Academic journal article Western Journal of Communication

Interpreting Nonverbal Behavior: Representation and Transformation Frames in Israeli and Palestinian Media Coverage of the 1993 Rabin-Arafat Handshake

Academic journal article Western Journal of Communication

Interpreting Nonverbal Behavior: Representation and Transformation Frames in Israeli and Palestinian Media Coverage of the 1993 Rabin-Arafat Handshake

Article excerpt

According to Gumperz (1982), our ability to communicate with others depends on 'shared interpretive conventions' (p. 3). To make sense of talk between people, communicators must have language-based and socio-cultural knowledge that allows them to use information in and around an utterance to help choose from an array of meanings that could be given to that utterance. This convention-based view of communicative practice becomes complicated when applied to the use and understanding of nonverbal cues, however, because not all nonverbal [1] behaviors require interpretive processes (i.e., when the tie between an action and its referent is automatic; Buck & VanLear, 2001). Nonetheless, many nonverbal cues that occur in communicative contexts are, like language, open to a range of meaning attributions and necessitate communicators understanding the set of interpretations that may he attached to the cues through contextualized and conventionalized practice (Burgoon, 1994; Goodwin, 1981; LeBaron, 2005; Manusov, 2002; Smith, 1995).

One way to think about conventional interpretive practices is with the idea of framing. Frames are definitions for communicative events that guide our subjective involvement (Goffman, 1974). According to Gumperz (1982), frames 'enable us to distinguish among permissible interpretive options ... [and the] typifications reflected in ... interpretive frames derived from previous interactive experience are the foundations of the practical reasoning processes on which we rely in the conduct of our affairs' (pp. 21-22). Thus, a way to make sense of the meanings given to communicative acts--and to understand the larger conventions within which the meanings are embedded--is to assess the underlying frames that support certain meanings for potentially ambiguous cues.

Although many interpersonal communication researchers understand the importance of framing as a means by which people make sense of specific interpersonal behaviors, events, and relationships (e.g., Dillard, Solomon, & Samp, 1996; Koerner & Fitzpatrick, 2002; Planalp [2], 1985), media theorists have thus far discussed framing much more expansively. According to Entman (1993), 'the concept of [media] framing ... offers a way to describe the power of a communicating text' (p. 51). Specifically,

   [t]o frame is to select some aspects of a perceived reality and make
   them more salient in a communicating text, in such a way as to
   promote a particular problem definition, causal interpretation,
   moral evaluation, and/or treatment recommendation for the items
   described. (Entman, 1993, p. 52, emphasis in original)

For media framing theorists (e.g., Iyengar, 1991; Kahneman & Tversky, 1984; Pan & Kosicki, 1993), the results of framing--or choosing certain things to talk about and particular ways to talk about them within texts--is the creation or reinforcement of what is or should be salient to an audience, how that audience should evaluate the thing being framed, and, possibly, a move to get the audience to undertake some action related to what has been framed. Although texts (e.g., news coverage) are embedded in a set of institutional practices that may constrain them (Tuchman, 1978), they can also work to construct a reality for those who attend to those texts. In this way, news media are seen as active participants in a larger social drama (Baym, 2000; Ettema, 1990; Vande Berg, 1995), promoting particular performances and not others.

One way to look further into the frames used in meanings given to nonverbal behavior is located in media discourse about nonverbal cues. Jaworski and Galasinski (2002) referred to the particular set of flames that encompass media talk about communication as metapragmatics. They argued that such metapragmatic flaming is a useful way to view the textual presentation of nonverbal cues:

   [T]he relative indeterminacy and immediacy of non-verbal behaviour
   (e. … 
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