Christian Pentzold

Usually, the alluring notion of “affordances” comes with the idea that technology makes some activities possible while constraining others. Our article departs from this dichotomic view and seeks to appreciate the multiplicity of socio-material prefiguration. Discussing three empirical examples from human-robot communication, we show that the affordances of “smart” technologies are not acted out in a smooth, planned process or through rational action alone. Rather, affordances are collective achievements that emerge within the interplay of humans and machines. This challenges the separation into active use and passive usability. It also demands us that we think through what types of agency are associated with these kinds of agents and what we take to define agency at all. Agency rests, we argue, on the capability to engage in intelligible encounters; it builds on purposive activities even though they might only realize a limited repertoire of tasks. The full article can be read here