First Advisor

Dennis D. Brissett

Term of Graduation

Spring 1973

Date of Publication


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (M.S.) in Sociology






Motivation (Psychology), Social interaction



Physical Description

1 online resource (2, v, 86 pages)


The development of a theory of motivation in symbolic interactionism is traced, with particular reference to the work of G.H. Mead, Kenneth Burke, C.W. Mills, Nelson Foote, and Ernest Becker. Specific attention is focused on comparing the original theoretical assumptions of particularly Mead and Burke to the varying formulations of the problems of motivation that were later developed by symbolic interactionists. Specifically, it is argued that, primarily due to Burke's analysis, the traditional practice of deterministically explaining human action as being the result of variously imagined motives "in" people is, in fact, no explanation at all but simply a variety of metaphorical re-descriptions dressed in casual vocabulary. Rather than something "in" people that determines behavior, Burke argued that motives are a particular kind of communication that people use to rationalize given actions in specific situations.

Following these assumptions, C.W. Mills was later able to integrate Burke's analysis with Mead's (et al.) theory of symbolic interactionism. However, as symbolic interactionism was later developed various theorists reintroduced the deterministic bias into the problem of motivation. A critique of this determinism is developed based on the "fallacy of tautology."

It is finally argued that, as a kind of communication that interactants use, the problem of motivation alludes to a sense of "drama" in social interaction in which individuals negotiate motives in order to influence the behavior of significant others. Thus, motives are seen to derive their meaning problematically in terms of how others respond in social interaction to an individual’s avowed motive.


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