Framing vs. Deliberation: an Overlooked Challenge for Political Sociology?
Department of Social and political Studies University of Milan Milan, Italy
One of the most critical - and possibly overlooked - problems in contemporary political sociology lies in the junction between framing processes and deliberative politics. Both "framing" and "deliberation" appear as key concepts in the scholarly subfield combining political communication, democratic citizenship, and public opinion processes. In communicational terms, framing can be considered as the process by which an information source defines and constructs a social or political issue. The theory of deliberative politics posits that when participants in deliberative practices are provided with a balanced informational setting, the process will generate more informed opinions and policy outcomes. In relation to this critical junction between framing and deliberation, two opposite hypotheses can be sketched: 1) Deliberation affects framing. A deliberative context including cross-cutting discussion and heterogeneous perspectives is expected to moderate framing effects, rendering the participants' responses less vulnerable to elite-driven issue framings; 2) Framing affects deliberation. Deliberation organizers tacitly construct the discussion frame - and potentially influence the outcome - by selecting the legitimate viewpoints, defining the alternatives, emphasizing the relevant elements, and suggesting interpretive sets of connections among them. Among the unresolved questions emerging from this twofold relationship, the following can be mentioned: do competing frames affect polarization vs. consensus-building processes? How do different types of frames affect identity-based disputes? How do framing effects apply to individuals involved in group discussions, according to their social, political, and educational attributes? This theoretical paper aims to outline new conceptual and methodological tools for future research on the relationship between framing processes and deliberative politics in the contemporary public sphere.