Monday, 17 November 2008

Defining affordances

Lucas Graves has an interesting article on blogging, although blogging is really just the example or case study, as the article is really about the concept of 'affordances'.

He cites the work of both Ian Hutchby (2001) and Brian Rappert (2003) whose concept of affordances attempt to construct a middle ground between technological determinism and social constructivism. 

For Hutchby, “[d]ifferent technologies possess different affordances, and these affordances constrain the ways they can possibly be ‘written’ or ‘read’ ” (Hutchby 2001: 447). Rappert takes a similar view that affordances are the perceived properties inherent in an object that suggest - but do not determine- its uses. Rappert views technology as both “configured by and configuring, affected by and affecting” (p. 569) social practices. He argues that “[w]hile objects do exist, the way in which we understand them is always subject to negotiation and interpretation” (p. 571). 

Graves argues that the technology of blogging didn't just come along and change people's practices; rather, blogging technologies were designed to "facilitate an activity that was already beginning to take place, in the same way that the development of the telephone and telephone networks conformed to the emerging practices of telephone culture." (Graves 2007: 243). He writes of the transformation of blogs as simple web pages to the sort of software we recognise now which automatically arranges posts in reverse order. He goes on to argue that blogging, as a distinct genre, emerged at the "intersection of technology and society: Technology and sociocultural practice evolve together, each feeding back into the other" (Graves 2007: 343).

Affordances: Quick definitions

"I will argue that affordances are functional and relational aspects which frame, while not determining, the possibilities for agentic action in relation to an object. In this way, technologies can be understood as artefacts which may be both shaped by and shaping of the practices humans use in interaction with, around and through them. This ‘third way’ between the (constructivist) emphasis on the shaping power of human agency and the (realist) emphasis on the constraining power of technical capacities opens the way for new analyses of how technological artefacts become important elements in the patterns of ordinary human conduct. (Hutchby 2001: 444)

“the affordances of the artifact: the possibilities for action that it offers” (Hutchby 2001: 449)

"the features of a technology that make a certain action possible" (Graves 2007 :332). 


Graves, L. (2007). The Affordances of Blogging: A Case Study in Culture and Technological Effects. Journal of Communication Inquiry, 31(4), 331-346

Hutchby, I. (2001). Technologies, texts and affordances. Sociology: The Journal of the British
Sociological Association, 35(2), 441-456.

Rappert, B. (2003). Technologies, texts and possibilities: A reply to Hutchby. Sociology: The Journal of the British Sociological Association, 37(3), 565-580.

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