May 5, 2017
Haines 279
Kyle Nelson

The UCLA Department of Sociology Irene Flecknoe Ross Lecture Series Ethnography Working Group is pleased to present: 

Daniel Winchester (Purdue University)- "Talking Your Self Into It: On the Motivational Significance of Accounts"

What is the relationship between action and social actors’ accounts of action? Following the publication of C. Wright Mills’ “Situated Actions and Vocabularies of Motive” (1940), sociologists interested in this question have tended to agree that, however else we may treat actors’ accounts of their own actions, we should not treat them as trustworthy data on what truly motivates them. This is because laypersons’ explanations are not geared toward faithfully representing subjective states, but are primarily post hoc rationalizations oriented toward justifying one’s behaviors to others.

In this paper, we draw on two rather different cases – socialization into religion and mixed martial arts – to challenge several aspects of this prevailing orthodoxy. Through use of our respective ethnographic projects, we demonstrate that analyzing actors’ accounts is in some cases invaluable for explaining what subjectively motivates them to continue to pursue those lines of action. We argue that with the aid of others in their respective communities, religious and martial arts practitioners literally talked their selves into the action, integrating meaningful aspects of their identities into their religious and fighting practices. While the accounts were initially post hoc justifications and framing, they became internalized into the realm of subjectivity, transforming “mere” fighting or “empty” religious rituals into meaningful projects of self-discovery. In this sense, talk effectively motivated newcomers to continue in and more fully commit to their respective courses of actions, even (and perhaps especially) in the face of feelings of ambivalence, ambiguity, or loss of desire.   


Please contact if you would like a copy of Dan's paper.  If you'd like to meet with Dan separately, contact


The Irene Flecknoe Ross Lecture Series is made possible by a gift from Ray Ross in memory of his wife.