The world is broken: Expanding frame-alignment theory with campus ministries

Matthew Peach

Research output: Other contribution


Employing an extended case method ethnography combined with in-depth interviews and content analysis, this project approaches two university-level chapters of campus ministries, Cru and InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, as social movement organizations (SMOs) representing the US evangelical movement. While they do not practice political lobbying or activism, both ministries work earnestly for social change through evangelism to nonmembers and spiritual/moral instruction of their membership. Rather than an injustice frame with temporal villains to overcome, their collective action frame has members contending with flaws in the world itself, and thus, themselves. As with the broader evangelical movement, the range of issues that campus ministries are concerned with is almost unlimited. No issue is beyond them, and no concern beneath them. Balancing attention and resources between many potential foci, as well as weighing controversial stances on public issues (e.g. LGBT rights) against the desire to attract and welcome everyone, present significant challenges to campus ministries. Frame alignment theory explains the formation and activities of SMOs in terms of the account they offer of the world, and the part that potential members can play in it. Recently, critics have called upon frame alignment theorists to overcome their bias towards the elites of social movements, rather than treating frames as static products that leaders produce and members act on unquestioningly. This project seeks to answer that call by focusing on the understandings and experiences of ground-level members in addition to those of the leadership, and expands the body of frame alignment theory by adding the concepts of frame smoothing tactics, which are used to justify and explain changes in an SMO’s framing, and frame detailing, wherein the organization’s framing is clarified and emphasized not by condensing it into a simplified points and images, but by expanding it into a detailed, involved account. These concepts offer theoretical tools for describing not just how SMOs can gather and motivate adherents, but also how those adherents can be convinced to take the correct actions (by the SMO’s standards), and how their investment can be maintained through both changes and doldrums. This project closes with a discussion of other types of social movement organization we might bring these theoretical concepts to bear on.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Number of pages228
StatePublished - Aug 2019


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