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THE PSYCHOLOGICAL APPROACH [chapter]

1994 New Approaches to Knowledge Acquisition  
The theoretical concepts of (situational and individual) interest and motivation are of central importance to educational psychologists, because they denote phenomena that are said to mediate cognition and learning, and therefore individual development. In general, interest and motivation are approached predominantly from individualist cognitive perspectives, as entities or processes said to be embodied in the individual mental structure. The method, however, is not without its critics. Thus,
more » ... ts critics. Thus, the existing approaches to motivation can be seen as tools in the hands of the ruling class and therefore, psychology as a servant to the interests of this class. Whereas scholars may not agree with such analyses, the cultural-historical and sociocultural origins in the work of the Russian social and educational psychologist Lev Semenovich Vygotsky point us to other possible problems with individualist approaches to motivation and interest. According to Vygotsky, all higher mental functions have their origin in inter-human societal relations. That is, therefore, rather than studying forever-inaccessible structures of minds for the situational and individual interests a person develops and their relation to a person's motivations, a sociocultural and cultural-historical approach begins with studying societal relations generally and societal relations in which interests and motivations are (a) the topic of talk or (b) resources in the pursuit of other topics. This, then, leads us to the approach taken in discursive psychology, a relatively new discipline that already has made substantial contributions to the study of cognition generally and to the study of knowing and learning more specifically. In this chapter, we draw on an empirical study of career interests and motivations of high school biology students who were given the opportunity to participate in internship experiences in a university science laboratory. The scientists had offered these opportunities for the express purpose of increasing Wolff-Michael Roth & Pei-Ling Hsu 2 enrollments in the university's science faculty. Here we outline and exemplify a discursive approach to studying interest and motivation, which is an important and necessary perspective because participation in any human activity is always mediated societally, culturally, and historically. We show how interest and motivation talk is produced and the intelligibility of such talk shared as cultural resource. We suggest that a discursive approach has significant possibilities for educational psychology, because ontogenetically, we learn what interest and emotion are in and through participation with others in conversations about interests and motivations. Therefore, interest and motivation are phenomena that for any individual are brought about in social interactions and discourse situations rather than phenomena that can be theorized as having their independent origin within the individual human being. We conclude with recommendations for a discursive approach to the study of interest and motivation that parallels a similar approach we take to "purely cognitive issues" such as conceptions and conceptual change.
doi:10.1142/9789812814906_0002 fatcat:pvoccgjxjvbvnpaua6gfl2nabe