Towards a Deeper Understanding of Framing, Footing, and Alignment

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Linda Wine


Goffman’s (1974, 1981) ideas on framing, footing, and alignment provide a powerful lens for examining social roles, how they are signaled, and how speakers position themselves vis-à-vis one another during interactions. However, as constructs, these terms can be so squishy that one is tempted to quote that famous Supreme Court line on the definition of pornography: “I might not be able to define it, but I know it when I see it” (Simpson, 1988). On the one hand, the richness of Goffman's notions resides precisely in their ability qua metaphors to be sufficiently imprecise to capture the vagaries and ambivalences of the human condition. As Lakoff and Johnson (1980) note, the very strength of metaphors is in their ability to express what is hard to pin down in more reductionist ways. On the other hand, the strength of one's work in the social sciences often rests on empirical research. Consequently, finding workable definitions for constructs—which, by their very nature, can be elusive—is an important part of the game. And hitting upon a definition others embrace is tantamount to striking gold.

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