RE: Motives and goals

From: Eugene Matusov (
Date: Mon Feb 02 2004 - 12:16:42 PST

Dear Jayson and everybody-


I like the issues that Jason raised. I agree with Jayson that it is not the
issue that some students "have motivation" and some does not. Using Ray
McDermott's terminology, institutions set motives to acquire people (e.g.,
motives to study for grades, motives to study for learning, motives to f***
the studies - pardon my strong language but I do not know how to express it
better in English). People can transform, transcend, reject, and/or
participate in the institutional motives (it is not their "choice" but
rather possibilities). I think we need to study how institutions set the
motives in their structural and dynamic ways of organizing practices and
relations and what cultural tools are available for the participants to deal
with institutional motives. I agree with Jayson that Lave's notion of
legitimacy can be helpful for that. I think Foucault's genealogical analysis
of institutional motives can be helpful as well. But even a simple
ethnography documenting institutional motives can be helpful.


What do you think?





From: Jayson Seaman []
Sent: Monday, February 02, 2004 1:02 PM
Subject: Re: Motives and goals



In reading some of the motivation literature, one of the perplexing problems
that arises is that, even when goal orientation is accounted for and the
academic environment supports a mastery orientation (as opposed to a
performance orientation, or performing for the sake of appearances rather
than for the "inherent value of learning"), minority students still do
poorly when compared to students of dominant racial/socioeconomic status. It
has been proposed that this is due to stereotype threat on the one hand, and
a picture of intelligence as fixed on the other hand, both of which may lead
to disidentification.


It is clear that students will approach a task differently based on a number
of factors, one of which is their goal orientation (if you agree with the
concept). From what I have read, much of the motivation research approaches
the issue from within the learner--even when acknowledging that the
environment interacts with goals. Different student approaches can be
accounted for through concepts such as goal orientation, self-efficacy, and
so forth.


What has yet to be articulated in the motivation literature, from what I
have seen, is a situational analysis of motivation in which I find it
difficult to even speak of motives and goals without sliding into
individualistic concepts. I wonder about Peter Smagorinsky's suggestion that
"The extent to which a person internalizes the values of a cultural way of
knowing depends on his or her degree of consonance with the cultural tools
that mediate development. Tools enable meaning construction when they are
sanctioned by the cultural environment of learning, are recognized by the
learner as tools, and are used volitionally by the learner" (1995, p. 195).


It seems to me that motivation may require these concepts to get up off the
ground, and instead there may be another phenomenon at work when the cutural
tools are not consonant or are perhaps even rejected (in which case, perhaps
the motivation is to disidentify--as per Eugene's notion that students
mobilize cultural tools perhaps in conflict with one another). By extending
Peter Smagorinsky's assertion, there must be agency on the part of the
students specifically related to the tools in use within the specific
environment, perhaps whether the motive is to simply perform or to master


From another perspective, I am struck by the notion of "legitimacy" as
suggested by Jean Lave. Is legitimate participation a precondition for
motivation (at least in view of the telos of a given situation)? Is
motivation perhaps a situational achievement rather than a given? This may
help describe the performance of minority students in schools where the
parameters for participation are narrowly defined.


I don't necessarily see the disconnect between "inertia" and "motivation,"
because one could perhaps say that some level of inertia is required for
motivation to occur, in which someone could be said to be paricipating in
the situation instead of in spite of the situation (which is still a form of
participation of course!). The notion of affordances may not even be
paricularly helpful--I'm thinking of Learning to Labor in which the same
situation afforded quite different motives and entirely different
constructions among different students. In this view "affordances" are not
static and are dependent also on the consonance of cultural tools. In this
example, given the standard view, the "ear'oles" would have been seen as
motivated, and the "lads" unmotivated. Clearly this was not the case--the
difference lies in the use of cutural tools to construct meaning, before
motivation could be taken into account....??


Jayson Seaman

Ph.D. Student

University of New Hampshire




Smagorinsky, P. (1995). The social construction of data: Methodological
problems of investigating learning in the zone of proximal development.
Review of Educational Research, 65, 191-212.

On Mon, 2 Feb 2004 19:13:16 +0700 Phil Chappell
<> writes:
> Mike refers to my terminology from within ANL's activity theoretic
> framework. Okay, so the level of motive accounts for why something
> is
> done, the level of goal what is done, and the level of operations
> how
> it is done. To keep to the second language learning analogy, a
> language
> learning task can result in different kinds of activity because the
> task will be approached differently depending on the underlying
> motives. The different activities may or may not result in different
> operations, and individual's motives and operations are generative
> in
> light of changing sociocultural conditions. This is not to defer to
> Eugene's problem of the learner as a container, but rather as an
> agent
> who responds to the shifting constraints and affordances of
> particular
> settings. Learners may approach a task differently on different
> occasions; they may think that a task at one time is a fun game,
> and
> at another a serious linguistic pursuit. This makes the analysis of
> collaborative learning activity all the more complex; as Jay
> mentions,
> the multi-intentionality of each learner, i.e. agency in situ,
> prevents
> us from making any causal relations. The relevance for the
> researcher
> here is that motives need to be "nailed down" (understood?) so that
> attempts can be made at understanding the interactions that occur
> during the task (I am defining task as an arena for the construction
> of
> activity). In particular for me, the supportive/"expert other"
> episodes
> that occur during the activity. I guess this might be trying to see
> as
> much of what is going on as we can?
> Phil



With regards,


Jayson Seaman
Orford, NH

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