Jenny L. DavisDec 20, 2022
How Artifacts Afford
The Power and Politics of Everyday Things
MIT Press 2020
Technologies are intrinsically social. They reflect human values and affect human behavior. The social dynamics of technology materialize through design features that shape how a technology functions and to what effect. The shaping effects of technology are represented in scholarly fields by the concept of “affordances.”
Affordances are the ways design features enable and constrain user engagement and social action. This has been a central construct for designers and technology theorists since foundational statements on the topic from JJ Gibson and Don Norman in the 1970s and 80s. With the rise of digitization and widespread automation, “affordance” has entered common parlance and resurged within academic discourse and debate.
Jenny L. Davis provides a conceptual update on affordance theory along with a cogent scaffold that shifts the orienting question from what technologies afford, to how technologies afford, for whom, and under what circumstances?
“How Artifacts Afford” introduces the mechanisms and conditions framework of affordances in which technologies request, demand, encourage, discourage, refuse, and allow social action, varying across subjects and circumstances. Underlying this mechanisms and conditions framework is a sharp focus on the politics and power encoded in sociotechnical systems.
In this timely theoretical reboot, Davis brings clarity to the affordance concept, situates the concept within a broader history of technology studies, and demonstrates how the mechanisms and conditions framework can serve as a transferrable tool of inquiry, critique, and (re)design.
Here is also a 5-minute bonus video about How Artifacts Afford.
Jenny L. Davis is Associate Professor of Sociology at Australian National University.
Michael O. Johnston, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at William Penn University. He is the author of Community Media Representations of Place and Identity at Tug Fest: Reconstructing the Mississippi River (Lexington, 2022). His general area of study is on media representations of people and place at festivals and celebrations. He is currently working on his next book where he conducted research on an annual canoeing and kayaking event that takes place on the Upper Mississippi River. To learn more about Michael O. Johnston you can go to his website, Google Scholar, Twitter @ProfessorJohnst, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.