Social Movements and Framing Decisions: Ecuador’s Campaign for the Rights of Nature

Dissertation Author: María Fernanda Enríquez Szentkirályi

Year: 2014


This study investigates why and how social movements frame their campaigns in the ways they do. It explores Ecuador’s environmental movement, which framed its campaign in terms of the rights of nature. This framing decision is intriguing considering the ideological divisions within the movement, the absence of debate over the plausibility of the frame, and the multiple understandings of the meaning and implications of the rights of nature frame. Surprisingly the framing decision proposed by intellectuals within the movement was endorsed by participants without much clash and disputes.

Challenging current explanations of how framing decisions are made, this study complicates the conventional claim that “alignment” (of ideas and interests) between the authors of a frame and movement participants is a necessary condition for any framing decision. The concept of “alignment” is problematic because it assumes that social movement participants understand a frame as proposed by the intellectuals who author the frame, when in reality the possible meanings, intentions, and implications of a frame are commonly interpreted differently by diverse audiences. Additionally, social movements are often fractured, with different groups having different motivations and, thus, promoting their own specific interests, which makes it unlikely that all factions within a movement align with a frame as articulated by intellectuals.

Contrary to what negotiation scholars have propounded, this study also finds that clashes and disputes are not always inherent to the process of frame decision-making. As the Ecuadorian case bears out, there is an alternative explanation for how framing decisions are made, which I term “agreement without alignment.” Given the various actors involved, their unique motivations and interests, and invariable differences in the understanding of a frame, I argue that groups within a social movement need only agree or tacitly agree with a framing option when (a) the frame does not contradict their interests, (b) the groups are constrained by a common identity, and (c) the political opportunity is volatile. I differentiate between agreement and tacit agreement because sometimes movement participants may disagree with the frame but yet they do not attempt to block it, implying that they are tacitly or passively agreeing with the frame.

Dissertation Copy Available in the POLS Director of Graduate Studies’ (DGS) office? Yes