Stories and frames
Update: The ‘Arab spring’ topic is of much interest. We have many choices regarding how we contextualize – that is, frame, or place within a framework – pivotal events (inflection points) that arose years ago. At all times, our access to the past, to history in whichever form, is through the portal of the present moment.
A Jan. 29, 2021 CBC article is entitled:
A society ‘awakened’: “How Mohamed Bouazizi sparked the Arab Spring, and inspired hope in future generations.”
An excerpt reads:
On Dec. 17, 2010, Mohamed Bouazizi was working at his fruit stand, when a Tunisian municipal inspector confiscated his produce and wares. She argued he didn’t have a permit to sell produce. Bouazizi’s family alleges the inspector then publicly humiliated Bouazizi by slapping him and spitting in his face.
But when Bouazizi went to the local governor’s office to complain about the incident, he was ignored. So he bought paint thinner, returned to the governor’s office, and lit himself on fire outside the building.
Bouazizi died of his injuries on Jan. 4, 2011. But his final act emboldened Tunisians fed up with government corruption to flood the streets in protest, demanding their longtime president step down. Soon, other countries in the Middle East and North Africa followed suit in a movement now known as the Arab Spring.
Canadian political scientist Bessma Momani says the Tunisian fruit vendor’s legacy continues to bring people hope a decade later. “Society is more awakened. It is more conscious of … government corruption,” she told The Current.
High unemployment rates and corruption have led to some people moving away from Tunisia, Momani said. But those galvanized by the Arab Spring have not “turned their backs on their countries” — they just find new, more discreet ways to protest, she explained.
Storytelling appears to be wired into our brains.
The frame, within which a story is presented, is a story in itself.
Stories can lead to real-world consequences as the following blog post notes:
Erving Goffman has addressed, in the course of his life’s work as a social psychologist and sociologist, how frames work. A previous post about his work is entitled:
The story is likewise the frame. When we summarize a longer text we put together – that is, we position within a frame – a condensed, vastly simplified (and thereby frequently distorted) version of a longer, more complex and convoluted story.
Belief systems demonstrate real-world consequences
Frames lead to real-world consequences; initial events can in turn lead to repurposed frames:
Of related interest, a Jan. 23, 2016 Guardian article is entitled: ” ‘I was terribly wrong’ – writers look back at the Arab spring five years on.”
A Feb. 3, 2016 article entitled: “Social Media: Destroyer or Creator?” notes:
“Alas, the euphoria soon faded, said Ghonim, because ‘we failed to build consensus, and the political struggle led to intense polarization.’ Social media, he noted, ‘only amplified’ the polarization ‘by facilitating the spread of misinformation, rumors, echo chambers and hate speech. The environment was purely toxic. My online world became a battleground filled with trolls, lies, hate speech.’ ”
A Dec. 16, 2020 Guardian article is entitled: “‘He ruined us’: 10 years on, Tunisians curse man who sparked Arab spring.”
[End of excerpt]
A post addressing related themes is entitled:
A March 16, 2016 Atlantic article is entitled: “How Syria’s Uprising Spawned a Jihad: Five years ago, the opposition to Bashar al-Assad was mostly peaceful and secular. What happened?”
Law of unintended consequences
Of related interest are studies that seek to make things better in the world, but which have to date achieved limited success, perhaps owing to the law of unintended consequences:
The Libyan intervention: An alternative view
Do the foregoing links demonstrate that we have a view of the outcome of the Arab Spring that (a) makes sense and (b) is based upon evidence? It’s a good question. The link in the sentence that follows pursues an alternative view.
An April 12, 2015 Brookings Institution article – entitled “Everyone says the Libya intervention was a failure. They’re wrong” – adopts an alternative point of view, regarding the topics at hand.
An April 25, 2016 New York Times article is entitled: “Robert F. Worth’s ‘A Rage for Order’”.
It’s useful to figure out what works and what doesn’t, particularly in the context of what has been learned from the law of unintended consequences, in whatever form the law may manifest itself, and to move forward from there.
Other studies related to unintended consequences – or what a person may choose to label as unintended consequences – come to mind including:
A previous post, regarding related topics, is entitled: The Twilight of Human Rights Law by Eric A. Posner is out in November 2014
Memes drive stories
As noted in a previous post, a meme is an idea, behaviour, or style that spreads from person to person within a culture.
A meme has characteristics associated with frames, and serve to drive many news stories, including stories for which the supporting evidence is absent:
Stories drive behaviours
At times a link can be found, or postulated, between the stories that drive the action, and the consequences that ensue under particular conditions, as noted in the following posts:
An April 15, 2016 Globe and Mail article by Bob Rae is entitled: “Attawapiskat is not alone: Suicide crisis is national problem.”
Stories at times reflect the passage of the years among cohorts of the same or shoulder generations. Often stories relate the past to the present. The frames change less often and in less fundamental ways than the stories. Sometimes one aspect of a frame will change whereas another fundamental aspect will remain.
The emergence of a global frame is not an inevitable outcome of history but history can assist us in understanding the changes in frames that have occurred.
Often the frame more powerfully engages attention, and recruits belief, than the evidence; an illustration is provided in a Jan. 18, 2016 CBC The Current podcast entitled: “2011 Somali famine was a US created war crime, says journalist Alex Perry.”
When evidence is cast aside, in pursuit of a story that is based on matters not related to facts and evidence, predictable consequences follow. I am reminded of a Jan. 24, 2016 CBC analysis article entitled: “Can America’s political discourse get any cruder?”
A Jan. 7, 2016 New York Times article is entitled: “Before the Oscars, Some Films Face the Truth Test.”
Sometimes a given story is one of several plausible alternative stories that can be told, depending upon 1) the frame and 2) the absence or presence of evidence. In the event that evidence backs up the story, the choice of evidence, out of a universe of available choices, will serve to drive the story.
Sometimes the evidence is not there, because the person claiming expertise lacks it. A Feb. 8, 2016 CBC article is entitled: “Motherisk scandal highlights risk of deferring to experts without questioning credentials: Lab’s flawed hair testing echoes Charles Smith scandal, with similarly devastating effects.”
Kinder than Solitude (2014)
I learned of Kinder than Solitude: A Novel (2014) in the course of my non-fiction reading. If there is one novel to read in the next decade, I would recommend Kinder than Solitude (2014). The book brings to mind the exploration of similar, universal themes related to story and frame in Adele “25.”
Kinder than Solitude and Adele “25” each addresses similar stories and frames.
Role play and drama are central features of our lives.
I have explored internal coherence at a separate post.
The Government Next Door (2015) by Luigi Tomba strikes me as an exemplar of a story that has coherence from the first page to the last.
The Religion of Falun Gong (2012) by Benjamin Penny is a source of fascination for me. The introduction and conclusion are of the same high level as the work by Luigi Tomba. However the middle part of the study includes qualifying words – for example, “ghoulish” and “surprisingly” – that are jarring.
Each of the above-noted studies from the Australian National University is of tremendous value.
Frames drive scams:
A text that reminds a reader, in a vivid way, of topics that are otherwise treated in a manner that is academic and abstract, is featured in a Jan. 22, 2015 Guardian article entitled: “I want you to understand the sense of fear that Chinese people feel every day.”
A Jan. 25, 2016 Guardian article is entitled: “The day Zhao Wei disappeared: how a young law graduate was caught in China’s human rights dragnet.”
A Jan. 27, 2016 Toronto Star article is entitled: “West using terror threat to curtail individual freedoms, says Human Rights Watch.”
A Feb. 3, 2016 Guardian article is entitled: “Activist who vanished in Thailand is being held in China, says wife: Journalist Li Xin’s disappearance is latest case in which critics of China’s Communist leaders have gone missing in Thailand.”
A Feb. 19, 2015 New York Times article is entitled: ” ‘The Most Wanted Man in China’ and ‘The Cowshed.’ ”
Frames are stories
The frame is the story. The frame in which a story resides is the story.
The frame may be a solid boundary. If the frame is permeable, the story extends beyond the frame until at the perimeter of the story a new frame emerges. The process extends to infinity.
To a great degree the global market drives human perception. Sometimes it drives a person’s perception of reality. Sometimes, however, maybe more rarely, the market’s hold on perceptions is not as strong.
A Jan. 22, 2016 Globe and Mail article includes a quote that notes, “If the market is just left to its own devices, it will push people out.”
The article adds: “If they are pushed out, Chinatown will become little more than a Disneyfied version of its former self.”
Around the late 1960s when I was a student at Simon Fraser University, I paid about $1.25 for a satisfying, memorable rice dinner at a small and cosy restaurant in Vancouver’s Chinatown. The manager appeared to be about eight years old. He ran a tight ship. He spoke with authority. Of course, that was a while ago and memories are malleable.
Each story constructs its own frame; each frame presents its own story. Stories operate within rules of decorum. If something is out of place the story lacks coherence.
Virtual reality comes to mind with regard to where the marketplace, a key link to any audience, leads us; a Jan. 21, 2016 New York Times article is entitled: “Where Virtual Reality Takes Us.”
String theory and evolutionary game theory
A Jan. 10, 2016 Quartz article is entitled: “Philosophers want to know why physicists believe theories they can’t prove.” Theoretical physics explores the limits of reliance on evidence. That being said, I would argue that there is a frame – the frame of everyday life – where evidence and evidence-based practice serves as a good tool for sense-making.
An April 21, 2016 Quanta article is entitled: “The Evolutionary Argument Against Reality:
The cognitive scientist Donald Hoffman uses evolutionary game theory to show that our perceptions of an independent reality must be illusions.”
A combination of circumstances has impressed upon my the value of evidence, in the context of everyday life. Had I not encountered the circumstances, I would have less interest in the value of evidence; I would, that is to say, be more inclined to follow whatever belief system struck my fancy and reinforced by sense of certainty and conviction.
Absence of stories
Absence is a strong presence; absence communicates; absence frees up space. Absence is a pause; absence punctuates.
A Feb. 2, 2016 New York Times article is entitled: “Fighting ‘Erasure'”.
The article notes: “Wherever it is found, erasure, as a practice, can be detected by its preference for what Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie called the single story — for easily legible narratives that reinforce the existing order.”
At a particular level, one is reminded of the Sherlock Holmes story about the dog that didn’t bark.
As much as I like stories, I also like not telling stories. A story – whether complex or simple; cogent or incoherent; whatever the qualities of the story may – doesn’t lead us anywhere in particular.
Pop Art offers a way to acquaint oneself with the role of frames in the perception of everyday life.
Pop Art: The Independent Group to Neo Pop, 1952-90 (2012) features an overview of the relationship between art-related stories and frames.
Pop Art: 50 Works of Art You Should Know (2013) describes how a particular frame, introduced or re-introduced at a particular time, regarding what constitutes art – the continuation of a narrative that dates back to Marcel Duchamp among others – played a key role among other key players in the emergence of Pop Art.
David Thauberger: Road Trips and Other Diversions (2014) prompted my recent interest in reading about Pop Art.
As with other art movements, Pop Art is a celebration of the social construction of meaning in everyday life including in the lives of artists, gallerists, collectors/investors, critics, curators, art historians, event planners, and museum-goers.
As many have observed, art collectors/investors and curators play a key role in determining what is defined as the preeminent art during a given era. The broader frame is the role of power in history; a good overview of stories/frames in relation to power is available in studies under the category of power (social science) at the Toronto Public Library.
A Feb. 25, 2016 New York Times article is entitled: “Pop Art International: Far Beyond Warhol and Lichtenstein.”
Three additional overviews regarding related topics come to mind. One is The Rebel Sell: Why the Culture Can’t be Jammed (2004). A related overview is highlighted in a post entitled: The hippies were the creation of the American advertising industry, according to Thomas Frank (1997). Of related interest is: Crafting Identity: The Development of Professional Fine Craft in Canada (2005).
A related study is entitled: Community Organizing: Theory and Practice (2015). The study is of interest for two reasons. First, it commodifies community development within the framework of neoliberalism. Secondly, it highlights information that may indeed be of practical value for community self-organizing.
Social interactionism offers one way among others to make sense of art-world (and community-organizing) stories and frames.
A Feb. 22, 2016 CBC article is entitled: “The Evidence Room revisits Auschwitz for Venice Biennale exhibit” Based on report by Ontario professor and Holocaust expert Robert Jan van Pelt.”
Pair of heavy-duty metal cutters
A pair of heavy-duty metal cutters in the hands of a Special Operations Executive intelligence and sabotage agent – described as a person possessed of “unflappable calm” – may have played a key role in the Allied victory in the Second World War.
The role that a pair of heavy-duty metal-cutters, picked up by a Special Operations Executive intelligence and sabotage agent named Joachim Ronneberg at a hardware store in England after a night at the movies, played in 1943 in ensuring that the Nazis did not develop an atomic bomb, is highlighted in a Nov. 20, 2015 New York Times article entitled: “WWII Hero Credits Luck and Chance in Foiling Hitler’s Nuclear Ambitions.”
A Jan. 23, 2016 CBC article is entitled: “Why lying is a sign of healthy behaviour for children.”
With regard to this story, Bob Carswell has informed me (Feb. 26. 2016): “The film we talked about that I told you I had seen on Netflix is called The Heavy Water War….it comes in 6 episodes so there is some interesting history there. I enjoyed it.”
Great Bear Rainforest
A sufficiently large, accommodating frame serves a key role in conflict resolution:
A Feb. 10, 2016 Guardian article is entitled: “Hong Kong’s business community is ‘freaked out’ over China’s crackdown.”
A Feb. 1, 2016 Bill Bryce post, addressing the potency of storytelling in the absence of evidence, is entitled: “The Echo Chamber.”
A Feb. 14, 2016 CBC article is entitled: “19th-century literature constrains our concepts of love, scholars say: 2-dimensional heroines in ‘exalted madness’ are reflected in current narratives.”
A Feb. 14, 2016 Toronto Star article is entitled: “First dictionary of rare Inuit dialect published: Fifty years after anthropologist Jean Briggs lived with the Utkuhiksalingmiut, a nomadic group, linguistic landmark finally sees the light of day.”
Framing processes are highlighted in a book outlined at a post entitled: The Revolution in Venezuela: Social and Political Change Under Chávez (2011).
Update: Making sense of things
A May 16, 2016 Science of Us article is entitled: “Here’s a New Way to Make Sense of Good People Doing Bad Things.” I mention the article in passing, as I find it useful in organizing my thoughts about the topics at hand. The article refers to related articles including an Oct. 19, 2015 Science of Us article entitled:
A June 10, 2016 New York Times article is entitled: ‘The Big Picture,’ by Sean Carroll
“The second challenge for today’s explainers,” the article notes, “is that the theories are getting weirder.”
A June 18, 2016 Globe and Mail article is entitled: “Who needs the truth in this post-factual world?’
An Aug. 24, 2016 Poynter article is entitled: “The more partisan your online media diet, the less likely you are to believe fact-checkers.”
An Aug. 26, 2016 Harvard Business Review article is entitled: “What ‘The Art of the Deal’ Reveals About Leadership Fairy Tales.”
An Aug. 27, 2016 Guardian article is entitled: “From Trump to Brexit rhetoric: how today’s politicians have got away with words: Saying the unsayable has become the norm, but when public language breaks down, argues former BBC director general Mark Thompson, politics falls apart.”
A March 2017 Atlantic article is entitled: “This Article Won’t Change Your Mind: The facts on why facts alone can’t fight false beliefs.”
Purple Hibiscus (2003)
By way if an additional update, I am impressed with the novel Purple Hibiscus (2003) by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.
A blurb reads:
A haunting tale of an Africa and an adolescence undergoing tremendous changes from the talented bestseller and award-winning author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.
Fifteen-year-old Kambili’s world is circumscribed by the high walls of her family compound and the frangipani trees she can see from her bedroom window. Her wealthy Catholic father, although generous and well-respected in the community, is repressive and fanatically religious at home. Her life is lived under his shadow and regulated by schedules: prayer, sleep, study, and more prayer. She lives in fear of his violence and the words in her textbooks begin to turn to blood in front of her eyes.
When Nigeria begins to fall apart under a military coup, Kambili’s father, involved in mysterious ways with the unfolding political crisis, sends Kambili and her brother away to their aunt’s. The house is noisy and full of laughter. Here she discovers love and a life – dangerous and heathen – beyond the confines of her father’s authority. The visit will lift the silence from her world and, in time, reveal a terrible, bruising secret at the heart of her family life.
This first novel is about the promise of freedom; about the blurred lines between the old gods and the new; between childhood and adulthood; between love and hatred. An extraordinary debut, ‘Purple Hibiscus’ is a compelling novel which captures both a country and an adolescence at a time of tremendous change.
[End of text]
State propaganda and related topics
A 2016 RAND Corporation article is entitled: “The Russian ‘Firehose of Falsehood’ Propaganda Model: Why It Might Work and Options to Counter It.” You can find the article by pointing your browser to the above-noted title.
A March 27, 2017 Atlantic article is entitled: “How Right-Wing Media Saved Obamacare: Years of misleading coverage left viewers so misinformed that many were shocked when confronted with the actual costs of repeal.”
A March 29, 2017 CBC article is entitled: “‘I feel duped’: Why bank employees with impressive but misleading titles could cost you big time: Most financial professionals in Canada are licensed as salespeople with no fiduciary duty to clients.”
The Accusation (2017)
A blurb reads:
The Accusation by anonymous North Korean writer Bandi is the first piece of fiction to come out of North Korea. The Accusation is a heartbreaking portrayal of the realities of life in North Korea. It is also a reminder that humanity can sustain hope even in the most desperate of circumstances – and that the courage of free thought has a power far beyond those who seek to suppress it.”