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January 2019    Dennis R. DuBe'     702/3598

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           #3598   Created 04/17/2014   Updated 04/27/2014

note: determination and affordance may be opposite sides of the same coin. If the affordance encourages/requires action, that is a possible case of determination.

http://firstmonday.org/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/2417/2240 Hacking and power: Social and technological determinism in the digital age, by Tim Jordan

a quote from Hutchby, 2001, p. 26 Conversation and technology: From the telephone to the Internet. Cambridge: Polity

"...different technologies pose different affordances, and these affordances constrain the way that they can be read. ...The concept of affordances is associated with the works of Gibson in the psychology of perception. For Gibson, humans, along with animals, insects, birds and fishes, orient to objects in their world (rocks, trees, rivers, etc.) in terms of what he calls their affordances: the possibilities that they offer for action. ...Affordances may differ from species to species and from context to context, However, they cannot be seen as freely variable. While a tree offers an enormous range of affordances for a fast variety of species there are things a river can afford which the tree cannot, and vice versa. [16]

[determinism as a constraint on different possible actions and not a compulsion....]

"...the uses and the 'values' of things are not attached to them by interpretive procedures or internal representations but are a material aspect of the thing as it is encountered in the course of action, We are able to perceive things in terms of their affordances, which in turn are properties of things; yet those properties are not determinate or even finite, since they only emerge in the context of material encounters between actors and objects." p. 27



James J. Gibson analyzes the manner in which “the ‘values’ or ‘meanings’ of things in the environment could be directly perceived” (67). He draws from nature and the environment to postulate his theory of affordances, which is defined as “a specific combination of the properties of its substance and its surfaces taken with reference to an animal” (67). Under this definition, affordances are perceived through an invariant combination of properties, which are “meaningful” to a person—the properties in isolation are not.

His goes on to analyze the affordance of substances by claiming that the air affords breathing, while, after the application of his theory to surfaces and layouts, he claims that the ground affords standing on it. Further, he explains the affordance of detached objects by providing the example of manipulating a rope, among others, which allows knitting, binding, knotting. The most elaborate and rich affordances, according to Gibson, are provided by other people or animals. In this respect, he claims that behavior affords behavior, generating interactivity, such as touching, speaking, striking.

Gibson is influenced by the theory of valences developed by the Gestalt psychologists, for whom the relationship between the above listed things from the environment is subject to the needs of the observer. For Gibson, however, affordance does not have this “demand character” – the relationship between the objects, the substances, the surfaces, the animals and the people in the environment does not depend on the observer’s recognition of its affordance (77). For instance, a postbox affords letter-mailing to humans, whether the person perceives it or not – or as Gibson puts it: “The object offers what it does because it is what it is” (78).

Further, Gibson continues his emphasis on the objectivity of affordance by claiming that things which surround us will exist whether or not we perceive them as existing – an apple will always exist as a unique combination of shape, size, taste and color. However, he is careful to add that the specific affordances are inseparable from our body – affordance is also “uniquely suited to a given animal” (79). This is why observers perceive edibility differently. For instance, the edibility of an apple is perceived in relation to observers’ individual “mouth, teeth, and digestive system” (79).

Finally, for Gibson, affordances in our environment can be mis-perceived by either failing to perceive something which exists or perceiving something which is not present. Visual perception fails because of an absence of stimulation (i.e. in the dark), eyes are closed, there’s an optical disease, “the observer has not yet learned to extract the specifying invariants,” or he fails to look at the fine details (Gibson 81). Affordances can be hidden as well, and the “demand character” may be lying (i.e. there may be a shark under the calm water) (82).


Nye, B. D. & Silverman, B. G. (2012). Affordance. In N M. Seel (Ed.), Encyclopedia of the Sciences of Learning (pp. 179-183) .NewYork, NY: Springer.

1.(n.)An affordance is an action possibility formed by the relationship between an agent and its environment (J. Gibson 1977; J. Gibson 1979). For any combination of agent or environment, any given affordance either exists or does not exist. There is no middle ground. The most inclusive definition of affordances considersonly the physical possibility of an action occurring. An agent does no tneed to be aware of the afforded action, such as the affordance of opening a secret door.This definition is rooted in perceptual psychology and its primary source is The Ecological Approach to Visual Perception by James J. Gibson (1979). 2. (n.) An affordance may refer to a perceived affordance. Perceived affordances are a subset of affordances. A perceived affordance uses a more restrictive definition that requires an agent to be aware of the affordance, either through direct perception or experience. A perceived affordance is a possible action to an agent (Norman 1988). Unlike the traditional definition, a perceived affordance is primarily a relationship between an agent’s cognition and the environment. This definition is commonly used within the human-computer interaction (HCI) community.


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