Frame Analysis and Animal Studies: Erving Goffman's Overlooked Thesis on Animal Metacommunication and Mind

Colin Jerolmack, Abigail Westberry, Belicia Teo

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    Erving Goffman's concept of framing is one of his most enduring contributions to social science. Despite the canonical status of Frame Analysis (1974) in multiple fields, few acknowledge its intellectual engagement with animal studies. It was Gregory Bateson, in an analysis of animal play, who first posited the idea of frames as metacommunicative propositions that signal the meaning of behavior. In this paper, we show that Goffman did not just opportunistically borrow the idea of framing from Bateson, but also advanced Bateson's thesis that nonhuman animals are capable of (re)framing the meaning of behavior. He emphasized that animals and humans could meta-communicate with each other as well. Goffman polemicized against human exceptionalist theories of cognition and communication—not only in Frame Analysis, but also in unpublished remarks he delivered at a controversial conference on animal communication, and he suggested that the ability to meta-communicate is a more appropriate index of mind than language. Although new research indicates that many species use “significant symbols” and have a “theory of mind,” most interactionists have not reckoned with the sociological implications of animals as “minded” social actors capable of metacommunication with each other—and with people.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    JournalSymbolic Interaction
    StateAccepted/In press - 2024


    • animals
    • Bateson
    • Goffman
    • metacommunication
    • mind

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • General Nursing
    • Social Psychology
    • Education
    • Communication
    • Sociology and Political Science
    • General Social Sciences


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