When Is an Affordance? Outlining Four Stances

Publication Type:

IFIP Paper


Beyond Interpretivism? New Encounters with Technology and Organization, Springer International Publishing, Cham, p.125–139 (2016)




Affordance has emerged as a core concept in information systems (IS) research during the last decade. This relational concept is applied to understand and theorize the relationship between the social and the technical. In the works of the concept originator James Gibson, the relation was mainly portrayed as an ever-existing fact between the natural environment and an animal. In contrast, IS research focuses on relationships in-the-making between artificial things and human beings. In the IS context, we have identified vagueness in temporal and relational ontology: when do affordances exist and between whom or what? In this paper, we delve into the temporal and relational questions that have been omitted in much of the IS literature. What kind of a relationship is an affordance and when does it occur? Based on our hermeneutic understanding, we identify four stances from the existing literature. We classify those stances as canonical affordance, designed affordance, potential affordance, and affordance as completed action. We further argue that each stance has its own assumptions, consequences, and thus strengths and weaknesses.