RE: Motives and goals

From: Eugene Matusov (
Date: Mon Feb 02 2004 - 09:27:11 PST

Dear everybody-


Jay is absolutely right about macro focus on the issue of motive (I did not
address it in my previous long message). Motives are distributed across
society, practices, and history. Actually, any practice can't exist without
reproduction of motives.


How can I see this macro and micro level of analysis of motive are
connected? Remember, that I defined motive as mediated conflict of
affordances (using Gibson's terminology). Motive is distributed in, at
least, two important ways. First, the affordances themselves are channeled
by practices, institutions, and cultures. For example, right now we are
working on a new specialization graduate program in our School of Education.
We consult our graduate students for their input on our drafts. When we
wrote in our early draft about "program coursework requirements", this
language channels the graduate students and mobilizes them to ask questions
and think about their own institutional survival rather than authentic
learning. However, when instead we listed academic practices that are
expected from novice academicians with Ph.D., the students started thinking
about learning resources. It is clear that the institution forces them to
mobilize differently and promote different affordances.


Of course, Phil is right that people do not necessarily blindly follow their
affordances. He correctly wrote, ". but rather as an agent who responds to
the shifting constraints and affordances of particular settings." However, I
argue that for people to shift the constraints and affordances they found
themselves in, they have use cultural tools of mediations that available to
them. This is the second way how motives are socially, culturally, and
historically, distributed. People transform the cultural tools available to
them to shape their situated conflicts of affordances.


Finally, I want to emphasize my agreement with Jay's insistence on analysis
of motive production (especially on institutional motive production) as it
is not well studied phenomenon. Although I would not neglect micro-analysis
of motive, I think we need to focus on macro-analysis.


What do you think?





From: Jay Lemke []
Sent: Sunday, February 01, 2004 10:05 PM
Subject: Re: Motives and goals


Combining Eugene's and Phil's comments about the smaller-scale, shorter-term
aspect of activity (action, goal) and the larger-scale, longer-term
(activity, motive) -- with perhaps various levels in between -- I continue
to worry about letting too much sense of "intentionality" guide our thinking
about these issues.

Sociologically, we know that people from certain social-economic backgrounds
are more likely to undertake some kinds of activities (beginning from
Durkheim's studies of suicide, and perhaps the kinds of people who study
foreign languages has a similar analysis). Each of these individuals might
be said to have, and would certainly think him/herself to have a rather
specific motive and goal in particular actions. But the social fact of the
demographic distributions, with their constancy over decades and across
individuals, their long term trends, their changes with large-scale
social-economic conditions (e.g. the crime rate in relation to the rise and
fall of economic conditions), etc. remains.

Do we want to say that individual motives and goals are "rationalizations"
of the effect of large-scale social forces? perhaps not. That these social
conditions dispose us to find ourselves involved in activities, or with
certain kinds of needs that can be met by certain activities (needs leading
to motives, etc.)? That's not really too helpful (pace Bourdieu).

I would say that we are taught, culturally, to think and speak of our lives
in terms of choice, will, intention, goals, motives, etc. Our law system, as
Eugene notes, epitomizes this ideology of accountable individual
responsibility, worked out to delicate degrees of nuance. (To me this is
further evidence of its cultural specificity.)

Certainly whatever we find ourselves doing, it can be fit, by us or by
others, into many larger patterns of action and activity, on many scales.
Whatever we do, or think we are doing, and whatever we say we are trying to
do (intentionality), we are always also doing many, many other things, in
whole and/or in part.

I agree with Phil that it's a mistake to look only at social-demographic or
economic "motivations" for engaging in an activity. And this is not just a
matter of scale downwards towards ANL's "action" level, where as Mike notes,
we expect many local goals to all cohere as part of the larger "activity".
We can have multiple motives that overdetermine our participation in an
activity. It may indeed in some sense be a different activity in terms of
its meaning for us with respect to each motive, even if it is the "same"
activity when described as a sequence of limited actions. This happens again
at the level of actions/goals; we can satisfy two or several goals with the
same action. And it may not be quite "the same" for us in terms of its
meaning, of its functions in other larger patterns of action. The same
action can belong at the same time to two activities.

What matters, I think, is to see as much of what is going on as we can. To
cross-analyze actions against goals, actions against activities, goals
against motives, motives against activities, across these scales (with or
without scientific credence in our own and others' habits of intentionalist
sense-making) and also across still smaller (operations) and still larger
(demographic, sociological) scales of analysis and interpretation.

The ideology of instrumental rationality, that we choose our goals and act
to further them, pushes us toward a too linear view of one-to-one
relationships (as with cause-effect models in the quantitative social
sciences), when the real complexity of lived experience is many-to-many,
many times over. And in that many-to-many world, what closed loops may
confound our linear causal intuitions? What heterarchical connections across
non-adjacent levels may produce surprises?



PS. I also think Eugene raises a separate and interesting question about
whether we can have a motive without a goal, which seems to mean in his
examples that we have chosen an activity, but taken no action to further it.
Are we still engaged in an activity (ala Leontiev), when we pause and for a
time take no action? Can we have begun an activity by the act of deciding to
someday take an action in furtherance of it, but not as yet having done so?
Perhaps this extreme case puts the cart before the horse. Leontiev, I think,
would argue that you don't have an activity without an integrating motive,
you just have assorted actions. But to have a motive without an activity,
without even the actions that move that activity ... that seems just a bit
... mentalistic? non-materialist? On the other hand, one day, a man could
look back at the history of his efforts to stop smoking and try to say when
it all began ... perhaps with that initial resolve to do it someday. And
perhaps not. Perhaps we cannot know whether a wish was a resolve until
later. Perhaps a motive is not something we just have a some moment, it is
only something that can be said to have existed across some extended period
of time, a period during which there was, at least off and on, a material
base of actions which it organized into an activity.

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