Module 13.2

Key #2: Framing: Why Didn’t Anyone Tell Me?

1. Setting the Stage . . . Framing

Key #1 has introduced you to two fundamental relationships between individual and society that help you understand how the entry point disconnect could have happened. Key #2 will now show you how to use this new perspective in your everyday life.

Key #2 focuses on framing—a basic and pervasive part of everyday life. Framing works something like the lens prescription in a pair of eyeglasses, which “frames” your perceptions of what’s going on around you. If you’re wondering why you don’t already know about framing—if it’s so pervasive—the answer is that we all focus overwhelmingly on what’s inside our frameswhile overlooking the framing process itself.

The effectiveness of frames arises from the fact that the perspectives they communicate are socially shared by others—in fact, so deeply shared that these perspectives are not seen as “our frames”, but as “the way things are”. Figure 6 below depicts the same relationship perspectives shown in Key #1 Figure 5—only this time they are shown as two different sets of framing perspectives. We think that one or the other of these perspectives frames the basic relationship of individual and society in all social communities.

Using these framing perspectives now we can now view the initial disconnect experienced by the newcomers and their hosts in Japan in a different light. If the initial disconnect is a clash of frames created by people moving between the two social types depicted below, then just being able to recognize these frames is the first step for anyone—including you—to begin to navigate beyond this disconnect. Moreover, you can do this no matter where you happen to be! This module will help you begin right now.

These two sets of expectations are portrayed in the figure below:

Figure 6. Two Framing Perspectives on Individual and Society
  • Type 1 Societies prioritize society as frame, while the individual is viewed within the social frame. A social unit (such as the family, school, military unit, company, or nation) is foregrounded, while the individual is in the background, and viewed as encompassed in social ties. The Japanese ‘uchi’ perspective is one example of this focus.  While it is beyond the scope of this course to elaborate all the societies which may fit into this type, we will begin by expanding Type 1 to other countries in Asia, for example, China, Korea, India, Indonesia, and Vietnam. As anthropologists, we also feel compelled to include indigenous Native American societies in both North and South America.
  • Type 2 Societies prioritize the individual as frame, since the individual, in effect, encompasses the social frame. Put another way, society as the social and moral order is encompassed within the individual. This doesn’t mean that such societies lack social ties; but that the individual is foregrounded, while the social frame is in the background. This makes the individual (rather than a social unit) the focal point of social ties. This perspective on the individual is represented by European societies: for example, Great Britain, Ireland, the Netherlands, Germany, France and Scandinavia. It also includes some societies established by colonization from the latter societies, for example, the U.S., Canada, Australia and New Zealand. The newcomers in this course all represent a variety of Type 2 societies. See newcomers and their societies.

We do not mean to imply that all Type 1 societies, or all Type 2 societies, are similar across the board—far from it. Nor do all segments of each society fit neatly into either Type 1 or Type 2 above.  In a world with a complex history of colonization, migration, globalization, and complex patterns of immigration, the situation is anything but simple. Here we are suggesting that the two types above will give you a handle, as a useful starting point to establish: (1) the type of framing you are used to, and (2) the type of framing you are encountering in any new situation you happen to enter.

To see how this works for the newcomers just entering their situations in this program:

The newcomers are all from Type 2 societies and their entry situations are in a Type 1 society, Japan. This makes it entirely natural that the hosts should want their newcomers to pay attention to the social context surrounding them in ‘uchi’, and to try to fit themselves into their ‘uchi’ contexts, Yet it is equally natural that the newcomers should focus their attentions on their own individual concerns—of making the context fit them as ‘I’. The problem here is one of framing: the newcomers are viewing their entry situations through lenses that foreground the individual, while their Japanese hosts are framing the same situations through lenses that background the individual and foreground society.

The flash dynamic in 13.1 Figure 4 is crucial because it opens up a way for a newcomer like you to bridge the disconnect between hosts and newcomers depicted at the opening of this module. The key to the possibility that the newcomers can accommodate appropriately to their uchi surroundings is that the individually-oriented newcomers also possess a sense of society, even if this is backgrounded by them. By the same token the members of uchi also have a sense of being individuals, even though this is backgrounded by them as well, due to their perspective as individuals within uchi. The newcomers now have to learn to notice, and move to the foreground, much that they had assumed to be backgrounded. Things will go much better for their hosts as well, if they can begin to notice, and then try to do the same process in reverse. You can adapt this bridging process to other societies as well.

Key #1 helps you, the newcomer, to detect whether or not you face an initial disconnect in your new situation. If you do, then Key #2 shows you how to begin to navigate beyond this disconnect. You do this by beginning to notice how the ways of framing relationships between individual/society shown in Fig. 6 are turning up constantly in your daily life.

2. Tuning in to Framing in Daily Life

Key #2 introduces you to an intriguing puzzle: the perspectives on individual/society depicted in Types 1 and 2 above are embedded in many activities and forms that “frame” our everyday lives—but these are almost totally taken for granted—and unnoticed—by all of us.  In this section we present a series of everyday examples to help you get attuned to the framing of individual versus society that is constantly going on in your everyday life. The key here is noticing the foregrounding/backgrounding that you have grown up with, and that no one thinks to tell you because this is “the way things naturally are”.

However, if you move to a society where foreground/background relationships are framed in the reverse way from your own (that is, from a Type 2 to Type 1 society, or vice versa), you will be confronted with a reoccurring lack of “fit”; a feeling that things are “our of synch”(or not being done the way you are used to) in everyday life. This begins with such basics as the order in which you write an address, or the formatting of name cards and job resumes. The newcomers you’ve followed through this program were all in this somewhat unnerving situation of lack of fit. 

Now is your chance to become aware of how integral—and taken-for-granted—the process of framing is to your everyday life. The examples below should help you tune in to the ways you are used to framing vis-à-vis your own self and society, and how this could create a disconnect if you move to a society where this framing is reversed. The examples here include address forms, order of names, business card lay-outs, and birth registration. Formats for job resumes will be taken up in Module 13.3.


Everyday Framing Examples:

(1) Address Forms

Writing an address may seem straightforward. Yet addresses are not written the same way everywhere, and the order is significant. One of the address forms below will likely seem familiar to you; the other will not.

Click to color the examples below as: Type 1 societyType 2 society.

(1) Can you identify the relationships between individual and society depicted in each address form? Which component is foregrounded and which is backgrounded?

(2) Does name order taken by itself also identify relationships between self and society?

Example 1: Tanaka Ken
(family name, given name)

Example 2: Ken Tanaka
(given name, family name)

(2) Business Card Lay-outs

When Professor Witherspoon arrives at the University of Tokyo, he has a bilingual name card printed up for his guest affiliation in Japan, with one side in Japanese and the reverse side in English. His assistant helps him with the Japanese lay-out, and he realizes that this is different from the lay-out in English. The two versions are illustrated below:

Side 1: Japanese Language Format (translated) 

Side 2: English Language Format

  1. These two lay-outs for Witherspoon’s name-card depict each of the two relationships between individual and organization outlined in Fig. 5. Which lay-out represents the individual inside the organization, and how is this accomplished by the ordering of the lay-out?
  1. Which organization focuses on the individual and how is this accomplished by the layout? What is the relationship of the organization to the individual in this lay-out?
  1. You have already seen how uchi involves a nesting series of groups within a larger collectivity for the newcomers in larger organizations—the school, company, dorm, university, and branch company office. Which of Witherspoon’s cards presents him within this nesting series of uchi, and how is this done?
  1. Does the lay-out foregrounding the individual also present a nesting series of groupings, and if so, how does the ordering of the nesting compare to that in 3. above?

These two lay-outs for Witherspoon’s name-card clearly depict each of the two relationships between individual and organization outlined above. The Japanese side presents the individual as inside the organization(‘uchi’) while the English version represents the opposite relationship—the organization as subsumed within the individual (‘I’).  Consequently,the relationship between individual and organization is reversed on the two sides of this card. Yet at the same time you can see that both individual and society are present on both sides of the card; it is the prioritization of one aspect encompassing the other that creates the difference in lay-outs.


(3) Birth Registration

The birth of a baby has social implications that ripple beyond the individual baby and its caregivers. Many countries require documentation of a baby’s birth as a basis for establishing the baby’s social identity and citizenship. Two common types of birth identification are pictured below:

*Keep in mind that not all societies have set up systems of birth documentation, and even among those that have, some don’t function in practice.

The birth certificate and family registry shown above are two very common forms of birth registration. Notice how the design of each form “frames” the baby’s relationship to society. Which form identifies a baby in a Type 1 society?  Which baby is born into a Type 2 society? How does the design of the form tell you this? (Hint: Notice where each baby’s information appears on the form.)

Birth Registration Quiz

Repercussions exist for each type of birth registration shown above—some of which have wide-ranging or serious effects.

See if you can figure out which registration type creates each of the repercussions listed below. Drag the registry type you think best matches each numbered explanation into the box beside it.

Country Registration Quiz

Which form of birth registration do you think is used in each of the countries listed below? Match each country with the registry form you think it uses by dragging the appropriate form into the box beside it.

This quiz still tells us some important things, even though the geographical range of countries is limited:

  • Type 1 societies appear to be common in Asia (including India, East and Southeast Asia). The individual in these societies is viewed within a social frame (as depicted in the family registry). Yet the social frame itself can differ considerably from society to society. 
  • Type 2 societies are common in Europe and North America. In these societies the individual is identified as the basic unit of society (as depicted in the birth certificate). The social frame is viewed as within the individual. The particular type of individual identified in the Type 2 perspective evolved only in one world area: Europe (especially northern Europe). It was then dispersed, for example, to North America (Canada and the U.S.) through European colonization. 
  • Indigenous societies, including Native Americans in North and South America, Inuit in polar regions, !Kung Bushmen in the Kalahari, Ainu in Japan; tribal societies in China, Burma, Indonesia, and other Asian societies, (to name a few) have also been Type 1 societies. 
  • This is a bit simplified, but we will orient you further in the final module.

Key #2 orients you to different (and opposite) ways of representing everyday transactions that you may encounter when you move abroad. But it is crucial for you to realize that behind these seemingly minor formatting differences in everyday life are nothing less than the two opposing ways of framing relationships between individual and society that are the basis of Key #1.

Module 13.2
Newcomers and their societies

Newcomers in this program represent a variety of societies, depicted below. Their entry point experiences identified them as members of Type 2 societies.

Part 4 Newcomers:

Abby:  Canadian

Carlos: American (European)

Devita: African American

Matt:  American (Middle-Eastern)

Ms. Elainius: American

Prof. Witherspoon: American (European)

Part 3 Newcomers: Homestay guests

Bruce: American (European)

Christina: Asian American (Japanese)

Elena: Latvian

Erika: German

Janine: American (European)

Kaarina: Finnish

Li Ming: Asian American (Chinese)

Mark:  American (European)

Molly: American (European)

Rosa: American (Latin-American)

Sophie: American (European)

Stuart:  American (European)

Theo: African American

*Although some newcomers’ families came from Type 1 societies (for example, Christina and Li Ming), both they and their parent had grown up in the U.S., and their entry point reactions were closest to Type 1. Naturally, this isn’t black and white, so that newcomers with Type 1 ancestry may also be attuned to Type 2 relationships (as  Christina exhibited regarding the ancestors).

Module 13.2
Address Form Answers:
(1) Example 2: Society foregrounded; individual backgrounded. The address can be viewed as a series of concentric circles moving inward from larger units, such as country, prefecture, city and local area; to smaller units of family and finally the individual. Example 1: Individual foregrounded; society backgrounded. The individual is the focus; which then moves outward from local to larger units in a series of concentric circles.
(2) Yes, name-order alone identifies the following relationships:
Example 1: Tanaka Ken: Type 1 Society Society is foregrounded; individual is backgrounded. Example 2: Ken Tanaka: Type 2 Society Individual is foregrounded; society is backgrounded.

* Notice that the same components are being used in each example. It is not the components, but their ordering that creates the difference in focus in each of these examples. Address forms in societies outside of the U.S. and Japan can be linked to these two types as well.

Module 13.2
Business Card Lay-out Answers:
  1. The Japanese and English versions on each side of Prof. Witherspoon’s business card represent his relationship to his university differently. The Japanese side of Witherspoon’s card directs the eye first to “University of Tokyo” at the top of the card, followed by his department and rank-status. The University of Tokyo is Witherspoon’s uchi collectivity.
  1. The English side of Witherspoon’s card represents a different arrangement. This side directs the reader’s eye to Witherspoon as an individual, since his name is written in the largest and boldest typeface on the card. Witherspoon’s department affiliation is presented directly underneath his name, but in much smaller typeface. His university appears below the department. This lay-out subordinates the university and department to the individual.
  1. Witherspoon’s Japanese verison presents him within this nesting series of uchi since he is first located within the largest unit, the university, then within his department, and next, his position (rank) within the department. Finally he is identified as an individual by his name. This side of his card indicates the focus as uchi, and locates Witherspoon within uchi.
  1. Witherspoons’ English version presents the nesting series of groupings in reverse order, as if moving from the inside-outward. The individual is foregrounded, while the nesting series of affiliations is clearly backgrounded.
Module 13.2
Birth Registration Answers:

The Family Registry locates the baby as part of a nuclear family, and the family is the focus of this form. Consequently, the Family Registry gives much more information about the family than the birth certificate. This includes the family’s location and information about the baby’s parents. In fact, the registry gives as much information for the baby’s parents as for the baby.  Another aspect of the family focus is the recording of when and how each person entered the registry (i.e. birth, or marriage), along with previous registry information for those entering through marriage, for example, Hitomi. This information shows how each nuclear family is linked to relationships beyond it. The registry clearly shows each member’s relationship to the family as a part to the family whole, and this also explains the baby’s location at the bottom of the form. New siblings would be added after the baby in the same registry. The baby is presented as a member of a social frame.This is a Type 1 society.

The Birth Certificate locates the baby as the central figure at the top of the form, and the baby occupies almost the entire form. Other family members are largely omitted; the parents occupy the remaining space and only their names are listed. The individual baby is presented as the social frame. This is a Type 2 society. One consequence of this individualized focus is that the format of the birth certificate is not standardized in the U.S. (Each state defines its own format.) In the birth certificate above the parents’ marriage is indicated simply by listing the mother’s maiden name in parenthesis; this is the State of Minnesota format and this (or other items) may appear differently in other state forms.

Module 13.2
Explanation for registration choices

The birth certificate In organization this is less complex than the family register because it represents the baby as a social frame (Type 2 Society). The focus of this registration form is the individual baby, and the form is striking for its lack of social information about the baby’s family, other family members, or even the family address (the baby’s location, if entered, will simply be the hospital where the baby was born). Each parent is also framed as a separate individual, and the father may be omitted entirely. This can lead to problems, for example in Spain, where numerous kidnappings of babies have occurred because the baby’s family cannot be easily identified, due to the paucity of information in the birth certificate. An individual who has no birth certificate will have major difficulties establishing social identity, which may include obtaining a passport, driver’s license, and registering to vote.  Each type of registration also allows us to identify a different type of family. For example, families in Type 2 Societies can be seen as constituted by the individuals in each family. These families aren’t usually viewed as a social entity that continues over time, because the family ends when the individuals who constitute them pass away (or leave the family).

The family register is more complex than the birth certificate because it represents the baby as individual within a social frame (Type 1 Society). The register actually outlines the social frame the baby will enter in considerable detail, giving information about the name, form of entry (birth, marriage, adoption), and relationship of each member in the social frame to the baby. In fact, the family register presents the history of the social composition of a particular family over time. The social status of the frame affects the individuals within it, and they in turn affect the status of the frame.  This means that the actions and achievements of any individual (both good and bad) impact upon the frame, and so may affect every other individual within the frame. An individual who has no family register will lack basic aspects of social identity, which will create major difficulties in social life. These may include difficulties obtaining a passport (and national identity), getting a job, and opening a bank account. Families depicted in registers like the one above (Type 1 societies) are usually viewed as continuing over time.

Module 13.2
Explanation for registration choices

You may have noticed that the countries in this quiz fall into three geographical areas:

Family Registry (Type 1 Society)Many countries using this registry are located in Asia.Birth Registration (Type 2 Society)Many countries using birth registration are located in Europe or North America.
  • The focus of this web tutorial is on newcomers (largely from Type 1 societies) who come to Japan (a Type 2 society). So the hosts and guests in this program largely represent these two world areas. We will now briefly expand on the geographical range of Type 1 and 2 societies beyond the newcomers in Japan:

  • Type 1 societies are widespread. They include indigenous societies throughout the world (in Africa, North and South America, and Asia), as well modern countries with long histories like China, India, Korea, and Japan. A family (household) registration system (called hukou or “huji”),which originated in ancient China, considerably influenced the creation of similar registry systems in neighboring East Asian countries, including Japan and Korea, as well as Vietnam in Southeast Asia. Although some aspects of the family system were changed after World War II, the family (household) registry (koseki) is still an important administrative requirement in Japan, and remains in widespread use.

  • Type 2 societies are common in Europe and North America. In these societies the individual is identified as the basic social unit (as shown in the birth certificate above), and the social frame is viewed as within the individual. The particular type of individual identified in the Type 2 perspective evolved in one world area: northern Europe. It was then dispersed, through colonization, to other world areas, including Canada and the U.S. in North America. The birth certificate is widely used in Europe and in colonies or countries established by European nations (for example, Australia and New Zealand).

  • Many countries—particularly developing countries—either lack registration systems, or have systems that function only partially. This appears to be the case for many African, Latin American, and some Asian countries. For example, India has a registration system on paper, but most babies are not registered in practice. A digital fingerprint recognition system is now under construction to create a nationwide registry and ID system.
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5