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Imagined Affordance: Reconstructing a Keyword for Communication Theory

In this essay, we reconstruct a keyword for communication—affordance. Affordance, adopted from ecological psychology, is now widely used in technology studies, yet the term lacks a clear definition. This is especially problematic for scholars grappling with how to theorize the relationship between technology and sociality for complex socio-technical systems such as machine-learning algorithms, pervasive computing, the Internet of Things, and other such “smart” innovations. Within technology studies, emerging theories of materiality, affect, and mediation all necessitate a richer and more nuanced definition for affordance than the field currently uses. To solve this, we develop the concept of imagined affordance. Imagined affordances emerge between users’ perceptions, attitudes, and expectations; between the materiality and functionality of technologies; and between the intentions and perceptions of designers. We use imagined affordance to evoke the importance of imagination in affordances—expectations for technology that are not fully realized in conscious, rational knowledge. We also use imagined affordance to distinguish our process-oriented, socio-technical definition of affordance from the “imagined” consensus of the field around a flimsier use of the term. We also use it in order to better capture the importance of mediation, materiality, and affect. We suggest that imagined affordance helps to theorize the duality of materiality and communication technology: namely, that people shape their media environments, perceive them, and have agency within them because of imagined affordances.

Peter Nagy and Gina Neff. 2015. “Imagined Affordance: Reconstructing a Keyword for Communication Theory,” Social Media + Society, July-December 2015: 1–9. DOI: 10.1177/2056305115603385

Shifting logics of constructability and design: a study of emerging AEC integrated practices for enegry performance

In this paper, we analyze the practices of translation and synthesis for energy performance in building design. We use grounded theory method to collect and analyze qualitative interview and observation data to examine the difficulties of knowledge sharing and problem solving between builders and architectural and engineering designers. Extending the theory of disciplinary specific “institutional logics,” we show that designers and builders integrate their work in three ways: 1) by addressing gaps in their own knowledge that require information from a knowledge domain different from their own, 2) by synthesizing design and construction issues holistically, and 3) through integrating construction and design work practices. These insights offer evidence of shifts in the institutional logics that structure the construction and design disciplines.

Monson, Christopher, Laura Osburn, Carrie Sturts Dossick, Heather Burpee, and Gina Neff. “Shifting logics of constructability and design: a study of emerging AEC integrated practices for energy performance,” Proceedings of the Canadian Society of Civil Engineering’s 5th Internationals/11th Construction Specialty Conference, Vancouver BC, Canada, June, 10pp.



Themes in Recent Research on AEC Project Collaboration

Recent research in architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) project collaboration links AEC content issues with theoretical foundations in sociology, communication, and organization science. This has important potential for how research might better understand collaborative AEC work. Through a select review of recent papers from major construction and design journals, we mapped eight content themes in AEC Project Collaboration: social foundations, communication practices, organizational studies and management, technology, knowledge and learning, leadership and power, identity, and integration measures. From the interrelationships existing between these themes, we demonstrate how the mapping can outline the thematic content relationships of an existing AEC study as well as be used as a projective tool to generate relationships for new studies. Using this generative capacity of the mapped themes, a number of focus areas are proposed that help direct future research efforts


Monson, Christopher, Carrie Sturts Dossick, and Gina Neff.  “Themes in Recent Research on AEC Project Collaboration,” Proceedings of the Engineering Project Organizations Conference, Edinburgh, June, 14pp.


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