Wednesday, January 5, 2011

a response on affordances

A friend of mine sent me the following comment regarding a previous post and I wanted to share it with you.
Interesting post, thank you! Tracking the origins and paths of a particular term is really important. I felt it necessary to indicate (being in the heart of the SCT camp :) that Lantolf & Thorne do refer to Gibson in their 2006 book--see p. 206, note 1. They also refer to van Lier there. As for the very term,  Lantolf & Thorne only use it to talk about linguistic or language affordances, which can be internalised (but of course, internalisation does not mean taking sth inside, it means the ability to regulate yourself and mediate your interactions with the world through speech). I'm not sure whether Gibson talks about linguistic affordances--for this, I'll have to go read the book :) But I'm now curious about the relationship between the notions of "affordances" and "mediational means."
Thank you Tania for your comment. I must have missed the note you mention. That's exactly why having a conversation is much better than a monologue. I have to say I am not a fan of the term internalization since, to me at least, it only addresses a part of the process excluding things like extended cognition and non-linguistic components of communication such as gestures. Perhaps it is just my ignorance but I haven't come across anything about internalization of  gestures or synchrony. I think internalization is a misleading metaphor since for me it makes seeing the process outside the conduit metaphor quite difficult even though I acknowledge the explanatory power of the concept internalization.  If you know any sources about this I'll be happy to read more on the issue and share those sources here.

As far as I remember, Gibson does not say much about linguistic affordances but only gives language as an example for an affordance at some point in the book. I guess that is understandable since the book is mainly about visual perception not language or learning. Still I prefer affordances compared to internalization and Goodwin's semiotic resources. When I read a couple of articles by Goodwin, even though I really enjoyed what he says and agree with his main claims, there was something bugging me but I could not put my finger on it. Only later I realized what it was. To put it bluntly, Goodwin talks about semiotic resources as if they are fruits to be plucked from trees, as if they are always positive, as if they always allow us to do things with them. I think this is only partially true. To my mind, talking about semiotic "resources" implies this. I agree that they may be positive. However, I think thinking in terms of resources undermines the possibility that, at least sometimes, things or people constrain what we do. In other words, even though things, language and people enable us do things they also constrain what we do or in other words limit the possibilities. We may be another brick on the wall for other people, for other people we can be part of the wall. Same goes for things and language as well. I do not mean to suggest that Goodwin would be against this idea. For example, he points out how one of the players in the hopscotch resists and stops the other player. But aside from this example the word itself undermines the limiting potential of semiotic resources. Perhaps I am being too picky with words. I believe the concept affordance captures this double function of things including language better.  I think affordance allows the idea that semiotic fields available to a person at a specific time and place can serve as an obstacle and that people are quite creative in using affordances and they also use affordances in new ways or create new affordances rather than selecting a combination of resources among what is available to them. In sum, I think the notion affordance captures both the limiting potential of things and the creativity of people by making the unit of analysis not the individuals or the objects but an intersubjectivity that emerges from their situated interaction. Perhaps it's just a personal preference. After reading your comment I got curious about the relationship between affordances and mediational means too. Please let me know if you figure out how they are related. Thanks again for your comments, they made me think.

an older entry on Gibson