9th Conference European Sociological Association

RN20 Qualitative Methods

Frame Analysis in Sociological Study of Visual Representations: The "Visual Orders" of Local Activism in Helsinki

The study of visual representations is a sociological peculiarity: it is often depending on methods ?borrowed? elsewhere. The methodological imagination that recurrently renders sociology the provider of methods for other disciplines has been scantier concerning images. An urge to develop further sociological tools for dealing with images is acute, as the visual dimensions of the social and the societal become increasingly prevalent, and the crowds on courses of visual methods grow. In order to participate in this project, I put forward an application of Erving Goffman?s frame analysis to visual representations.
The objective of frame analysis for Goffman (1974) was twofold: to define framings that make understanding of social situations possible, and to examine the vulnerability and conversion of these framings. Framings are never definite, as different shades of meaning emerge through the functions of keying, lamination, and superimposition.
I have applied frames into analyzing images by calling these functions the dominant and the secondary frames. A dominant frame is the primary ?analysis of a situation?. A secondary frame directs and focuses ? and sometimes transfers or even switches ? the meaning rising in the communicational process of looking at an image. The frames emerge from within the data, instead of ready-named and defined categories. Working with a large set of images, the definitions of dominant frames enable quantification of the data with ballpark interpretations of its characteristics. Qualitative analysis of the dynamics between dominant and secondary frames forms the core of the method.
I illustrate the method application through a study of the visual representations of local activism. The data consists of images published on websites of local activist groups in Finland (N=274). Through the analysis of dominant and secondary frames in this set of images, I show the grasp a visual analysis provides to the diversity of collective action, and to questions like what do local activists claim, and what kind of response do they expect to get, and what kinds of intersections of power and powerlessness occur within local struggles for recognition.