Context and Intention in the Process of Activity: A new topology of motivation. The problem of unexpected diversions in the course of activity is illustrated by a survey on office-work; addressing the question « Why are we doing things that we ourselves consider to be unimportant, at a time when we have other more important things to do? » This is puzzling for classical psychological theories. Starting from this very ordinary, everyday example of office work, this article addresses the general question of the mechanisms which determine activity. We present a critical analysis of the literature on motivation, with its dominant paradigms (homeostasis, expected utility) and the theory of cognitive attractors. The analysis of their limitations shows the need to take into account several levels in the determination of activity. We consider the classical constraints of the context, the level of the subject himself, but also the organs which constitute the subject and the organisms which the subject belongs to. We postulate that the subject, at every moment, follows several motives at the same time. Our framework is hence larger than that of the theories of decision-making which presuppose a single predefined problem-space. In order to solve this complex problem, we propose a new topology of motivation based on the Spinoza’s notion of conatus, which we operationalize after demonstrating its biological basis in an evolutionary perspective. This topology is presented in two forms: extensional (the successive logical levels of control over environmental resources, corresponding to expectations); and in intensional (considering the subject as a series of nested entities, from his own organs to the super-organisms in which he participates. A new and wider definition of the notion of “subject” makes it possible to apply the notion of conatus to super-organisms such as business corporations. In this new framework, the issue of choosing an activity track becomes a situated arbitration of the attentional, psychical and motor resources of the subject between the various forms of conatus which are vying for satisfaction. We show how the phenomenon of diversion in the course of office-work can be understood as the result of the super-organism (here the corporation) using human basic mechanisms which give priority to the salient features of the situation, in order to facilitate the satisfaction of the super-organism own basic needs, especially administrative
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