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Risks and International Security: The Increasing Significance of Framing and its Effects

Mark Daniel Jaeger
University of Zurich
Mark Daniel Jaeger
University of Zurich
Open Panel

Abstract

The widening of the agenda in international security during the last two decades towards the inclusion of more diffuse threats marked by higher uncertainty led to the broad adoption of the concept of risk. This, however, brought a set of specific challenges: the establishment of public perceptions of threat no longer is a self-evident matter of the urgency of imminent danger. Political agents need to persuade their audience through framing social problems correspondingly. In this perspective, ‘security’ is produced by communication through the social processing of meaning between political actors and the public. The paper thus investigates the question: how do perceptions of these threats socially emanate? The process of framing by political agents in relation to the public can be described in more detail through the psychological concept of socially shared cognition. This innovative concept describes the targeted framing as ‘cognitive tuning’, which allows for a differentiated analysis of the use of political messages aiming at the establishment of a socially shared reality – in this case of a threat. A political actor engaging in cognitive tuning considers existing perceptions, attitudes, convictions of the audience to either amplify his utterances (super-tuning), keep them explicitly neutral (non-toning) or to put them in opposition (anti-tuning) to foster the prevalence of exploitable frames and social representations. The consequences of these processes are illustrated empirically through the development of public threat perceptions in the U.S. before and after the initiation of the 2003 Iraq war.