I am considering a notion called a “frame”.

The idea is that sometimes people make assertions about something - anything in the world - and to analyze the effect of that statement, it’s less important to consider if it’s true or false, but rather how the assertion molds people’s thinking about a certain topic. It relates to some other thoughts I’ve been having, which is that somehow humans create a conceptual system for framing the sort of raw plane of experience that is the universe. The interesting thing seems to be that concepts can be complex, they are composite, made of a variety of nuanced elements, and they can have fuzzy boundaries. Yet, it’s not easy to claim that every concept can dissolve into lower level, “primitive” or elemental concepts. Instead it seems like while the assertion of some concept feels somewhat subjective and arbitrary, it is necessary and inescapable to have that subjectivity and arbitrariness, otherwise there would simply be no concepts, nothing to talk about.

So when someone says something about the world, for example, “Don’t do what you love, do something that makes the world a better place”, it’s not a question of “Is this true that we should do this”, it’s a question of what frame are they imposing on one’s thinking - a dichotomy between “doing what you love”, leading a life pursuing self-gratification, and “make the world a better place”, doing something with hard ethical value, and that apparently these two things stand in contrast to one another. It causes people to begin to think within this framework or dialectic, perhaps classifying some goal-directed behaviors as more one or more the other, and so on.

This is an idea I am still developing but the idea is that first certain subjective concepts are asserted; then they occupy the subconscious and cause people to perceive events in expectations of those concepts. It’s very much related to how telling someone something about someone else, like, “That person is on drugs right now”, immediately causes you to perceive and interpret favorably in that direction, it primes you.

I’m not sure what I’m looking for except some kind of theory of how concepts can blind us; simply by asserting a contextual ontology for a conversation it forces people to think within the boundaries of that ontology. Has this notion been analyzed in the field of discourse analysis?

  • It should also be noted that one can use frames in very positive ways, in which it really actually isn't important whether the statement is true or false or able to be verified at all, but it is just you throwing something out there. After all, communication is not always about communicating truth, but sometimes mostly to accomplish an effect on people. Commented Apr 17, 2022 at 17:39
  • You might also look at the work of Elizabeth Loftus, who has demonstrated quite thoroughly that "eyewitness memory" is constructed on the fly from presuppositions and easily susceptible to ontological manipulation. As she put it once, "I can get subjects to remember anything I want them to, just by asking questions of them."
    – jlawler
    Commented Apr 21, 2022 at 15:28

1 Answer 1


You probably already know this, but the idea of frame semantics was largely pioneered by Chuck Fillmore from the realm of cognitive linguistics in the late 70s and 80s. Related figures are Ronald Langacker, and George Lakoff, who wrote Don't Think of an Elephant, which is a book that is very relevant to taking control by assertively putting the hearer into a specific context with the use of frames and metaphor. There are projects (e.g. FrameNet) to document specific types of frames. Related to frames is the keyword "image schemas," which deal largely with visuospatial relations, motion, and perception. They can become the contexts that the speaker forces a person into. Oh, this web of literature citing the Lakoff book may be another interesting initial starting point for you, and in particular another general keyword: critical metaphor analysis. In a more particular sense of "critical," as in "critical theories" (of which critical race theory is an example), we need theories/idea of language on all levels which are critical and frames are a helpful concept to engage in that.

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