that affected the integrity of the tribe as a people) because access to water ensured their survival (Folk-Williams 1988). Their framing enabled them to protect their identity as a separate people.
And, as Ury Brett, and Goldberg (1993) have argued, "rights" framing is more positional than framing in terms of "interests" and is more likely to escalate the conflict. Therefore, when one or both parties invoke rights framing, it increases the chances that the dispute will end up in the courts.
Frames Enable Us to Justify Our Actions
Once we have adopted a frame, particularly one that helps to define our identity, the frame colors the way we define what is real and what is not. Frames can also shape what we believe "ought" to be or "should" be. If we conform to the expectations set up in our frames, we can justify our own behavior as "correct" or "good." Moreover, we are likely to blame or fault others who fail to live up to our expectations. For example, employees who frame their employers as unfair or exploitive may justify taking extra-long lunch hours or extra "sick days" because they believe they are entitled to make up for their employer's misdeeds (Sheppard, Lewicki, and Minton, 1992).
Excerpted from Making Sense of Intractable Environmental Conflicts by Roy J. Lewicki, Barbara Gray, Michael Elliott. Copyright © 2003 Island Press. Excerpted by permission of ISLAND PRESS.
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