Canonical affordances: the psychology of everyday things

Alan Paul Costall, Ann Richards

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review


Psychologists have had very little to say about things. Things are one thing, people are another. There is now, however, a growing recognition of the importance of things within human psychology. But, in cognitive theory, the meanings of things are usually radically subjectivized. ‘Their’ meanings are really ‘our’ meanings that we mentally project upon them. James Gibson’s concept of affordances was an attempt to avoid subject–object dualism by defining the meanings of things-what we can do with them-as properties of the object but defined relative to the agent. Critics have rightly objected that Gibson himself, nevertheless, overly objectified or reified affordances. Yet the affordances of many objects in the human world are objective, or, better, impersonal. The present chapter, however, is concerned with such ‘canonical affordances’-the things that things are for. But, as it argues, this kind of ‘objectivity’ must itself be understood in relation to other objects and events, and other people.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Oxford handbook of the archaeology of the contemporary world
Place of PublicationOxford
PublisherOxford University Press
ISBN (Print)978-0199602001
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2013


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