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Framing Public Discussion of Gay Civil Unions
Unformatted Document Text:  Framing Public Discussion 2 Framing Public Discussion of Gay Civil Unions Political conversation is a central feature of democratic life (Tarde, 1899/1989; Dewey, 1927; Barber, 1984). In talking through their ideas, people are able to sort out various considerations and to learn, in the process, what they think about shared concerns (Kuhn, 1991; Gutmann & Thompson, 1996). Widespread information diffusion and citizen discussion gives rise to public opinion, “which, when organized, is democracy” (Cooley, 1909, p. 85). Numerous analysts have drawn attention to the ways that citizen discussion unfolds in a complex relationship with news media discourse (see, for example, Bryce’s 1888 recounting of the phases of opinion formation). It is not necessarily the case that the news media entirely dictate public opinion – the whole notion of democracy rests in the view that the public sphere is at least semi-sovereign in its operation – but the news media are credited with triggering and widening political discussion among citizens (Kim, Wyatt and Katz, 1999). The news media also shape the terms of debate, largely establishing the “universe of discourse” (Blumer, 1946) for citizen discussion. As Tarde (1899/1989) put it early on, “even those who fail [to read the newspaper] are forced to follow the groove of their borrowed thoughts (p. 82, cited by Kim, Wyatt & Katz, 1999, p. 380). This idea – that the news media establish the terms of public debate – has become widely accepted and studied in the form of framing research. A frame is “a central organizing idea or story line that provides meaning” (Gamson & Modigliani, 1987, p. 143). Framing of public opinion has been conceptualized as a collective and social process in which meanings are constructed actively through public debate, and in which ordinary citizens make use of media discourse, personal experience and “folk wisdom” in negotiating meaning (Gamson, 1988).

Authors: Price, Vincent., Nir, Lilach. and Cappella, Joseph.
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Framing Public Discussion
2
Framing Public Discussion of Gay Civil Unions
Political conversation is a central feature of democratic life (Tarde, 1899/1989; Dewey,
1927; Barber, 1984). In talking through their ideas, people are able to sort out various
considerations and to learn, in the process, what they think about shared concerns (Kuhn, 1991;
Gutmann & Thompson, 1996). Widespread information diffusion and citizen discussion gives
rise to public opinion, “which, when organized, is democracy” (Cooley, 1909, p. 85).
Numerous analysts have drawn attention to the ways that citizen discussion unfolds in a
complex relationship with news media discourse (see, for example, Bryce’s 1888 recounting of
the phases of opinion formation). It is not necessarily the case that the news media entirely
dictate public opinion – the whole notion of democracy rests in the view that the public sphere is
at least semi-sovereign in its operation – but the news media are credited with triggering and
widening political discussion among citizens (Kim, Wyatt and Katz, 1999). The news media
also shape the terms of debate, largely establishing the “universe of discourse” (Blumer, 1946)
for citizen discussion. As Tarde (1899/1989) put it early on, “even those who fail [to read the
newspaper] are forced to follow the groove of their borrowed thoughts (p. 82, cited by Kim,
Wyatt & Katz, 1999, p. 380).
This idea – that the news media establish the terms of public debate – has become widely
accepted and studied in the form of framing research. A frame is “a central organizing idea or
story line that provides meaning” (Gamson & Modigliani, 1987, p. 143). Framing of public
opinion has been conceptualized as a collective and social process in which meanings are
constructed actively through public debate, and in which ordinary citizens make use of media
discourse, personal experience and “folk wisdom” in negotiating meaning (Gamson, 1988).


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