Gamson Wolfsfeld 1993

From Projecting Power

Abstract and Introduction[edit]


  • Offers organizing principles and hypothesis regarding the ways that social movements and new media affect outcomes for both parties

Structural analysis:[edit]

  • Attention on power and dependency, consequences of asymmetries

Cultural analysis:[edit]

  • More subtle or nuanced contest over meaning

Hypothesis on how social movement characteristics affect media coverage:[edit]

  1. Movement standing
  2. Preferred framing
  3. Sympathy

Main point:[edit]

  • Argue for the importance of organization, professionalism, strategic planning and for the benefit of division of power
  • Theorize on media characteristics and movements focus on leadership, action strategy, and framing strategy
  • Also argue for audience size
  1. Emphasis on visual
  2. Emphasis on entertainment values as influencing movements

Power and Dependency[edit]


  • Media -
  1. movement is a transactional relationship that is symbiotic and dependent on the other
  • Social movement is defined as:
  1. Sustained and self conscious challenge to authorities or cultural codes by various actors like organizations or networks
  • Some of these actors employ extra institutional means of influence
  1. The media-movement relationship is not necessarily equal
  2. Movements are generally more dependent on media than the reverse
  3. Asymmetry implies greater power of media system here

What is the “competitive symbiosis” between the two?[edit]

Movements need news media for three reasons
  1. Most movements need to reach populace in part through public discourse through publications or meetings
  2. Media discourse is indispensable because they reach people that are often missed by movement oriented outlets
  1. Media spotlight validates the fact that the movement is an important player
  2. Receiving standing in the media is often a necessary condition before targets of influence grant movements recognition
Scope enlargement
  1. Scope of the conflict frequently changes over time
  2. Introduction and subtraction of players changes power relations between contestants
  3. Where the scope is narrow, weaker party has much to gain and not a lot to lose by broadening it
Making a conflict public provides:[edit]
  1. Opportunity of movement to increase relative power over antagonist (Mass media coverage is a vehicle for this.)
  2. Not just attention, but rather the content of the media coverage that affects whether and in what ways other parties get to intervene or interact
  3. Movements depend on media to generate public sympathy
What do social movements provide for media:[edit]
  1. Drama
  2. Conflict
  3. Action
Movements need media more than media needs them:[edit]
  • Translates into greater power for media
Power dependency theory distinguishes two components of power:[edit]
  1. Value:

- How much the other party needs one’s own services

  1. need:

- Refers to how much one needs the other party’s services

- Relative power of actors is determined by the ratio of their value to their need

Actors and movements:

1. Social movements - Ratio generally favorable 2. Movement actors: - Do not receive automatic standing in the media - Have to struggle to establish it at a cost for the message they need to convey - Dependency forces a price that affects the transaction 3. Institutional actors: - Given standing immediately - Access to institutional channels of influence - Do not have mobilization and validation needs


Events do not speak for themselves, they have to be woven into a greater context

The movement media transaction is characterized by a struggle over framing: 1. A frame is a central organizing idea, suggesting what is at issue 2. Expressed over time as a storyline

Examples of movements contesting the dominant media framing of issues with some success: 1. The movement opposing the U.S. war against Nicaragua faced a prominent, officially supported media that depicted the war as a struggle against communist expansion a. Local groups were able to counter this frame by making the issue of whether the United States should continue a war whose human costs were so high that it violated basic American values

2. Media plays a double role here a. Journalists play a central role in the construction of meaning b. Media output is in an arena in which symbolic tests are carried out c. Journalists are gatekeepers here, deciding what gets included d. But Journalism doesn’t control who gets access

Media norms and practices and the broader political culture in which they operate have major effects on this framing transaction

  1. Certain actors are given standing over others, but certain ideas and language are given a more generous welcome
  2. Not simply that ideas are unpopular, but that they are invisible

Media discourse:

  1. Struggles over meaning and interpretation are central
  2. Major achievement of some movements that they succeed in moving issues from the uncontested to the contested realm- even if it’s a level playing field

Movement disadvantages in the struggle over meaning reflect cultural obstacles as well as handicaps in access and resources

  1. Movement media communication is like a conversation between a monolingual and bilingual speaker
  2. Movements that accept the dominant cultural codes and do not challenge what is normally taken for granted will have less of a problem, but for many movements, this would involve surrendering fundamental aspects of their thesis

Estrangement between movements and media:

  1. Movement activists tend to view mainstream media not as autonomous and neutral actors but as agents and handmaidens of dominant groups they are challenging
  2. Media carry the cultural codes being challenged by reproducing them

This dual media role is the central issue of transaction


  • The degree of relationship between movement and media is influenced by multiple facets within the movement systems and the media systems.
  • Within a movement system, there are differences in getting their message across to the public. Some prioritize the use of media as a communication platform, some prioritize a more direct and hands on approach to the public.
  • For media systems, there are differences in organization and ideology.
  • Consider the size of audience and values of content.
  • Thus, there are many variables that can influence what the relationship between movement and media systems look like.
  • Suggested hypotheses are in consideration of what the weight of these variables mean for both media systems and movement systems in both directions.

Effects of movements on media coverage[edit]

  • Three elements of media coverage that are particular interest to movement actors
  1. Standing - How legitimate is the group from receiving coverage, content does not matter.
  2. Preferred framing - How much the group's issue is considered important in media.
  3. Movement sympathy - How much public support can be garnered from the portrayal in media.

Hypothesis (1)[edit]

  • The better the level of resources, organization level, and strategy for the movement, the better standing and preferred framing it will have in media.
  • If organized enough, communication to the media will be efficient and impactful. In doing so, the reciprocal relationship between movement actors and media actors are clearly established.
  • If not, the movement's legitimacy cannot be gained even from journalists.
  • Once standing is achieved, framing follows naturally as communication pipeline is established.

Hypothesis (2)[edit]

  • Bureaucracy matters within movement actors. The better the labor organization within the movement, the better standing and preferred framing.
  • Movements have to choose between gaining legitimacy and getting message out.
  • If there are designated actors to do one and the other, movement does not have to choose.
  • Disagreement within the movement can present a challenge to this organized labor though. For the sole reason that the media can present a narrative of division within the movement which can overshadow the message.

Hypothesis (3)[edit]

  • The specificity of what the movement want is important in gaining public support. The more specific the demands are, the better its chances are at getting support from the public through media attention.
  • Another dilemma - who the movement challenges and how they do it has an impact on what kind of outcome they get. Challenge the powerful status quo and be seen as overtly intense or challenge very little and get very little as outcome.
  • To be successful, the movement must find a balance between the two.

Effects of media on movements[edit]

  1. Leadership - the media's role on who gets legitimacy in the movement.
  2. Action strategy - the media's role on how the movement organizes strategies.
  3. Framing strategy - the media's role on how a movement presents its message in the challenge for interpretation

Hypothesis (4)[edit]

  • The relationship between the audience of the media and the movement's strategy to get their message across in media is important.
  • The bigger and more significant the audience is, the bigger the role that the media outlet will play on the movement's strategies.
  • If the movement is a challenge to the political and cultural status quo, the movement will not want to downplay the message to a large audience.
  • However, if the media has a large scale outreach and influence, the movement might consider re-framing the message to benefit itself.

Hypothesis (5)[edit]

  • The relationship between the values of the contents in a media actor and the movement actors' internal organization on leadership as well as action strategy is important.
  • If a media actor favors entertainment values, that will have an impact on who speaks on behalf of the movement as a leader.

Hypothesis (6)[edit]

  • The relationship between what materials the media actor use and the action strategies of the movement is important.
  • If a media actor relies on visual content, the movement will produce a spectacle in getting its message across.
  • Spectacles are associate with drama, drama usually means heightened emotions.
  • Heightened emotions makes for sensational content that attracts an audience.


  • This article goes in depth in the ways media can and has influenced social movements.
  • The authors focus on how social movements can media-proof themselves, essentially covering the basics of what every modern movement should use to leverage better results in the media.