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Lakoff on his own frames April 24, 2014

Posted by larry in economics, Frame Analysis, George Lakoff.

Harry Feldman has brought to my attention that in terms of his reading of Lakoff, Lakoff fails to appreciate that he is speaking from within a particular frame and seems to be using it unanalytically. Quoting Harry directly, according to him, Lakoff

seems oblivious to the frames underlying what he himself says – that there is something he calls ‘American values’, that the Democrats are somehow ‘progressive’, that there is something natural about a ‘family’, nurturing or otherwise… Ultimately, the message appears to be that if ‘progressives’ are to defeat ‘conservatives’, they have to play by the conservatives’ rules by jettisoning rational argument and appealing to their perceived audience at a visceral level. It’s not at all clear how this differs from dishonesty.

To be frank, the phrase ‘American values’ puts me off some of Lakoff’s stuff. Which is why I have stuck with Goffman and others on this. (Perhaps it is apposite, parenthetically, to point out that we are not limited to Lakoff’s approach to frames. In addition to Goffman, there is also Kahneman and Tversky’s Choices, Values, and Frames,which I heartily recommend. Not all the articles in that volume are relevant to our concerns here, but some are.)

Harry’s point about Lakoff’s obliviousness seems well taken, but I alter L’s approach by marrying the two, the so-called emotional and the evidential, including the general framework. Or try to anyway. For Lakoff’s  emotional, however, I prefer the term, conceptual, and its cousin, conceptualization, which are both more general and more specific. Since data isn’t value-free, that is, comes with conceptual baggage and, as Lakoff would no doubt point out, a concomitant emotional commitment, in the fight we have at hand against the neoclassical economic worldview, it is not going to be sufficient to attack the data alone. The framework in which the data has been encased must also be undermined. (This is, I think, part of Galbraith’s point about Piketty’s interpretation, or framing, of his data.)

Balls, who I think is a good example of how not to do things, had a piece in the Guardian, on 14 April, and a more vacuous set of utterances I have yet to see. All fluff and no substance. Here is the link: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/apr/14/labour-party-cost-of-living-crisis

If I may, possibly, over-generalize just a tad, philosophers of a certain stripe think the best way of disarming the other guy is to show that his argument leads to contradiction, while certain psychologists think the best way of disarming the other guy is to undermine his value assumptions. Both approaches, however, require some sort of “factual” information to work with or they won’t fly. With Balls there is little or nothing to work with. And, in addition, he assumes that the other guy’s framework is the way to “frame” the debate. There is a way of doing this that might work but Balls isn’t doing that. In the case at hand, the attack on the NHS, the benefit “reforms”, the general attack on the poor, and the like, Balls has so far discussed the situation in ways laid out by the Tories. He needs to re-frame the debate. But since he basically accepts the way in which they have laid out the terms of the debate, he may be incapable of doing that.

Since their view of the economy, or Osborne’s anyway, is at the root of everything they are doing, it has not been sufficient to attack their lack of evidence for the policies and programs they have introduced. The way they view the economic system must also be shown to be completely mistaken. This involves a conceptual reorientation, or as Lakoff would say, a re-framing of the debate, root and branch. If this can be done successfully, the data themselves can be seen in a new light and acquire new relevance. While you can’t do without data or evidence, more is needed, and this is why I say: data isn’t enough.

Only by marrying the conceptual with the evidential can Osborne’s way of viewing society and how it works be placed in the coffin where it belongs and buried in the ground along with the rest of such conceptual detritus. Perhaps we may then regain some control of the debate.

I realize that I haven’t directly addressed Lakoff’s way of doing things. But I hope I have shown how we can avoid the pitfall that you point out may lie in Lakoff’s path by altering the frame framework (!?) in certain ways. Goffman and Kahneman and Tversky’s approaches aren’t so subject to the pitfall in question.

As an aside, related to all this is the notion of the “definition of the situation”, so well discussed by Goffman so many years ago. While highly relevant, this must be left for another occasion.



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