Frameworks

buildingblocks

Frameworks are sets of definitions, ideas about how things relate to each other, construed relationships, or even (especially!) of other frameworks, with which people make sense of phenomena and of themselves. Interlocking sets of frameworks which are cohesive enough can create and maintain a distinct identity, a kind of super-framework called an ideology, creating distinct ways of seeing and explaining things, which may not be easily translateable or compatible with analysis created through another ideological lens. It’s like people with different ideologies are watching different movies, even when they observe the same reality. But each of those ideologies or uber-frameworks are made up of more specific less all-encompassing frameworks which can often (with some work) be transposed from one ideological frame to another.

At all levels frameworks have multiple functions, however not of equal importance. They always constitute tools with which to either to clarify or obscure different aspects of reality, implicitly (sometimes explicitly) encouraging or discouraging certain forms of action or behaviour. At the same time, they always constitute a signifier of identity, a flag people can wave, indicating they are on the same side, or at least the wish or illusion that that were so. Or put another way, different frameworks make reality appear differently; both the observed and the observer.

As frameworks get in more explicit contradiction with other frameworks, more complex and all-encompassing, closer to the level of ideology, their identity-aspect grows. Which is not to say that their tool-aspect necessarily diminishes right away. But a trend is clearly visible. For instance, beyond the level of ideology – on the level of broad ideological families, frameworks collecting and connecting frameworks of frameworks, for instance “left” and “right” – at this level it does indeed seem like the identity-aspect is almost always far greater than the tool-aspect, which often seems reduced to nothing. Conversely, frameworks that are shared by “everyone” will appear “non-political”, and will often have no visible identity-function, other than separating “normal” people from crazies and imbeciles.

Frameworks can be free floating, integrated into different ideological structures, built upon in various ways. But not without consequence. Frameworks carry with them implications, once one is integrated into an overarching ideology, that can affect what else might or might not be integrated into that ideology, and how. Frameworks can be duplicated, integrated into multiple, even adversarial, ideological structures. When that happens, they can provide a backdoor channel, a wormhole of sorts, connecting these adversarial structures. Allowing other ideas to flow between them, often unobserved. Potentially allowing one to reach into the other, to take control of each other, to flip sides. The ability to do so is not normally symmetrical.

Frameworks can clarify things. The more robust a framework, the more things it can clarify or reveal. Even a shoddy framework is normally good at revealing or clarifying something. But beyond what a framework is good at revealing, there are always a set of phenomenon for which it is suboptimal, i.e. that it reveals, but in distorted form. These phenomenon would often be completely invisible without the framework in question, and so the framework improves matters somewhat despite its distortions. But unless a much better framework is found for them, they will often come to be understood primarily through the lens of the framework which is suboptimal for them. The scope of phenomenon observed increases, but the clarity and focus of the framework is diminished. This process can be ongoing, and the more powerful the framework in question, the more difficult it is to resist or reign in. Furthermore, as people think in frameworks, and as phenomena often repeat certain patterns or resemble other phenomenon occurring on different levels or in different ways, a powerful framework will often be adopted as a metaphor or a fill-in for understanding things for which it was not initially intended, but which it superficially seems to fit well. This is another factor by which frameworks can end up distorting or occluding more and more things. The end point of these processes is normally not attained, but when it is, the framework becomes an empty signifier.

In 1999, two Dutch anti-capitalists, Eric Krebbers and Merijn Schoenmaker, wrote about the way in which certain arguments adopted by the left, fit very well into the ideological structures of the right, and how this laid a theoretical basis for left-right crossover:

“In his analysis of the crisis of antiracism, Pierre-André Taguieff describes the appropriation of leftist discourses by the neoracists as retorsion (not in the sense of revenge, but in a slightly less common French meaning of the use of an argument against its author). This raises the question of when a leftist discourse is open to retorsion. Or the other way around: How would a discourse have to be structured so that it would not serve right-wing propaganda.” (“De Fabel van de illegaal quits Dutch anti-MAI campaign” http://www.savanne.ch/right-left-materials/no-more-anti-mai.html)

Krebbers and Schoenmaker hit upon an interesting, and important, question. How do frameworks, when adopted by both left and right, work to prepare the ground for “left” groups and individuals to find themselves on the right? Do all such shared frameworks enjoy this potential equally? What determines whether frameworks play more in favor of one ideological structure or another? Is it the assumptions or implications carried by the framework itself? Or does it depend on external factors – which side has the wind in its sails, so to speak?

Several years ago, i wrote about this in what was basically a note-to-self, Afterglow, which was spurred by conversations i had been having at the time. Some of the concrete observations i made there – about gender and race being undertheorized by insurrectionary anarchists for instance – i now think were premature and possibly off-base. However, the process i was trying to think about, about conclusions surviving the death of their arguments, about ideas losing their mooring, is not unrelated to what i’m thinking about here.

Another question: what is the relationship between frameworks and that consensus reality known as hegemony? Modern “democratic” capitalism seems unparalleled in its ability to coopt countercultural and even politically adversarial phenomenon. How do ideological structures, i.e. meta-frameworks, relate to hegemony? How do they become integrated therein? Is the process similar to that whereby shared frameworks created shared connections between mutually antagonistic ideological structures? Or is something different at work?

In any case, this is really just another not to self, neither conclusive nor even looking for conclusions, more just sketching out some rough ideas and definitions for possible future use.

 

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