vocabularies of motive
Sociologists have been concerned with the ways in which such talk helps interaction proceed smoothly. They have explored the sources of motivational statements, classified their different varieties, and examined the consequences of their acceptance or rejection. A cluster of linked terms have been developed. Gresham Sykes and David Matza have developed a theory of delinquency which depends upon the delinquent employing a vocabulary to neutralize the legitimacy of the dominant order. These ‘techniques of neutralization’ include denying the victim, condemning the condemners, denying injury, denying responsibility, and appealing to higher loyalties (American Sociological Review, 1957). Stanford M. Lyman and Marvin B. Scott have developed this idea into a more general theory of ‘accounts’, as part of their existential sociology (discussed in their A Sociology of the Absurd, 2nd edn., 1990
). They examine the patterning and consequences of different ‘excuses’ and ‘justifications’ that are offered when something untoward occurs and people are asked to explain what has happened. John P. Hewitt and Randall Stokes have also introduced the term ‘disclaimers’ to cover those situations in which people ‘want to ward off the negative implications of something they are about to do or say’. Such statements take the form ‘I'm not prejudiced, but…’ (American Sociological Review, 1975).
Analysing motivational talk in this way has become part of dramaturgical sociology, ethnomethodology, labelling theory, symbolic interactionism, and the sociologies of knowledge and language (all of which are treated separately elsewhere in this dictionary).
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