How Artifacts Afford

How Artifacts Afford

The Power and Politics of Everyday Things

Please join us to launch Dr. Jenny L. Davis’ new book, “How Artifacts Afford: The Power and Politics of Everyday Things” (MIT Press 2020):

Book Description:

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.

Davis provides a conceptual update on affordance theory along with a cogent scaffold that shifts the key question in affordance analysis 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.

Jenny L. Davis

Jenny L. Davis is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Sociology at the ANU. She is a social psychologist and technology theorist. Her work addresses human-technology interaction, role-taking, and the ways politics, power, and values integrate into technological systems. Jenny holds an ARC DECRA Fellowship for the study of ethics in Australia's technology start-up sector and is a chief-investigator on the Humanising Machine Intelligence project.

About the Panellists

Benjamin Hemmings

Benjamin Hemmings is a PhD Candidate in the ANU School of Sociology. He is interested in the sociology of health and illness and critical mental health studies. His PhD research examines digital peer support spaces, exploring the ways in which forum-goers' expression of experience is regulated by the spaces they use.

Hedda Rasan-Cooper

Hedda Ransan-Cooper is a Research Fellow at the Battery Storage and Grid Integration Program. Her work broadly spans the social, cultural and political dimensions of renewable energy transitions. She is particularly interested in institutional innovations and how they link to governance processes around technological changes. She is working with colleagues from engineering and computer science to integrate sociological concepts and theories into the broader research program.

Date & time

Thu 12 Nov 2020, 5.30–7pm


The Auditorium, ANU RSSS Building,12 Ellery Crescent, Acton, ACT 2601


Dr Jenny Davis
Benjamin Hemmings
Dr Hedda Ransan-Cooper


School of Sociology


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