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Jennifer Davis Design Lab UCSD

Jenny Davis (The Australian National University)

Wednesday, January 20, 2021, at 4:00 P.M.

*All Winter 2021 Design@Large talks will be hosted online. This aligns with UC San Diego policy that all events be hosted virtual during the Winter 2021 quarter.


How Artifacts Afford: A Critical Lens and Operational Model

‘Affordance’ 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, this concept has entered common parlance and resurged within academic discourse and debate. The term refers to how the features of technologies enable and constrain—but do not determine— user engagement and social dynamics.

Davis will discuss her new book on the topic, How Artifacts Afford: The Power and Politics of Everyday Things, which updates affordance theory by shifting the orienting question from what technologies afford to how technologies afford, for whom, and under what circumstances? This reorientation is supported by the transformation of ‘affordance’ from a singular concept to an operational model—the mechanisms and conditions framework.

The mechanisms and conditions framework of affordance specifies how technologies request, demand, encourage, discourage, refuse, and allow social action, varying across subjects and circumstances. This model overlays affordance theory with a critical lens that attends to the politics and power encoded in socio-technical systems. In this talk, Davis will recap the mechanisms and conditions framework, apply it to mundane and momentous objects, and raise questions about the relationship between sociology and design.


Jenny L. Davis is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Sociology at the Australian National University. 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 Australian Research Council Fellowship for the study of ethics in tech, is a Chief-Investigator on the Humanising Machine Intelligence project, and author of How Artifacts Afford: The Power and Politics of Everyday Things (MIT Press 2020).
 Twitter: @Jenny_L_Davis


Design@Large is a speaker series that is hosted by The Design Lab at UCSD, where each quarter we examine a topic in society and the relevance and implications through the lens of human centered design.

Co-hosted by Elizabeth Eikey and Edward Wang and developed in partnership with Carrie Sawyer, Design@Large this quarter (and next) is focused on racism in the design of everyday things across a range of topics, such as artificial intelligence, linguistics, education, and more. Each topic area will help shed light on the historical context of racism and the consequences of “designing” without understanding racism’s deep roots, as well as provide examples of anti-racist and equitable approaches in practice. Too often we want to jump straight to action, but without building our capacity to understand racism (and other “isms”) and critically evaluating its impact, we perpetuate racism and inequality – even with the best intentions. Through an exciting lineup of speakers, this series begins to make connections between history and designing and aims to promote awareness around the lifelong practice of anti-racist work across a variety of interconnected domains.

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