Published online by Cambridge University Press: 04 August 2010
“Any political movement against oppression”, wrote Barrington Moore, “has to develop a new diagnosis and remedy for existing forms of suffering, a diagnosis and remedy by which this suffering stands morally condemned”. Moore refers to the process of interpretation and reflection that takes places in all forms of protest and social mobilization. Social actors interpret specific situations as unjust, identify victims and perpetrators, translate local grievances into broader claims, and set out a course of action. Their perception of society and their specific claims and collective demands are shaped by interpretations through which they make sense of the world. They use these interpretations to convince potential supporters, fellow activists, and adversaries of the accuracy of their views and the legitimacy of their claims. In the process they also define collective identities, which demarcate the objectives and lines of contention. In short, participants in social protest and social movements are involved in “meaning work”, that is, “the production of mobilizing and countermobilizing ideas and meanings”.
The concept of “framing” is particularly useful in exploring this articulation of protest. Framing refers to “the conscious strategic efforts by groups of people to fashion shared understandings of the world and of themselves that legitimate and motivate collective action”. Such shared understandings are an essential part of any social movement. David Snow and Robert Benford speak of “collective action frames”, interpretive frames that “underscore and embellish the seriousness and injustice of a social condition or redefine as unjust and immoral what was previously seen as unfortunate but perhaps tolerable”. Created in the course of contention and proved successful, such frames may become “modular”, available for adoption and adaptation by activists across the globe.