Several orders of frames of reference drive perceptions of Toronto’s mayor

The frame of reference that is brought to a given observation, and the quality of the evidence that is available to us, are key variables determining our perceptions.

The concept that one can think of orders of frames of reference is of interest.

Frames of reference can be the subject of systematic study; such study is of theoretical and practical value.

In the historical record, frames of references have frequently demonstrated life and death implications. In the latter context, I’m thinking in particular of the insights of James A. Tyner (2012) among others.

Blurbs and brands, and similar means of communicating succinctly expressed, emotionally charged, and differentiating messages, serve to encapsulate specified terms of reference.

A tight frame of reference gives rise to a level of simplicity; a wider frame of reference can take into account a fuller understanding. Things are always as simple as they appear, according to a given frame of reference. Things are never as simple as they appear, according to another frame of reference.

All frames of reference – including frames applied to the analysis of frames – are amenable to analysis.

Where you live provides a frame of reference

By way of example, a Nov. 2, 2013 Globe and Mail article is entitled: “Is Ford’s Nation still with him?”

The article notes that:

“If there’s one question that’s likely to identify a Ford supporter, [Zack Taylor, who teaches city studies at the University of Toronto Scarborough, says,] it’s whether they drive to work.”

Whether a person drive to work may be a key part of that person’s frame of reference

Zack Taylor speaks at length about this topic in the article:

  • Where does this unshakeable support come from? When Mr. Ford swept to power in 2010 it was thanks to a tide of support from the suburbs. The results laid bare a stark contrast between the voting patterns in the old city of Toronto and in the amalgamated municipalities beyond. Zack Taylor, who teaches city studies at the University of Toronto Scarborough, has analyzed those results and found they reveal not a new divide, but one that dates back to the founding of the megacity. The people downtown are wealthier, better educated, more likely to rent, live in denser neighbourhoods and to commute by transit. If there’s one question that’s likely to identify a Ford supporter, he says, it’s whether they drive to work. At an aggregate level these people tend to experience the city differently and have different expectations of what it can and should be, he says. Mr. Ford’s fairly straightforward policy promises, to rein in spending and end the “war on the car,” appealed to these suburban voters, who outnumber those downtown and in East York by about 2.5 to 1, he said.
  • “This is bigger than Rob Ford, it’s older than Rob Ford. I don’t think it’s going to disappear when Rob Ford disappears,” Prof. Taylor says.

[End of excerpt from Globe and Mail article]

A paper by Zack Taylor, entitled “Who Elected Rob Ford, and Why? An Ecological Analysis of the 2010 Toronto Election,” can be accessed here.

Addressing similar topics, a Nov. 5, 2013 CBC article is entitled: “Toronto Mayor Rob Ford ‘could easily get re-elected.'”

On a similar theme, but differently positioned, a Nov. 5, 2013 Maclean’s article is entitled: “Who is to blame for this mess in Toronto?” The subhead reads: “Let’s start with the anti-elite, anti-downtown, anti-transit, anti-everything-frankly vote that swept Rob Ford to power.”

Orders of frames of reference

Erving Goffman has extensively explored frames of reference; I find his work of value.

The authors of Soldaten (2011), Sönke Neitzel, a historian, and Harald Welzer, a sociologist and social psychologist, have conceptualized four orders of frames of reference:

(1) Frames of the first order are described as “the broad sociohistorical backdrop against which people of a given time operate. They are what sociologist Alfred Schütz called ‘the assumptive world,’ the things we pre-presume must be the case. They include categories of good and evil and true and false, what is edible and what is not, how much distance we should maintain when we speak to one another, and what is polite or rude” (pp. 9-10).

(2) Frames of the second order “are more concrete in a historical, cultural, and often geographical sense. They comprise a sociohistorical space that, in most respects, can be clearly delimited – for instance, the length of a dictatorial regime or the duration of a historical entity like the Third Reich” (p. 10).

(3) “Frames of reference of the third order are even more specific. They consist of a concrete constellation of socio-historical events within which people act. They include, for example, a war in which soldiers fight.

(4) “Frames of reference of the fourth order are the special characteristics, modes of perception, interpretative paradigms, and received responsibilities that an individual brings to a specific situation. This is the level of psychology, personal dispositions, and individual decision making.


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