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Affordances revisited: Articulating a Merleau-Pontian view

Abstract

This article takes a renewed look at the concept of “affordance.” It points out that the concept is being used within the CSCL community in ways which signify an underlying disagreement concerning the exact ontological nature and epistemological status of an “affordance.” Such disagreement, it is argued, is a problem for both design and empirical research. Because HCI discussions of the concept have informed CSCL, views presented within this discourse are discussed. A Merleau-Pontian account of affordances is developed, building on his view of the human being as always already being-in-the world in a non-thematized, pre-reflective correspondence of body and world in the concrete activity. A dynamic, agent-centred, cultural-, experience- and skill-relative, but perception-independent, ontology is proposed for affordances. Toward the end of the article, examples are given of how the Merleau-Pontian account of affordances may shift the focus of empirical research and of design processes within CSCL.

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Notes

  1. For the distinction between macro- and micro-scripts cf. Dillenbourg and Tchounikine (2007). Macro-scripts denote “coarse-grained scripts” aimed at creating learning situations in which interactions between learners can take place. Micro-scripts, conversely, refer to “finer-grained scripts” which scaffold the interaction process itself by, for example, prompting specific conversational turns.

  2. The empirical claims presented for illustrative purposes in this paragraph draw on experiences from 7 years of computer-supported distance teaching and learning, on personal communication with the students and teachers involved herein, and on personal communication with representatives of two global companies, in which a large fraction of meetings and training activities are conducted on a synchronous audiovisual platform.

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Acknowledgments

I wish to thank four anonymous reviewers and G. Stahl for helpful comments and reflections which helped me strengthen the article.

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Correspondence to Nina Bonderup Dohn.

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Bonderup Dohn, N. Affordances revisited: Articulating a Merleau-Pontian view. Computer Supported Learning 4, 151–170 (2009). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11412-009-9062-z

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Keywords

  • Affordance
  • Ontology
  • Epistemology
  • Perception
  • Agency
  • Being-in-the-world