Dominic Glover: Affordances and agricultural technology

The world has witnessed increased calls for inclusive growth and development in recent years and agricultural value chains have not been spared of this tidal wave. Although undoubtedly focused on the ways in which the vulnerable participates in both the processes and outcomes of development, it is not self-evident what inclusion means in value chains nor what actions within chains enhances it. However, inclusion which is inevitably a relational concept is influenced by institutional factors underlying relationships in value chains.

In recent work, some colleagues and I have been exploring the concept of affordance as a tool for thinking about technology and technological change, from a perspective that places agency, practices and interaction the centre of attention. In this talk, I will discuss the affordance concept and explore how students of technology can make use of it as a practical tool for research and analysis, particularly in relation to innovation and technological change, using agriculture as a focal topic.

Affordances are familiar to designers of computer/digital ‘user interfaces’, ergonomists and students of ‘digital development’. Key characteristics of affordances include that they are perceptual, interactional and relational.  It follows that the affordances of a given object/environment will be different for different agents, and that they are potentially dynamic for a given agent.

A study of affordances is thus helpful for thinking about the relationships between the designers/makers of technical artefacts on one hand and the agent(s) that perceive(s) their potential uses and applications, on the other. Designed affordances can be interpreted as expressions of a script or programme, which is intended to govern the behaviour of users.

Affordances can therefore be helpful for exploring power relations and struggles over technology.