«NETWORKING IN EVERYDAY LIFE by Bernard J. Hogan A thesis submitted in conformity with the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy ...»
Thus, without dwelling on whether structure and agency are mutually constitutive (as Giddens suggests) or merely a duality (as Archer suggests), the pragmatist approach captures the cyclical feedback loop of structure and agency as well as a distinction between creative action and habitual action. This seems very much aligned with the “cultural tool-box” model proposed by Swidler (1986). She argues that culture should be seen as a series of “strategies for action” rather than a set of ultimate goals or underlying values. Swidler does not make explicit use of pragmatism in her article, although I believe this to be an innocent rather than deliberate omission. Moreover, this link is made explicit by Emirbayer and Mische who note the similarities between her position and others in this domain (1998, 981).
Beyond a review of other’s work, Emirbayer and Mische’s contribution to this standard pragmatist framework is to systematize the deliberative process involved in these habitual decisions. This deliberative process has a speciﬁc logic. To articulate this logic they situate the deliberative process in relation to its temporal and relational
context. For them agency is deﬁned as:
[T]he temporally constructed engagement by actors of different structural environments—the temporal-relational contexts of action—which, through the interplay of habit, imagination, and judgment, both reproduces and
by changing historical situations (1998, 970).
This chapter, and this dissertation more broadly, extends their formulation of this deliberative process by considering what it is the individual deliberates on in particular.
For Emirbayer and Mische, one deliberates on the “the temporal-relational contexts for action” that constitute structure. Following Parsons and Shils (1951), they disaggregate these structures into the ‘cultural context’, the ‘social-structural context’ (referring to the pattern of network ties) and the ‘social-psychological context’ (referring to durable psychic structures of attachment and emotional solidarity).
While it is reasonable to consider that individuals iteratively act based on changing contexts (be they cultural, social-structural or social-psychological), what is missing from this deﬁnition, and most considerations of structure and agency, is how individuals perceive this structure in the ﬁrst place. I assert that there is an interpretive ﬁlm that mediates the external conditions and the internal states of mind deliberating on these conditions. That is, these external conditions are not immediately given to the actors but rather are mediated by a series of cues. Most people see buildings and favours, not institutions and networks, at least not explicitly.3 Giddens offers one example of this interpretive ﬁlm as ‘access points’ (1990). An access point like a ﬂight attendant helps individuals mediate the abstract system of the airline industry.
For Giddens, modernity necessarily entails the presence of such access points as they facilitate the interaction between a lay populace and the variety of overly complex institutions. Scholars of culture also acknowledge this distinction between the external conditions and the cues that are given to the individual. This is the foundation of the ﬁeld of semiotics. As a study of sign systems in culture, semiotics takes the distinction between the signiﬁer (the cue) and the signiﬁed (the external reference connoted by
imply speciﬁc human representatives, while semiotics is insufﬁcient as it is not tied to the concept of social action, only cultural awareness. Fortunately, in between these two extremes (only humans / only signs) is the concept of affordances from ecological psychology.4 2.3 Affordances from ecological psychology As a subdiscipline of psychology, ecological psychology focuses on the mutual interaction of animal and environment, rather than on isolated stimulus response patterns.
One of the major thinkers in this ﬁeld is James Gibson.5 His work focuses on how individuals (or animals) can perceive features of the environment in situ. This is in stark contrast to prior psychological theories of visual perception that took the retinal image as start of an analysis. Where prior behaviourist work focused on how certain images could elicit speciﬁc stimuli or project a speciﬁc two-dimensional image for the actor, Gibson asked how actors could intuit the functional signiﬁcance of objects from their properties—as understood by the actor. That is, how could an actor mediate between an objective external environment and subjective internal representations. There are notable parallels here for a sociology of networking. That is, how do individuals intuit the functional signiﬁcance of contexts and media that enable them to maintain a sense of connection with others.
Many of Gibson’s theories are speciﬁc to the visual ﬁeld (such as the ambient array). However, one concept is particularly germane for this analysis—namely the Ecological psychology here refers more to the Gibson school of ecological psychology relating perception and action. This can be contrasted with Barker’s ecological psychology (which has heretofore received more attention from sociologists). As Heft notes, to distinguish between these two schools, scholars now refer to Barker’s school as ecobehavioural science (Heft, 2001).
While Gibson may not be a household name for sociologists, three of his books ranked in the top 50 most important works in cognitive science as ranked by the Center for Cognitive Sciences at the University of Minnesota http://www.cogsci.umn.edu/OLD/calendar/past events/millennium/ﬁnal.html.
CHAPTER 2. A 21
SOCIAL AFFORDANCES THEORY OF SOCIAL NETWORKINGconcept of affordances. For Gibson, An affordance is the perceived functional signiﬁcance of an object, event, or place for an individual. For example, a ﬁrm, obstacle-free ground surface is perceivable as a surface on which one can walk. In contrast, a boggy surface or a surface cluttered with obstacles (e.g., a boulder ﬁeld) is typically perceived as impeding walking (Heft, 2001, 123).
Affordances have a complex if active history within ecological psychology and beyond. They have stimulated numerous experimental articles on the perception of walking surfaces (Gibson, 1986; Warren and Whang, 1987; Norman, 1990) as well as theoretical articles indicating the relevance of the environment for psychological studies (Gaver, 1996; Heft, 2001; Baron, 2007). But perhaps the most signiﬁcant contribution of the concept of affordances is its ability to mediate objective/subjective
distinctions by way of a relational theory of knowledge. As Schmidt states:
Affordances are neither subjective nor objective but deﬁned in a way to make the subjective/objective distinction irrelevant. Speaking more plainly, meanings exist not inside my head (in the form of mental representations) but emerge from my relations to the environmental facts and exist outside my head in this relationship. As a theory of meaning, affordances then are both relational and extensional (as opposed to representational and intensional) (Schmidt, 2007, 138).
For example, Gibson asserts that individuals understand the function of stairs without having climbed them. Not merely because they look like other stairs, but because they look like a set of places to put one’s feet as one moves up an incline (Gibson, 1986).
Stairs have a perceptual “climb-uponness”. Yet this climb-uponness is intersubjective.
If the individual is either too short or too tall, they may not perceive the stairs as such,
By making this link between the external environment and internal states of mind, affordances offer a key and underrecognized link in a theory of structure and agency.
Affordances are the favours and buildings that we recognize rather than the networks and institutions that we infer. They give shape to the distinction between external givens and internal states of mind by focusing on the intersubjective cues from the environment. As mentioned above, this is a supremely relational concept of being-in-theworld. This concept can compliment Emirbayer and Mische’s relational pragmatism, even if they had not noticed it as such. It reorients a discussion of networking toward the perceptual givens of one’s social network.
Such a reorientation towards affordances and away from explicit discussions of structure also helps me focus on the speciﬁc aspects of social networks that are salient in networking. Later in this dissertation, I will display a series of social network diagrams, illustrating the relationships between individuals in a person’s network. I will also discuss this network as an object (such as “how large is a person’s network”).
However, the network as sociogram is not what individuals act upon. It is rarely ever even given to individuals in such a fashion. Rather, individuals are given perceptual cues about their network, such as a list of phone numbers or a photo album. In lieu of the concept of affordances, one might be tempted to reify speciﬁc empirical social networks rather than look to the situated cues actually used by individuals. But if I may
see it, does it make a difference for action?
This is not to deny the relevance or utility of social networks as artifacts, particularly the illustrative sociograms that often stand in for the network. They are useful to those who see them. For academics they serve as data and perceptual cues to a speciﬁc social structure for analysis. It is to suggest that a discussion of networking rather than networks hinges on an understanding of the distinction between the social network as
help the individual notice and interact with this social network.
2.4 From affordances to social affordances Gibson never wrote about social interaction as a structured environment. His work focused primarily on the visual ﬁeld. However, in his wake, numerous scholars have extended his theory to consider social affordances as a speciﬁc class of a more general concept.
Social affordances have an interesting and clearly bifurcated life in academic thought.
To ecological psychologists, social affordances generally refer to the perceptual cues given by other people to which the individual reacts. Thus, if parent gives a frown, this is a social cue that the parent is unhappy and the child should adjust what he says to the parent if he wants her to cheer up. One application of this research has been to consider how individuals with autism-spectrum conditions miss these cues thus leading to awkward and sometimes difﬁcult social situations (Loveland, 1991).
Veering off from the ecological psychologists are designers and theorists in humancomputer interaction, such as Gaver (1996) and Bradner et al. (1999). Their use of social affordances did not weigh as heavily on the idea that affordances need to be perceived so much as they are merely capabilities of the system. Thus, to ‘afford’ social activity referred to ‘making that activity possible’ rather than perceiving some relationship between the environment and the subject. While Bradner et al. admit this is the case, they also acknowledge that their use of the term is provisional, and could beneﬁt from elaboration.
Social affordances have since been picked up by Wellman and colleagues as ‘features’ more than ‘perceptual cues’. Affordances in this tone are referenced in Wellman et al. (2003; 2004; 2006), as well as the work of Boase et al. (2006). As coauthor on
the term. To be fair, affordances were still used in this work under a speciﬁc logic, although not one hinging on the subject-object relationship (directly). Rather, affordances became a way to work between a deterministic logic of technology, namely that technology shapes interaction (Katz and Aakhus, 2002; Marx and Smith, 1994), and a constructivist logic that technology is purely a cultural construct (Latour, 2007).
By suggesting that a technology affords social action, Wellman et al. present a nondeterministic way out of these two polar interpretations of technology use. For example, in a paper titled “The Social Affordances of the Internet for Networked Individualism”, Wellman and a host of colleagues refer to many of the changes of the Internet that they posit might make a difference to how it is used. Yet the only deﬁnition of
affordances therein is:
A set of current and imminent changes creates possibilities—social affordances— for how the Internet can inﬂuence everyday life (2003).6 Here one can see how social affordances stand in for changes that can, but not necessarily, lead to changes in ‘everyday life’.
Interestingly, Wellman’s interpretation of affordances is a fair deduction from the original deﬁnition. By positing affordances as the intersubjective perceptual cues that mediate social structure and individual deliberation, then one can take Wellman’s interpretation as a corollary, since affordances are neither deterministic (they require recognition as cues) nor are they entirely culturally constructed (as they are tethered to external social and technological conditions). This means that affordances, as covered under the original deﬁnition, would still be covered under Wellman’s deﬁnition.
Yet the converse is not true: not everything that creates a possibility for altering interaction is an affordance. Many of these things are objective external conditions. For
width” as an affordance of the Internet. In conformity with his deﬁnition, individuals may take advantage of the greater bandwidth or not. However, this is an objective condition. The affordances that emerge as a consequence might be “streaming video”, “pictures embedded in emails” and so forth.