RE: Communal and communicative nature of motive

From: Carol Macdonald (
Date: Wed Feb 04 2004 - 07:35:40 PST

The quickest reply off the cuff—“social psychologists” in the 1970s
discovered that you often only got a person to construct an attitude by
asking them a question. Sorry, no ref – my student days. So, it makes
perfect sense if you want to take Eugene’s road here: he’s definitely not
off the wall here.

-----Original Message-----
From: Eugene Matusov []
Sent: Tuesday, February 03, 2004 6:53 PM
Subject: Communal and communicative nature of motive

Dear everybody–

I want to share some more half-baked ideas about the notion of motive. In my
previous messages, I tried to argue about the mediated nature of the notion
of motive. My point was that despite common cultural beliefs, many actions
are not motivated and even those that are motivated often have non-motivated
aspects. I defined motivation as mediated conflict of at least two
affordances mobilizing the actor for two different, conflicting actions.
Mike asked about objectivity of motive. It is in affordances and their
mediation. First, the objects control the actor through their affordances
and then through mediation of the conflict, the actor gains control over the

Here I want to turn to other important characteristics of motive: its
communal and communicative (if not dialogic) nature (to continue Jayson’s
discussion thread). People often check one’s motive by asking the following
question, “Why do you do that?” In traditional and folk psychology, there is
an assumption that a person has a motive and the question only reveals this
pre-existing motive. I decided to take Bakhtin, Mead, Wittgenstein, and
Vygotsky seriously and turn around this assumption:

What if this question creates/constructs a motive rather than just reveals

It sounds a bit like a crazy idea but let’s follow it for a while. Let me
deconstruct this question and reveal its proleptic properties and

a) the question implies that a person (the addressee of the question)
has a motive. This is a proleptic “as if” move. It is not clear if the
addressee has a motive but the addressee forced to answer this question as
if he or she has had a motive. It is worth to notice that in modern Western
cultures there is an expectation among adults that newborn (if not preborn)
children have motives. In many traditional cultures kids younger than 2-year
old are not considered to be have motives (they accepted to the community
b) the question also implies that although addressee has a motive this
motive is not comprehensible for a member of his/her community. The question
signals a disengagement of the addressee from his/her community. This
disengagement is assumed to be temporary but still it is a disengagement;
c) the addressee’s motive is not among the body of communally obvious
motives (under the circumstances shared between the addressee and the
d) the addressee’s motive is problematic and questionable (literally)
and requires grounding in the communally acceptable motives and in the
situation itself;
e) the questions forces addressee not only to reveal what mobilizes
him or her for an action (the action is referred as “that” in the question)
but also to take a stance toward this mobilization within communal
obligations (i.e., what is considered to ought and ought not to be mobilize
for in the community).

If my crazy analysis is correct, this discursive motivization (not
motivation but motive making) is a way to socialize and sanction
(legitimatize) the actor in a community. The actor (addressee) does not have
much choice: either he or she accepts this motive-making process within the
body of legitimate motive-stances OR he or she will be ostracized from the
community/relations either as incomprehensible, if a motive is not
comprehensibly given, or as an outcast if the given motive is not
legitimate. A community member can be trusted only when his/her motives are
understood and accepted. Of course, the communal legitimacy will be given
only as a response to the addressee’s response. <<Example is needed>>

Vygotsky spin. Children may learn this discursive motivization by answering
the adult questions, asking this questions the adults, and finally asking
this motivizing question themselves. Thus, psychologically speaking, motive
is discourse about why one does things directed to yourself and others. Like
any discourse, this discourse may have non-verbal aspect as well. <<Example
is needed>>

What do you think?

PS I hope my rambling is comprehensive enough not to be ostracized from the
xmca :-) At least please give me a chance by asking your questions. I’m not
sure that I will be able to answer to them but at very least, I promise to
produce more rambling :-)

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