The notion of affordance is important for narrative environment design as it emphasises the active nature of perception; the importance of the moving body in perception; the co-constitution of the human and the environmental/ecological; and the interactive nature of perceptual, meaning-making and world-making actions and processes (i.e. the making of lifeworlds as domains of meaningfulness and sustainable life-forms).

To ecological psychologist James Gibson (1979), affordances are opportunities for action that an object provides or affords a perceiver/agent. For example, a chair may ‘afford’, i.e. enable, sitting; or it may permit standing upon it, to reach something else (a double ‘affordance’, so to speak: standing and reaching); or, alternatively, it may (because of its age or delapidation) provide a resource for chopping up to use as firewood.

Such affordances could be understood as ‘objective’, i.e. ‘reflective’ or ‘expressive’ of ‘properties’ that the chair ‘has’ or ‘possesses’, but this would be to adopt a reductive, essentialist approach. Affordances, more properly, are relations between perceivers/actors and objects. Any person may perceive/enact more than one affordance of the same ‘object’, depending on need or circumstance, thereby changing its ‘objecti-ive’ status. Persons from different cultural backgrounds may share perceptions of the same affordances; or they may see different ones.

Furthermore, such environmental or ecological perception is part of an engagement with the ongoing situation(s) in which the perceiver/actor is actively partaking. It is through such situations that the environments or ecologies are partly constituted as environments and ecologies. That is, perception itself is an active scanning of situations and environments, not simply a passive reception of stimuli from environments. Perception, in other words, is multiply motivated and involves, as Merleau-Ponty affirms, the whole body in movement in domains constituted through intercorporeal interaction.


Edgeworth, M. (2016). Grounded objects. Archaeology and speculative realism. Archaeological Dialogues, 23 (01), 93–113. Available from [Accessed 21 June 2016].

Gibson, J.J., 1979: The ecological approach to visual perception. Hillsdale, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum 1986.

edited 22 June, 2016 by Allan Parsons

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