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Efforts to explain human behavior simply cannot avoid questions of motives. To ask “why” human beings do what they do necessarily involves inquiry into the forces, social factors, energies, drives, or mechanisms that push along human acts. Social science and lay theorists alike must ascertain the motives that lie behind or channel their own and others' past, present, and likely future behaviors. However, social science theories differ in the way they conceptualize motives and understand them to operate in human affairs. The notion of “vocabularies of motives,” most primarily credited to Charles Wright Mills, offers a thoroughly sociological version of the nature and operation of motives by understanding them as arising socially—from a person's social circles—rather than as forces or drives innately a part of ...

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