• contentious politics;
  • framing;
  • Islamization;
  • West Bank/Gaza;
  • Chechnya

Expanding on McAdam, Tarrow and Tilly's approach to the study of contentious episodes, we develop a conceptual framework to analyze front-stage politics in the light of back-stage cultural and interpretative processes, drawing upon the Chechen and the Palestinian national movements. We elaborate on Goffman's original notion of ‘primary frameworks’ to capture the influence of fundamental cultural templates, and his concept of ‘keying processes’ to capture the way primary frameworks are reworked in the dynamics of political contention. We then identify three central components of primary frameworks, namely, collective identity (the subject), what the subject does (the verb) and who or what is the object of those actions (the object). This article identifies the primary frameworks and keying processes of Chechens and Palestinians with relation to Russia and Israel, respectively. It then traces how they are played out in the heat of political contention as changes in the structure of political opportunities and threats unfold, and how they combine to drive a process of Islamization. We conclude by discussing how the subject–verb–object triplet of primary frameworks helps specify the dynamic interpretative work in political contention.