Negotiating the Lines of Contention: Counterframing and Boundary Work in the School of the Americas Debate1

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Abstract

Counterframing scholars typically identify counterframes that interpretively distinguish arguments among opponents. This approach assumes that counterframing strategy centers on directly countering the claims of protesters. In my in-depth examination of the ongoing debate between protesters and officials of the former School of the Americas, I identify a form of counterframing that agrees with and embraces the moral alternatives implicit in accusers' claims. I bring boundary construction theory into conversation with counterframing analysis to expand understanding of how framing and counterframing strategies revolve around the competition for common, moral resources. I explain that in the movement to close the School of the Americas, protesters' claims have served as moral boundaries against which the targeted institution has redefined its objectives and programs. I introduce the concept of “boundary negotiation” to argue that counterframing strategy and success lie in the negotiation of moral boundaries called into question by social movements. I outline defensive and offensive modes of boundary negotiation and identify boundary negotiation as a mechanism driving the link between counterframing and demobilization.

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