How Does the Social Group Shape the ‘frame of Reference’ Through Which Individuals Understand the World?

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How Does the Social Group Shape the ‘frame of Reference’ Through Which Individuals Understand the World?

3. How does the social group shape the ‘frame of reference’ through which individuals understand the world?


Word count: 1917

Understanding of the world by individuals derives from their thoughts and actions, and is retained as real by these (Berger and Luckmann 1966:33). This reality comes into sight already established by socially constructed objects, which shape individuals’ ‘frame of reference’ from their childhood. Therefore, various social groups begin to influence individuals’ complex set of assumptions, beliefs, values and preferences from the start of their lives and continue doing so as individuals interact within those groups. This essay will introduce the concept of habitualisation, institutionalisation and the theory of framing to facilitate the argument about three social situations, which can change an individual’s opinion within a group. It will first consider some crucial ‘autokinetic’ experiments conducted by Asch (1956) and Sherif (1937) and some real world studies demonstrating that diverse group pressures may provoke humans tendency to conform and subsequently alter individual’s ‘frame of reference’. It will then go on to describe collective Bennington study (Bidwell et al. 1968) and Goffman’s work (1961) displaying how social isolation can contribute to forming an individual’s ‘frame of reference’. The third part refers to the study by Posner (2004) about the political salience of cultural difference between Chewas and Tumbukas to demonstrate how intergroup competition for scarce resources can affect people’s beliefs and attitudes.

To begin an argument we need to consider the theory of framing by Lindenberg (1993) in integration with Kahneman and Tversky’s prospect theory (1979), which illustrate how an interpretation of an action situation can influence the selection of beliefs, attention to particular situational aspects, etc. They explain that our goals actively influence the focus of our attention, describing a goal as a desired state of affairs by an individual. Therefore, a goal would ‘frame’ an action situation by mobilizing appropriate pieces of knowledge, beliefs and would induce an individual to pay undeviating attention to certain aspects. Kahneman and Tversky (1984:349) added that the ‘frame of reference’: “is largely determined by the objective status quo, but it is also affected by expectations and social comparisons.” It is important to note that the ‘objective status quo’ doesn’t particularly mean the best state of affairs as people are infamously poor processors of information and are subject to various cognitive biases, which influence their decision-making. Kahneman and Tversky (1984) also noted that people jump to conclusions based on limited information presented to them. Keeping all this in mind will aid my explanation of how social groups can affect an individual’s ‘frame of reference’.

“All human activity is subject to habitualisation” (Berger and Luckmann 1966:70). Even an unsocial individual that lives on his own would habitualise his activity, whether it can be obtaining food or making a fire. This is of course also evident in any social activity where choices for every action are narrowed down and meanings become ingrained as routines thereby shaping an individual’s ‘frame of reference’. Processes of habitualisation come before any institutionalisation and as stated by Berger and Luckmann (1966:73), institutionalisation is incipient in all social activities. Institutions govern human behaviour by constructing predefined ‘frames of reference’, which depend on social location. It is important to note that the dominant source of social control is obtained from the existence of an institution alone. As we know, agglomerations of institutions are called societies and therefore the majority of the individuals that are born within them have their “frame of references” shaped by those societies, through family, school, religion, media and etc. This is the general idea of how individual’s beliefs and attitudes are shaped by social groups and further I will discuss social conditions and settings that make individuals to have their ‘frames of reference’ shaped by social groups.