RE: affordances and knowing as situated in activity RE: [xmca]effectivity?

From: Cunningham, Donald James (
Date: Tue Jan 24 2006 - 14:49:37 PST

Well, Tony, perhaps you could direct people to your paper again! You
know that I am obviously thinking of this in terms of semiosis,
particularly the spread of semiosis (sign, object interpretant all
dynamically playing multiple roles in meaning making). And that meaning
making is useful considered as abductive. All activity is situated. It
just depends whose situation you are considering. The concept of
affordance is directive, not generative, at least the way I read Gibson.
Beyond perceptual learning and development, I think that semiotic models
are more powerful.

But if Helena thinks "affordance" is off putting, she should try
"semiosis" some time.

My bushes are getting a more briar-like character to them, and unlike
Brer Rabbit (who was born and raised in a briar patch!), I am tangled in
a mess'o things I have to do before I leave the country at the end of
next week. So I will not be able to participate much on xmca. Sorry to
hit and run..........djc

Don Cunningham
Indiana University

-----Original Message-----
From: []
On Behalf Of Tony Whitson
Sent: Monday, January 23, 2006 10:06 PM
To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
Subject: affordances and knowing as situated in activity RE:

Don, What would you say about the idea of "affordances" as used in
situated cognition by folks like Greeno? This clearly is not meant to be

just an instance of affordances as featured in Gibsonian perception
theory. It does seem to be pretty important for Greeno et al.'s way of
accounting for knowledge as an aspect of situated activity. Do you
disagree with such accounts, or do you think they would be better
articulated in terms of mediation? If the latter, could you say a little

bit more about what you see as the mediating terms and relations?

On Mon, 23 Jan 2006, Cunningham, Donald James wrote:

> Well, Ok, a hammer might afford learning in the right hands! ;-)
> Perhaps you meant "does a hammer afford pounding"? I would prefer to
> it can mediate driving a nail. For me, to _afford_ has a more limited
> domain. Gibson talks about "information pick-up". Affordances are
> invariants available in the ambient optic array and perception of
> affordances results from monitoring those aspects of this array which
> persist and those which change. This conception places the affordance
> the light, not in the needs or motives of the observer. By _analogy_
> can talk about perceiving features and relationships in the
> that persist and change and "picking up" the associated affordances.
> Gibson is talking specifically about "direct" perception, not
> as mediated by prior knowledge and world view. It is as that point
> I think it makes more sense to talk about mediation. What persists and
> what stays the same about a hammer? How come my wife, an innovative
> first grade teacher, relies on her shoe to accomplish most pounding
> tasks in her classroom? Would you say shoes 'afford' pounding? I would
> not.
> But then I spend a lot of time in the bushes......djc
> Don Cunningham
> Indiana University
> -----Original Message-----
> From: []
> On Behalf Of Mike Cole
> Sent: Monday, January 23, 2006 7:22 PM
> To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
> Subject: Re: [xmca] effectivity?
> Don--
> I certainly agree that schools do not afford learning!! But how about
> hammer?
> Do you suggest we restrict the use of the term to phylogenetic
> properties of
> humans
> 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
> this.
> Come back from the Bushes!
> :-)
> mike
> On 1/23/06, Cunningham, Donald James <> wrote:
>> Forgive the intrusion because I have not been following the
>> 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
>> 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
>> not learning occurs is an empirical question, not one of
>> 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
>> 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
>> is usefully conceptualized from the perspective of affordances but
> that
>> later interactions with them are more of a sorting process mediated
>> 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
>> 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
> _______________________________________________
> xmca mailing list

Tony Whitson
UD School of Education

"those who fail to reread
  are obliged to read the same story everywhere"
                   -- Roland Barthes, S/Z (1970)
xmca mailing list

xmca mailing list

This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : Wed Feb 01 2006 - 01:00:11 PST