Reframing Apathy

Strategically reframing issues can lead to new solutions

By Katherine Cho, Center Coordinator

During my undergraduate years, organizations and clubs were allowed to set up respective booths several times a week to help engage our greater student body on certain causes and issues. I remember struggling to create flyers, handouts, and catchy phrases to entice our audience, as well as feeling the disappointment when people passed by without a second glance. Over time, the repeated responses left me wondering, “Our cause is so important—how can people not be involved? Do people even care?”

There’s no such thing as a social problem, until enough people, with enough power in society, agree that there is. Social problems are produced by public opinion, not by particular social conditions, undesirable or otherwise.

—Armand Mauss and Julie Wolfe
This Land of Promises: The Rise and Fall of Social Problems in America, 1977

Moving to Larger Conversations
I came across the quote above through an e-workshop on strategic frame analysis from Frameworks Institute. This workshop, along with subsequent articles, helped redirect discussions on the troubles of apathy to larger conversations about what constitutes public opinion and how people process information. Television shows, newspapers, and other media outlets aside, do we mold public opinion; how do we address apathy?

Mismatched Understandings
One of the areas the Frameworks Institute describes is the mismatch between what experts know and what the general public knows. Using the example of oral hygiene, the case study highlighted how researchers often assume the general public has an equal vocabulary and grasp of understanding. As a result, the mismatched language forms two different conversations around the issue. Over time, the different conversations create in an incremental construction that the problem is too complex to understand, the solution is too complicated, and a general demise into disengagement.

Apathy does not happen; it develops.

But just as we slowly dismantle the larger social issues of domestic violence, poverty, etc. we can also incrementally deconstruct the framework of apathy; the question is not, “Do people even care?” but, “Why do people not care.”

Read more about Katherine and our other contributors here.

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