"The Debate over Mill's Vocabularies of Motive: The Politics of the Ascription of Motives"
last update: 20151225
The Debate over Mill's Vocabularies of Motive:
The Politics of the Ascription of Motives
Mills' concept of 'vocabularies of motive' virtually established the sociological study of motives. Mills,
however, neglected our tendency to sometimes avoid, or reject, motives ascribed to us. He, moreover, overlooked
what happens after motives are placed upon individuals.
The former problem was resolved by the idea of 'strategies for avoiding accounts' in the 'motive talk' concept
of Scott and Lyman. Unfortunately, studies following the insight of 'motive talk' were flawed because they,
regrettably, provided the mistaken image that we can easily change our order or reality by ascribing motives
convenient for ourselves to others.
The latter problem might be resolved by phenomenological sociology, Goffman and ethnomethodology.
Phenomenological sociologists have explained the necessity of ascribing motives to others when faced by
untoward actions and consequences. Phenomenological sociologists have pointed out that we have to
reconstruct the 'plausibility structure' of our life-worlds by ascribing appropriate motives when the structure is
damaged by untoward actions and consequences. Goffman and ethnomethodologists have shown that the
ascription of motives is an act of symbolic violence that determines both the interpretation of past actions and
our selection of suitable future actions. Mills' thought of 'vocabularies of motive' must be reconstructed using
these insights from phenomenological sociology, Goffman and ethnomethodology.
Keywords: vocabularies of motive, motive talk, phenomenological sociology, Goffman, ethnomethodology