Published: Affordances and the Anticipatory Control of Action

My partner, an analytical chemist, always laughs at academic work in the humanities  due to the large number of, what she calls, made up words. Something that always makes me smile about affordances, then, is that Ecological Psychologist James Gibson quite freely admits that he invented the term. Quoting from Wayne Christensen and I in a book chapter that’s just been published on affordances and anticipation in sport, Gibson described affordances as:

“what the environment ‘offers the animal, what it provides or furnishes, either for good or ill’ (1979, 127, italics in original). For example, the ground affords walking, stairs afford climbing, a nearby cup affords grasping, a Facebook button affords liking (or, by 2017, other reactions such as surprise, sadness, or love)’ (Christensen and Bicknell 2018, 602).

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This chapter is one of several compelling contributions to the (impressively heavy) Handbook of Embodied Cognition and Sport Psychology. The book is a testament to editor Massimiliano Cappuccio’s work ethic and passion for the topics that fill its 770 pages, cleverly bringing together 26 chapters from thinkers around the world with a shared interest in minds and movement. Most chapters are collaboratively authored, drawing on the complementary expertise of researchers in disciplines such as psychology, philosophy, sociology, exercise and sport science, performance studies, coaching, anthropology, neuroscience, education and cognitive science. You can read more about it here.

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The contribution from Wayne and myself has cemented a joyful, joint writing process and shared interest in using practical case studies to challenge and expand theories of skill from philosophy, psychology, and cognitive science. While affordances is a concept that started with Gibson, it’s since been used widely in a whole number of other academic disciplines, far more than Gibson may have imagined, and certainly not in ways he would have fully endorsed.

Rather than stick with Gibson’s original, strict approach to the concept, we wanted to paint a bigger picture of how the concept has been used and adapted in other fields. We took this chapter as an opportunity to canvas approaches to thinking about affordances in ecological and cognitive psychology, as well as anthropology, theatre and performance studies, and the real life experience of racing mountain bikes in the mud. This encourages science minds to engage with challenges to theoretical claims provided by the humanities, and vice versa.

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The handbook has an impressive contributor list.

If the topics of the book interest you, please seek it out and order it for your libraries if you work at an academic institution. We hope you enjoy the read.

Photos: Kath Bicknell (book) and Gaye Camm (action shot).