Research Output

Affordance as context.

  The concept of affordance is relatively easy to define, but has proved to be remarkably difficult to engineer. This paradox has sparked numerous debates as to its true nature. The discussion presented here begins with a review of the use of the term from which emerges evidence for a two-fold classification—simple affordance and complex affordance. Simple affordance corresponds to Gibson's original formulation, while complex affordances embody such things as history and practice. In trying to account for complex affordance, two contrasting, but complementary philosophical treatments are considered. The first of these is Ilyenkov's account of significances which he claims are ‘ideal’ phenomena. Ideal phenomena occupy are objective characteristics of things and are the product of human purposive activity. This makes them objective, but not independent (of any particular mind or perception) hence their similarity to affordances.

The second perspective is Heidegger's phenomenological treatment of ‘familiarity’ and ‘equipment’. As will be seen, Heidegger has argued that familiarity underpins our ability to cope in the world. A world, in turn, which itself comprises the totality of equipment. We cope by making use of equipment. Despite the different philosophical traditions both Ilyenkov and Heidegger have independently concluded that a thing is identified by its use and that use, in turn, is revealed by way of its affordances/significances. Finally, both authors—Heidegger directly and Ilyenkov indirectly—equate context and use, leading to the conclusion that affordance and context are one and the same.


Turner, P. (2005). Affordance as context. Interacting with Computers. 17, 787-800. doi:10.1016/j.intcom.2005.04.003. ISSN 0953-5438



Information systems; Virtual realities; Design concepts; Affordance; Familiarity; Phenomenology; Context;

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