June 4th, 2006

ozarque figure

Afternote, about "The Framing of Immigration"..

I posted a recommended link yesterday, saying "George Lakoff and Sam Ferguson have an article on immigration and framing ('The Framing of Immigration') at http://www.rockridgeinstitute.org/research/rockridge/immigration ."

I've now had a chance to read the article carefully a couple of times, and I want to say just three things.

I am very pleased to find that this article, unlike previous ones at the site that I've been complaining about, is written almost entirely in plain English, free of Academic Regalian and free of linguistics jargon. There's an occasional lapse .... "component," for example, where "part" would serve just as well. But this is, at last, an article that ordinary people can read without having to constantly refer to a dictionary, and that's real progress. That's progressive. Three cheers! Maybe four cheers.

The section that lists "The conservative views" is clear and concise; the analogous section for progressives (which needs a header reading "The progressive views") is muddled and confusing. Nice tidy conservative section, made stronger by incomplete parallelism that could easily be completed; messy progressive section that I wish would be made equally tidy. This is, to my mind, the weakest section in the article, and it should be one of the strongest.

Lakoff and Ferguson are saying that the "immigration" frames being used exclude various aspects of the issue because no roles are available in those frames that will let those issues be discussed. I understand what they mean, but I think they're giving up far too easily.

In The Gentle Art of Verbal Self-Defense at Work I had a section that discussed and contrasted three very public sexual harrassment cases: the Anita Hill/Charles Thomas Senate hearings; the Frances Conley case against her male colleagues at Stanford; and the case of Paula Jones versus Bill Clinton. Here's an excerpt, from page 287:

"The drama in which Hill was cast had only one role that would have given her a chance to win without hard evidence: the role of Decent Woman Done Wrong. No morality play includes a role for Decent Law Professor Done Wrong. Hill chose to behave according to the rules of language behavior that are appropriate for a confident and successful woman professional -- and that was the wrong script.

"Hill needed to be perceived as a woman who had been intimidated over and over again by Clarence Thomas; instead, she was perceived as a woman who could not be intimidated by an entire roomful of senators. When asked to specify exactly which obscene words and phrases Thomas had said to her, she calmly ran through a list... Her proper move would have been to look at her questioner with an expression of shocked hurt and outrage and say, "No, Senator, I will not repeat what he said to me! No decent woman says those words!" Any questioners who then tried to force her to say them would have been in a tight corner, because it would have forced them to take on the role of Sexual Harasser.

"Clarence Thomas knew better than to make this mistake, or he had been better advised. He played the correct role -- Decent Man Done Wrong -- and he played it to the hilt. ... And he won."

The primary reason (in my opinion) that Frances Conley succeeded where Hill and Jones failed was that the Conley case took place in the real world instead of as a staged dramatic production that was only pretending to be a real world event. And that distinction holds for the current immigration controversy in the U.S. as well. So far, it has been made up of real world events; so far, it hasn't been possible to draw a box around it that rigidly specifies the roles available. It's still in a state of messy flux, with an abundance of roles there for the taking.

I think it's far too soon to decide that the frames proposed in the Lakoff/Ferguson article specify the available roles the way the Hill/Thomas Senate hearings did -- so clearly and so unmistakably that they cause the kind of exclusions that are being claimed. Any minute now, I'm afraid, the conservatives will hit on a way to create that sort of rigidly-specified frame, but they haven't managed it yet.