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Traveling “Media Framing Theory” at the Chinese Communication Academy：Past, Present, Future
Media framing theory
Chinese communication academy/academic community
Life story research
The framing theory started making inroads into the communication discipline in the 1970s. Afterwards, it was spread and involved into the media reality construction, which can be regarded as the only philosophical problem journalism study, as well as one of the few unique research approaches straddling both theoretical and methodological boundaries, an approach that thrives in the sphere of journalism studies over Chinese communication academy and abroad and has been given unprecedented importance.
Contrasting with such breadth of research interest, the current real situation of Framing Theory in the communication field is actually just like "an elephant in the room”. Not surprisingly, this theory suffers a most tumultuous fate as it has experienced all the way through both the "best of times" with research prosperity and the "worst of times" with fractured paradigms. Despite of its initially promising appearance, it keeps providing disincentives to scholars willing to contribute as the theory itself easily falls prey to such problems as the decentralization of the frame concept, the chaos of the framing theory, the fragmentation of research paradigms, the emphasis on methods rather than theory, the disturbingly poor-quality scholarly work with single-minded focus on application, and etc. These often-problematic dimensions together bring about considerable confusion and lead to the absence of metatheoretical research and the failure to approach an accord on many theoretical nodes, the barriers of which are urgently needed to overcome.
This study is a compilation of the stories of contemporarily important framing research scholars, which tells how they shape different “theory trees” as different “planters” in their common remotely mountains as a "localized context ". Within Chinese communication academy, this study initiated the "Life Story" research interviews with nine "Key Researchers" in the media framing research. The empirical data obtained reveals Chinese media framing research, albeit unevenly distributed, could be credited with some measure of success for thirty years since its landing in the 1990s. It used to have a strong presence in Taiwan academy, usually described as "glorious golden age”, but was less well-recognized in Hong Kong and Macau, as for the mainland, the picture was a mixed one as it was well-developed in some places but did not enjoy the same prestige in other places. This confirmed the region/politically-geographic imagination of the Chinese communication studies. That is to say, Taiwan is the landing point and gatekeeper of communication research in the Chinese-speaking world, Hong Kong an important transit point but only for transit, while the mainland is deeply affected by social changes and the political climate.
In the overall narrative of media framing thoughts from its inception in the English-speaking world (1922-) to its travels in China (1991-), the Chinese Key Researchers can be divided into three types: Pioneers, Relayers, and Applicators. The relays and transitions benefit from the "Cultural Intermediaries." Eventually, the frames of the media framing research in China can be decoded by the “spatial-temporal framing analysis”: firstly, the “spatial relay” frame plays different roles over different regions; secondly, the degree of openness of the “geopolitical” frame determines the density of research distribution; and thirdly, the “time” frame varies from person to person and with both the "spatial relay" frame and the "geopolitical" frame.
The framing theory's travels within the Chinese communication academy is a microcosm of the communication discipline's tumultuous fate in the world. First, many people have passed through but few stayed; second, the uneven development among different countries and regions has actually grown out of different political, economic and geographical conditions prevalent in these areas; third, it is imperfect but full of vitality, and has been improved from its dismal state and moved towards the center academic stage of the times.
As an Action Research responding to the " Traveling theory ", this compelling case of Media Framing Theory's journey in China has set up up-to-date research, teaching, and methodological paradigms to make theory organic and to fill the gap between theory and reality, a gap otherwise hardly bridgeable. Last but not the least, this study tests the applicability of life story methodology as a research tool, explores how to carry on an academic interview as comfortably as drinking coffees with old friends, as well as attempts to create a narrative turn attaching equal importance to "beauty" and "humanity" that have often been overshadowed in academic writing.
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