Hostile frame takeover: Co-opting the security frame in the German nuclear energy debate

Dr. Stephan Bohn (Humboldt institute for Internet and Society and Freie Universität Berlin) presents his work on co-option in framing processes. 


Despite growing attention to framing contests as important discursive struggles in articulating societal challenges and their solutions, most research focuses on competition over which frame becomes dominant. The process of how macro-level frames themselves are subject to processes of meaning elaboration is less well understood, yet central for understanding field dynamics. In this paper, we focus on how a master frame—seen as relatively stable macro-level meaning structures—can itself get co-opted, such that it is reinterpreted to support a logic of action that is contrary to the original set of meanings. Using a mixed-methods approach, combining topic modeling with qualitative analysis to examine the German nuclear energy media debate, we explore the hostile takeover of the dominant and socially resonant security master frame by atomic power proponents. This led to a complete frame reversal: the security master frame developed from a rationale against atomic power to one in favor of atomic power. We identified the mechanisms behind this process, which involves an intended broadening of the master frame through making it porous and infusing it with new diagnostic claims and then reversing the frame by pointing to conflicts within the broadened meanings, constructing discursive alliances around favored meanings, and selectively retaining the new meanings while detaching the original meanings. We synthesize these findings to offer a theoretical model explaining frame co-optation, which contributes to the literature on frame dynamics and the role of framing in societal and political discourses.  


Stephan Bohn is a project leader at the Humboldt institute for Internet and Society (HIIG) and a researcher at the Freie Universität Berlin. Stephan has a PhD in organization studies from the Friedrich Schiller University Jena, Germany and in his dissertation he studied the implementation of managements and sustainability concepts in tech companies. He was a fellow of the Transatlantic Doctoral Academy on Corporate Responsibility, a quest researcher at the WZB Berlin and WU Vienna. Besides the focus on organizational change, his papers and projects are about institutional change, legitimacy and (disruptive) technologies in different areas, especially digitalization and crowdsourcing, digital music market, as well as renewables, and electric mobility. Thereby, Stephan combines qualitative methods and machine learning approaches such as topic modeling.  

Published May 5, 2022 10:20 AM - Last modified May 5, 2022 10:20 AM