We live in a world of metaphors. We think in metaphors. We speak in metaphors. We construct our social world, organize it, and make sense of it with metaphors. It’s metaphors all the way down. “Everything… becomes allegory”, said Charles Baudelaire. Allegory is a form of metaphor. Metaphor is a thing that stands for, or represents, another thing. Technically, metaphor is a “figure of speech in which a term or phrase is applied to something to which it is not literally applicable in order to suggest a resemblance” (Dictionary.com).
One of the commonsensical metaphors in speech and thought is Frame or Framework. As a metaphor, Frame is a mundane, banal and mindless part of our everyday speech and thought. This is particularly the case in academic and public policy discourse where we often hear terms and phrases such as: “theoretical framework”, “policy framework”, “framing the issue”, “framing the question”, “reframing the issue”, “reframing the question”. What does Frame mean with regard to theory? That’s the focus of my story today.
As a metaphor, Frame stands for theory. But what do we mean when we say Theory is Frame? To understand the idea of Frame as a metaphorical representation of theory, let us consider what Frame is and does.
So what is Frame? Frame is a fairly common object. In fact so common it is hidden in plain sight. We walk through it; sit in it; see through it; look at it; live in it and so on. We have seen frames on windows, doors, gates, pictures, paintings, mirrors, eyeglasses, buildings, mobile phones, etc. As a matter of fact, I am typing these words right in the frame of my computer. See how Dictionary.com describes Frame:
a border or case for enclosing a picture, mirror, etc.; a rigid structure formed of relatively slender pieces, joined so as to surround sizable empty spaces or non-structural panels, and generally used as a major support in building or engineering works, machinery, furniture, etc.; a body, especially a human body, with reference to its size or build; physique; a structure for admitting or encoding something.
Frame comes in different shapes, forms and sizes. Frame gives structure, form and shape to things and spaces. As a structuring system, Frame imposes discipline, order and structure on things and spaces; positions things in certain places and keeps them there; prevents anarchy, chaos and disorder of things and spaces. Frame keeps things in and out. Frame stands between the eye and what the eye sees and does not see. Frame imposes discipline and structure both on the eye and on what the eye sees.
Window and eyeglass frames are perhaps the best metaphors for theory. The window frame allows one to see through. However, at the same time, it prevents one from seeing everything that can be possibly seen. It brings certain things into the view while simultaneously excluding others from it. While the eyeglass frame does the same thing, it has an added bonus. The eye behind the frame sees magnified images of things. The eyeglass frame imposes order, discipline and structure without which the naked eye lacks focus and ability to see.
These characteristic features of Frame apply to theory. Theory gives structure, shape and meaning to the social world in front of us. Theory is a disciplinary and structuring set of ideas rendering orderable both the observed social reality and the observer him/herself. Theory positions both the observer and the observed social world in related vantage points. Theory prevents not only the anarchy, chaos and disorder of the observer’s naked eye but also of the social world in front it. Theory does not only keep things in and out of the observer’s visual range. It also magnifies the things it brings into the observer’s visual range. As Frame, theory gives form to void and order to chaos. It creates stories, making meaning out of meaningless currents of life.
- Theory Toolbox Semantics (philosophiesresarc.net)
- Metaphors and Similes (expertscolumn.com)
- The Nature of Conceptual Metaphor: Embodiment (jonchadwickchambers.com)
- Use of The City as a metaphor for the Internet/Web (ask.metafilter.com)