Cognition, Language, and Culture: Components Not Levels of Analysis

In the recent dust up over "framing science," there's been more hand waving than any actual discussion of, you know, framing. However, I was struck by one point that fellow ScienceBlogger Matt Nisbet, one of the authors of the Science article that sparked this whole mess, made in comments to my post on the discussion. He wrote (emoticon removed, for your sanity):

In part what we have across the various disciplines studying framing is a classic "levels of analysis" problem. Some working at the micro and cognitive level, others working at the macro and sociological level.

My reaction that comment was pretty much the same as my reaction to most of his comments over the last couple weeks (including many in the article itself): ummm, no. It's not a level of analysis issue. It's an issue of different components that can't be fully understood separately. That is, you can only say so much about the sociological and linguistic components of framing without understanding the ways in which they affect people's representations and reasoning processes, and you can't accomplish much with framing analysis by simply looking at people's representations and reasoning processes without understanding how they interact with language and social processes.

For all his flaws, George Lakoff is keenly aware of this. His take on framing is all about how language and knowledge representation (concepts) interact. Sure, he's got all that empirically unsupported (I'd say falsified) nonsense about conceptual metaphors, but the larger point that your representations influence how you talk about things, and how you talk about things influences how you represent things, is an undeniable one. Undeniable, that is, unless you treat representations, words, and cultures as different levels of analysis rather than different components of a complete theory of framing.

In order to illustrate the interdependence of the different components of framing, and the futility of treating it as a level of analysis problem, I thought I'd talk about a really interesting new study on the effects of comparison on our perception of actions and events. It has nothing to do with framing science, but science is not a unique area of discourse where framing analysis is concerned. So what is important elsewhere will be important there too. So in the next post, I'll discuss the study.

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As with the communication about science in general, this topic has become so unecessarily over complicated that it is becoming irrelevant to most readers. Sigh. You guys just don't GET it.

writer, check out the next post. I'm just not interested in "framing science" anymore. I'm interested in framing, which I've been talking about on this blog for 2 1/2 years. If you're no longer interested, I think I'll live.

Chris,
On framing and levels of analysis, you might want to take a look at and link to Dietram Scheufele's post on this at UWisc-Madison. I made a passing reference in your comment section while tracking and responding to dozens of blog posts on framing. His post captures what I am talking about much more in depth.

http://www.nanopublic.blogspot.com/

Also, on levels of analysis, from psychological to sociological approaches to media influence, I definitely recommend the following heavily cited overview:

http://crx.sagepub.com/cgi/content/abstract/18/2/140