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  • Print publication year: 2001
  • Online publication date: March 2010

8 - Framing in Moral Discourse


We laugh every time a person gives us the impression of being a thing.

– Henri Bergson, Laughter

In pointing out that individuals often laugh when confronted by a person who does not sustain in every way an image of human guidedness, Bergson only fails to go on and draw the implied conclusion, namely, that if individuals are ready to laugh during occurrences of ineffectively guided behavior, then all along they apparently must have been fully assessing the conformance of the normally behaved, finding it to be no laughing matter.

– Erving Goffman, Frame Analysis

In the passage that follows this quotation, Goffman (1974) argues that the perception of everyday activity relies extensively on the projection of frames – so extensively, in fact, that it is often necessary to point to extreme cases of frame-shifting to reveal the constructive nature of social perception. Although their social function was central to Bateson's (1976; 1956) original concept of frames, this facet of background knowledge has been less prominent in contemporary cognitive science. One exception to this trend can be found in the work of cognitive anthropologists who study cultural models, or culturally shared frames. While previous chapters have focused on the role of frames in meaning construction prompted by language, many of those same frames are used to structure our actions and our expectations as we interact with each other in the world. Consequently, this chapter explores the social dimension of frames, examining real-life uses of cultural models in informants' discourse about the morality of abortion.