Re: [xmca] effectivity?

From: Mike Cole (
Date: Mon Jan 23 2006 - 16:21:40 PST


I certainly agree that schools do not afford learning!! But how about a
Do you suggest we restrict the use of the term to phylogenetic properties of
and their "natural" environments? I get the point about not overusing terms,
but do
you want to say that the term, affordance, should not be used with respect
to artifacts and
artifact mediated human action? If not, what do you want to say about all

Come back from the Bushes!

On 1/23/06, Cunningham, Donald James <> wrote:
> 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
> article
> 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
> actor.
> The term was coined by psychologist James Gibson
> (1977)<>to
> describe the action possibilities posed by objects in the real world.
> There are many objects in our environment. Some we ignore, some we adapt
> to,
> and some we appropriate for our assertive will. It is the objects in
> this
> last category which fall under the the definition of *affordances*.
> Certain
> 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,
> 1995)<>.
> 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,
> 1994)<>.
> Natural affordances emerge into effectivities through use in conscious
> activity. The hand of an infant, though attached, is a separate object.
> The
> infant is amused by it, studies it, tastes it, touches other things with
> it.
> Soon the infant learns to *use* the hand to manipulate other objects. In
> the
> process, the hand gradually transforms its object-ness to subject-ness.
> The
> child becomes less conscious of the hand as she uses it as an extension
> of
> 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.,
> 1994)<>.
> Through use, skill is acquired and the object becomes an extension of
> ourselves (McCluhan,
> 1964)<>.
> These artifacts are transformed from affordances to effectivities.
> Lots to think on here
> mike
> On 1/22/06, bb <> wrote:
> >
> > I'm still working on understanding the affordance-effectivity
> relation,
> > Peg.
> > I understand your hanging texts example the best, as I use something
> > similar
> > for teaching a course in child development -- students bring in
> drawings
> > they
> > have solicited from children of any age up to adolesence and we post
> them
> > on
> > the wall. The more, the better. Patterns emerge from *their* data,
> and
> > we
> > see developmental progressions in the drawings, always with
> variations,
> > 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.
> > _______________________________________________
> > xmca mailing list
> >
> >
> >
> _______________________________________________
> xmca mailing list
> _______________________________________________
> xmca mailing list
xmca mailing list

This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : Wed Feb 01 2006 - 01:00:10 PST