RE: [xmca] effectivity?

From: Cunningham, Donald James (
Date: Mon Jan 23 2006 - 15:26:42 PST

Forgive the intrusion because I have not been following the discussion
very carefully. But this note caught my attention. I really think we
need to be careful with the term affordance. . The general notion of
affordance has surfaced frequently in a variety of theoretical and
empirical traditions but not always in a manner faithful to the Gibsons'
original formulation. As J. Gibson originally proposed it and E. Gibson
developed it, particularly within the domain of perceptual learning and
development, the concept seems relatively clear. When applied to more
complex cultural phenomena or structures, however, it begins to lose
some of its clarity. For example, to speak of the ground as affording
locomotion or a caregiver's vocalizations as affording a nurturing
interaction seems more appropriate to me than saying that a classroom
affords learning or a cocktail party affords socialization, for example.

For the Gibsons, affordances are available whether or not the organism
perceives them as such or is motivated to engage in a particular
activity; that is, there is some universality, permanence, and
independence to them. To say that cultural constructions like classrooms
afford learning trivializes the concept in my opinion. What does it gain
us to say that? Classrooms are places where learning is _supposed_ to
take place, so to say that it affords learning is redundant-whether or
not learning occurs is an empirical question, not one of universality,
permanence and independence. We could be more specific and say that the
teacher, the textbooks, the tests, the technology are all affordances
for learning and so on but does this reduce the circularity?

I wonder about the utility of the theoretical concept of affordance,
beyond a certain level of complexity, for ordinary social behavior.
Gibson & Pick, in their wonderful book " An Ecological Approach to
Perceptual Learning and Development" write "Knowledge for good or ill,
of people, or things or places is meaningful and is obtained in the
first place from what people, things and events may afford us" (p.178).
My claim is that the initial learning about people, things, and events
is usefully conceptualized from the perspective of affordances but that
later interactions with them are more of a sorting process mediated by
one's worldview or cognitive schemes. Building a worldview is clearly a
process of connecting with the structures that one's physical and
cultural worlds offer, but once built, a worldview is rather impervious
to change. My new learning about people, things, and events is almost
certain to be embedded in, or at least strongly influenced by the
categories I have formed in my previous interactions. At this point,
mediation seems the operable concept, not affordance.

Back to the bushes.......djc

Don Cunningham
Indiana University
-----Original Message-----
From: []
On Behalf Of Mike Cole
Sent: Sunday, January 22, 2006 11:17 PM
To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
Subject: Re: [xmca] effectivity?

bb-- The following text is taken from a Martin Ryder and colleague's
with the url

They write, in part:
We use the term *affordance* to describe a potential for action, the
perceived capacity of an object to enable the assertive will of the
The term was coined by psychologist James Gibson
describe the action possibilities posed by objects in the real world.
There are many objects in our environment. Some we ignore, some we adapt
and some we appropriate for our assertive will. It is the objects in
last category which fall under the the definition of *affordances*.
objects *afford* opportunities for action. An affordance is a value-rich
ecological object that is understood by direct perception. Perception
informs the individual of affordances. Action transforms affordances
into *
effectivities* which extend human capabilities (Allen and Otto,
Our own bodies are affordances. The eyes afford perception, the ears
listening, the hands manipulation, the tongue and vocal cords afford
utterances (Jonassen, Campbell and Davidson,
Natural affordances emerge into effectivities through use in conscious
activity. The hand of an infant, though attached, is a separate object.
infant is amused by it, studies it, tastes it, touches other things with
Soon the infant learns to *use* the hand to manipulate other objects. In
process, the hand gradually transforms its object-ness to subject-ness.
child becomes less conscious of the hand as she uses it as an extension
her own intentioned will. The *affordance* becomes an *effectivity*.
Technology and media are affordances to the extent that they promise
extended human capabilities of seeing, hearing, and uttering. Tools are
affordances to the extent they offer extended human capabilities for
manipulating things in the environment. (Rasmussen, et. al.,
Through use, skill is acquired and the object becomes an extension of
ourselves (McCluhan,
These artifacts are transformed from affordances to effectivities.

Lots to think on here

On 1/22/06, bb <> wrote:
> I'm still working on understanding the affordance-effectivity
> Peg.
> I understand your hanging texts example the best, as I use something
> similar
> for teaching a course in child development -- students bring in
> they
> have solicited from children of any age up to adolesence and we post
> on
> the wall. The more, the better. Patterns emerge from *their* data,
> we
> see developmental progressions in the drawings, always with
> but
> definitely patterned. From this, many students eyes gleam with
> understanding
> and I sense, without testing, that they have groked the development of
> independent performance.
> _______________________________________________
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