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Blog

28Sep2018

WHAT ARE MOTIVATIONS?

This is the first in a series of posts about the concepts I use in my book Other People’s Struggles. One of the first distinctions I make in the book concerns motivations. Existing theory, I think, muddles up goals and motivations.   It assumes that if two people share a goal, they also share the same motivation.  But that does not have to be so. 

To begin with goals.  Constituents seek something for themselves (or others of whom they are part). Adherents seek something for others of whom they are not part.

The ‘something’ could, of course be the ‘same thing’ for both constituents and adherents.  For example, in Edwardian Britain, enfranchised men and unenfranchised women campaigned together to win the vote for women.

Men and women, in this example, shared the same goal (votes for women).  But that is not the whole of the story.  The goals, from another perspective, significantly differed.  The unenfranchised women sought something for themselves (and others of whom they were part), and the enfranchised men  sought something for others.   That difference makes it necessary to consider whether their motivations also differed.

In Other People’s Struggles I examine three types of motivation: rational self-interest, moral obligations and social norms.  In each case, I argue the typical motivations of constituents and adherents do indeed differ.

If motivated by rational self-interest, the constituents can be motivated by the collective benefit from which they will gain. But that motivation cannot apply to adherents, who will not gain from the collective benefit.  They may, however – or so some theorists suggest – gain from selective incentives: those incentives made available only to those who participate.  The so-called ‘warm glow’ you get when you help others is one example.

If motivated by moral obligations, the constituents are motivated by moral obligations owed to each other – I call these reciprocal obligations (I owe something to you, and you owe something to me)  – where adherents are motivated by non-reciprocal obligations (I owe something to you which you do not owe to me).

If motivated by social norms, constituents are typically motivated by conjoint norms of reciprocity  – norms like ‘help those who help you’ or ‘help your fellows’.  Adherents are typically motivated by disjoint norms of service: that is, norms that enjoin people to do things for others without expectation of return.

These differences of motivation are set out in the table below:

MOTIVATION  —»RATIONAL SELF-INTERESTMORAL OBLIGATIONSSOCIAL NORMS
CONSTITUENTSCollective benefits of goal accomplishment (and selective incentives).Reciprocal moral obligations to each other.Conjoint norms of reciprocity.
ADHERENTSSelective incentives.Non-reciprocal moral obligations to others.Disjoint norms of service.

In the next posts of this series, I will consider what effects these differences of motivation have on how social movements work.   The first stage is to think about how they affect the variety of work movements do, which I term differences of orientation.