How Artifacts Afford: The Power and Politics of Everyday Things

How Artifacts Afford: The Power and Politics of Everyday Things

by Jenny L. Davis


View All Available Formats & Editions
Members save with free shipping everyday! 
See details


A conceptual update of affordance theory that introduces the mechanisms and conditions framework, providing a vocabulary and critical perspective.

Technological affordances mediate between the features of a technology and the outcomes of engagement with that technology. The concept of affordances, which migrated from psychology to design with Donald Norman's influential 1988 book, The Design of Everyday Things, offers a useful analytical tool in technology studies—but, Jenny Davis argues in How Artifacts Afford, it is in need of a conceptual update. Davis provides just such an update, introducing the mechanisms and conditions framework, which offers both a vocabulary and necessary critical perspective for affordance analyses.

The mechanisms and conditions framework shifts the question from what objects afford to how objects afford, for whom, and under what circumstances. Davis shows that through this framework, analyses can account for the power and politics of technological artifacts. She situates the framework within a critical approach that views technology as materialized action. She explains how request, demand, encourage, discourage, refuse, and allow are mechanisms of affordance, and shows how these mechanisms take shape through variable conditions—perception, dexterity, and cultural and institutional legitimacy.

Putting the framework into action, Davis identifies existing methodological approaches that complement it, including critical technocultural discourse analysis (CTDA), app feature analysis, and adversarial design. In today's rapidly changing sociotechnical landscape, the stakes of affordance analyses are high. Davis's mechanisms and conditions framework offers a timely theoretical reboot, providing tools for the crucial tasks of both analysis and design.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780262044110
Publisher: MIT Press
Publication date: 08/11/2020
Series: Design Thinking, Design Theory
Pages: 208
Sales rank: 594,696
Product dimensions: 5.69(w) x 8.31(h) x 0.68(d)

About the Author

Jenny L. Davis is a sociologist at the Australian National University.

Table of Contents

Series Foreword ix

Acknowledgments xvii

1 Introduction 1

A Trolley Problem of a Particular Sort 1

Affordances 6

Operationalizing Affordances: The Mechanisms and Conditions Framework 11

How Affordances Matter 14

Situating the Text 15

Outline of the Book 21

2 A Brief History of Affordances 25

Origins in Ecological Psychology 27

Affordances Spread 29

Objects, Subjects, and Contexts 34

Sustained Critiques 39

Pathways Forward 41

3 Politics and Power 45

The Medium Is the Message: McLuhan on Technologies as Objects of Study 47

Actor-Network Theory: Overcoming Technological Determinism 50

The Politics of Artifacts 53

Technology as Materialized Action: Technological Efficacy and Human Agency 56

Chapter Summary 60

4 Mechanisms of Affordance 63

Requests and Demands 66

Encourage, Discourage, and Refuse 71

Allow 80

Chapter Summary 83

5 Conditions of Affordance 87

Perception 91

Dexterity 94

Cultural and Institutional Legitimacy 96

Chapter Summary 100

6 Affordances in Practice 105

Critical Technocultural Discourse Analysis 108

The Walkthrough Method and App Feature Analysis 110

Values Reflection 116

Adversarial Design 118

Chapter Summary 121

7 Conclusion 123

Big Question 1 How Do We Identify and Equalize Digital Inequalities? 128

Big Question 2 How Do Social Media Affect Sociality and Psychological Well-being? 129

Big Question 3 How Do Information Economies Affect Political Life? 130

Big Question 4 How Will Driverless Cars Affect Urban Infrastructures? 130

Big Question 5 How Do Medical Technologies Afford Embodied Relations to Health? 131

Moving Forward 132

Notes 135

Bibliography 161

Index 181

Customer Reviews