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The concept of affordances (in brief)

April 8, 2013

A useful summary of the concept of ‘affordances’ found in Juris, J. S. (2012), Reflections on #Occupy Everywhere: Social media, public space, and emerging logics of aggregation. American Ethnologist, 39: 259–279.

In the interdisciplinary field of science and technology studies, the concept of “affordances” was introduced as a way to navigate the Scylla and Charybdis of technological determinism, on the one hand, which views new modes of social relations as actively caused by particular forms of technology, and technological constructionism, on the other hand, which views technological artifacts as entirely socially shaped, both in terms of their form and meaning (Hutchby 2001:441–442). In contrast, a theory of “affordances” (Gibson 1979) views technologies as artifacts that “may be both shaped by and shaping of the practices humans use in interaction with, around and through them” (Hutchby 2001:444). Ian Hutchby specifically defines affordances as “functional and relational aspects which frame, while not determining, the possibilities for agentic action in relation to an object” (2001:444). For analyses of technological affordances in relation to the Internet and social media, see Wellman et al. 2003 and Boyd 2011.

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