Affordances … #BlackLivesMatter … Hmm

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The word “affordances” is tossed around a lot these days.  If we are not careful with how we use it, I fear that it may become a phrase or word of invitation opening up more questions than it offers specificity.  In many ways this has been the case with words such as “engagement” or “literacy.”  While I think invitations to think deeper are important and should be maintained, I also think that some words, such as “affordances” might offer a productive angle into our understandings of making meaning using digital technologies.

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As part of my work  with the NCTE New Literacies CEE subgroup (Commission on English Education), I’ve recently reviewed two articles that I think ask us to re-examine our understandings of the construct “affordances.”  I welcome suggestions for further reading or questions to push us deeper in thinking about this potentially powerful concept.

In the first article, Ranker (2015) calls for a deeper understanding and usage of the construct of “affordances” when conceptualizing and designing literacy experiences that incorporate technologies and multiple media. Analyzing a tool or platform for affordances involves examining its “distinct possibilities and limitations for exploring and representing meaning.” To illustrate, Ranker analyzes the affordances of blogs and digital video, discussing the distinct possibilities of textual linkage and written interaction in blogging as well as montage in digital video.

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The next article and it’s corresponding video (McDonald & Woo, 2015) showcase the people behind the top three Twitter handles in the #Blacklivesmatter movement: Johnetta Elzie (@Nettaaaaaaa), DeRay Mckesson (@deray) and Zelli Imani (@zellieimani). The article talks briefly of the specific affordances of Twitter as social media platform to start a political movements (e.g. Black Lives Matter). The companion video is also powerful for providing visual montage and voice to protestors as they read their tweets.

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Together, these two pieces invite us to revisit our understanding and usage of the concept “affordances.” How might a more disciplined use on the construct “affordances” push us beyond novelty and “show and tell” when discussing digital technologies?

Articles Mentioned Above:

Ranker, J. (2015). The Affordances of Blogs and Digital Video: New Potentials for Exploring Topics and Representing Meaning. Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy, 58(7), 568-578.

McDonald & Woo (August 10, 2015). They Helped Make Twitter Matter in Ferguson Protests. New York Times.


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