The problem with motives

Many studies in media and communication look at motives. Especially the Uses and Gratifications literature focuses on psychological and social motives. Such studies ask why people watch TV, why they read newspapers, or why they engage in online communities. The answers they come up with (using surveys or qualitative interviews)  are often quite obvious: information, entertainment, communication, transaction etc. These main motives can be subdivided into smaller categories, such as staying up-to-date, learning about new events, or challenging existing assumptions within the information motive, and killing time or being excited within the entertainment motive. 

What do we learn, for example, when we know that scholars use Twitter for public relations (linking to own papers) and conversation with peers mainly? Not much. I’m always quite dissatisfied with such “So what?” findings. In my understanding of social science – and I might be biased because of a sociological background – we shouldn’t stop there. Instead, we should ask: “What are the underlying mechanisms why certain individuals have such and such motives?” Anwering this question encompasses going back to “real” sociological and psychological theories, such as the habitus concept, social cognitive theory, personality psychology or social network and social capital theory. In this sense, motives are only an expression of underlying social and psychological structures. Incorporating the motives into a broader framework could overcome the “So what?” challenge of motive research. 

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2 Responses to The problem with motives

  1. This is really interesting, especially if you apply this perspective to social media. Motives are really important to consider when using sites like Twitter. I’ve written about the pros and cons of Twitter on my own blog, but through a writer’s perspective. Cool post!

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