Abstract Morten Nissen

Motivation – A User-Driven and Aesthetic Critique

‘Motivation’ appears to be currently demanded everywhere; but we demand it of ourselves. The general shift toward self-governance requires us all to learn about motivation, and to monitor, represent, expose and finally motivate ourselves. ‘Motivation’ has become emancipated and user-driven: As Osterkamp (1976) and later Danziger (1997) revealed, in the 20th century, the concept psychologized and essentialized a relation of power – it was about how to make other people want what they must by claiming certain needs. But today’s technologies of motivation pragmatically ignore needs and are simply given over to selves who calculate expectancy values, self-track habits, and verbalize solution-focus (etc.) at will; or, they claim self-determination itself to be a need that ensures ‘intrinsic’ motivation whenever self-governance unfolds.

This (sketch of a) genealogy can mature into a critique proper by reinserting the social dimension that has been removed from technologies of self and self-determination. This could lead to revisiting traditional critiques of liberalism and the market-like structures that evolve in New Public Management and elsewhere. But, on this wider horizon, it could also attempt to rearticulate technologies of motivation, in a kind of affirmative or immanent critique. These technologies can be seen to realize a culturally mediated self, which should be understood within a broader, performative practice approach. From this angle, aesthetics is one dimension, and one tradition, which becomes relevant. Could it be fertile to regard monitorings, presentations, verbalizations, exposures etc. of the self as works of art? Could such rearticulation even itself be given aesthetic form? These ideas have been put to use in attempts to rearticulate the practices of professionals and users of Danish drug counseling services, in which a method called ‘Aesthetic Documentation’ has been developed.


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