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The IS-Notion of Affordances: A Mapping of the Application of Affordance Theory in Information Systems Research

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This paper presents the findings from a systematic literature review of affordance theory research in the information systems field. 71 articles from the top eight information system journals were analysed, from the first publication in 1999 until March 2021. The analysis combines quantitative trends with qualitative analysis of the application of the concept of affordances. Significant findings include that half of the reviewed articles label technology use, features and attributes as affordances, although Gibson proposed that the term should be a non-replaceable term. The main contribution of this paper is a proposal of a tentative IS-flavoured definition of affordances, distancing itself from the possibility of labelling technology use as affordances. I conclude the analysis by stressing the importance of a common understanding of affordances in order to move forward in affordance research in the information systems field.
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Valbø / The IS-Notion of Affordances
Forty-fourth Information Systems Research Seminar in Scandinavia (IRIS2021), Orkanger, Norway. 1
THE IS-NOTION OF AFFORDANCES: A MAPPING OF THE
APPLICATION OF AFFORDANCE THEORY IN INFOR-
MATION SYSTEMS RESEARCH
Research paper
Valbø, Bjørnar, University of Oslo, Oslo, Norway, bjornarv@ifi.uio.no
Abstract
This paper presents the findings from a systematic literature review of affordance theory research in the
information systems field. 71 articles from the top eight information system journals were analysed,
from the first publication in 1999 until March 2021. The analysis combines quantitative trends with
qualitative analysis of the application of the concept of affordances. Significant findings include that
half of the reviewed articles label technology use, features and attributes as affordances, although Gib-
son proposed that the term should be a non-replaceable term. The main contribution of this paper is a
proposal of a tentative IS-flavoured definition of affordances, distancing itself from the possibility of
labelling technology use as affordances. I conclude the analysis by stressing the importance of a com-
mon understanding of affordances in order to move forward in affordance research in the information
systems field.
Keywords: Affordance theory, Literature review, Mapping, Critical realism, Generative mechanisms,
Technology use, Technology features, Technology attributes, Technology properties.
1 Introduction
Affordances is a concept that describes the action possibilities that emerge in the relation between a
subject and an object. It was first coined by perceptual psychologist James J. Gibson (1977, 1979) in
order to describe the relation between an animal and its environment “in a way that no existing term
does” (1979, p. 127). The idea, Gibson states, is that the animal does not perceive an object as the shape
of the object, but rather in terms of what the object can afford to the animal. To Gibson, affordances
exist whether or not they are perceived. For example, a cave can afford shelter to an animal, regardless
of whether the animal notices the cave and perceives its “shelter-ability”. To be of any use for the animal,
however, an affordance (in this case, the “shelter-ability”) must be perceived and actualized.
Later, psychologist Donald A. Norman, who knew Gibson personally (Norman, 1999), wrote his semi-
nal book The Psychology of Everyday Things (POET) (Norman, 1988), where he elaborated on the con-
cept of affordances. Norman’s introduction of the concept was widely embraced by the design commu-
nity (Norman, 1999), thus paving the way for the Information Systems (IS) pickup of the concept. There
was but one problem: When Norman spoke about affordances in POET (1988), he was really thinking
of perceived affordances and not Gibson’s real affordances. This mix-up has led to a giant misinterpre-
tation of the concept in the design community, the Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) field and later
amongst IS researchers. In fact, to date there is seemingly still no consensus on the definition and appli-
cation of affordances in the IS field, and the discussion on whether an affordance exists independently
or if it exists only if it is perceived still goes on. Norman (1999) later admitted his contribution to the
confusion and stated that when he got around to revise POET, he would “make a global change, replac-
ing all instances of the word affordancewith the phrase perceived affordance’” (p. 39).
Another confusion amongst IS researchers is highlighted by Leidner et al. (2018), where they point out
that although scholars agree that an affordance is an action or action potential, and not just merely the
Valbø / The IS-Notion of Affordances
Forty-fourth Information Systems Research Seminar in Scandinavia (IRIS2021), Orkanger, Norway. 2
technology use, features or attributes, many IS scholars refer to technology use, features and attributes
as affordances. Leidner et al. also provide examples on how IS scholars muddle the outcome of an
affordance with the affordance itself. Although Leidner et al. called for a careful and intentional sepa-
ration of “technology use from technology affordance, and technology affordance from outcomes of the
affordance” (p. 120), there are still examples on divergent applications of the concept of affordances.
This journey of the concept of affordances and the inconsistencies in interpretations and applications of
affordances in a digital world triggered my curiosity and led me to perform a systematic literature review
on IS research articles related to Affordance Theory (AT) (from here on referred to as affordance arti-
cles) in order to map out the usage of AT in the IS research field. As researchers build on each other’s
work, a common understanding of concepts, frameworks and theories is of utmost importance. The main
motivation for writing this paper is thus to contribute to a common understanding of the concept of
affordances in the IS community.
Below follows a background section presenting the concept of affordances in greater detail, as well as
placing it within critical realism. Thereafter follows a method section, before I present my findings.
After a discussion section I conclude the article, suggesting means for future AT research in the IS field.
2 Background
Gibson (1977, 1979) first introduced the concept of affordances to the field of evolutionary psychology:
The affordances of the environment are what it offers the animal, what it provides or furnishes,
either for good or ill. The verb to afford is found in the dictionary, but the noun affordance is
not. I have made it up. I mean by it something that refers to both the environment and the animal
in a way that no existing term does. It implies the complementarity of the animal and the envi-
ronment. (1979, p. 127)
Since its inception, the concept has gained increased momentum. A Web of Science search for af-
fordance(s) shows that the number of published affordance articles has increased from 1 in 1981 to
1,034 in 2020, adding to a total of 6,323 until now
1
. The concept of affordances has been adopted in
information systems (IS) research (e.g., Markus & Silver, 2008; Norman, 1988; Zammuto et al., 2007)
and serves as a useful tool to explore the sociotechnical relations between human actors and technology
and the implications the technology has on organisations.
The following sections delve into the history of IS-flavoured of affordances, before presenting literature
which show that affordances are a subset of generative mechanisms.
2.1 The evolution of definitions of affordances
There have been several attempts on giving a technology flavoured definition of affordances. While
psychologist Norman (1988) sees (perceived) affordances as designed into an IT artefact, sociologist
Hutchby (2001) argues that “affordances are functional and relational aspects which frame, while not
determining, the possibilities for agentic action in relation to an object” (Hutchby, 2001, p. 444). As
opposed to Norman, Hutchby’s view implies that affordances might emerge in a sociotechnical relation
although the technology might not have been designed for that particular affordance. This view has
become the more recognized in IS literature and is echoed by several IS researchers, such as Leonardi
(2011), underscoring that affordances should not be considered properties of an object, but that “they
are constituted in relationships between people and the materiality of the things with which they come
in contact” (Leonardi, 2011, p. 153).
This importance of the relationship is also underlined by Markus and Silver (2008) as they define the
concept of functional affordances as “a type of relationship between a technical object and a specified
user (or user group) that identifies what the user may be able to do with the object, given the user’s
1
https://webofknowledge.com. I searched for affordance$ in title and abstract in all databases in the “Web of Science Core
Collection”, from the “beginning of times” until now, i.e., 1900-2021 (exact date for the search: 8 April 2021).
Valbø / The IS-Notion of Affordances
Forty-fourth Information Systems Research Seminar in Scandinavia (IRIS2021), Orkanger, Norway. 3
capabilities and goals”, or, more formally, “the possibilities for goal-oriented action afforded to speci-
fied user groups by technical objects” (Markus & Silver, 2008, p. 622). Though not mentioning specif-
ically the relationship term, the importance of relationship can nevertheless be perceived when
Majchrzak and Markus (2013) define the concept of technology affordance as “an action potential, that
is, to what an individual or organization with a particular purpose can do with a technology or infor-
mation system” (Majchrzak & Markus, 2013, p. 1).
As noted by Volkoff and Strong (2013), the definition of affordances in the IS field has moved towards
including a user group or organisation as the subject, with their coordinated actions and action goals.
This extension is essential to be able to import the idea of affordances to IS research and enables us to
speak not only about individual affordances, but also organisational affordances. Taking this evolution
of the definition of affordances into consideration, Volkoff and Strong propose a definition of af-
fordances as “the potential for behaviors associated with achieving an immediate concrete outcome and
arising from the relation between an object (e.g., an IT artifact) and a goal-oriented actor or actors”
(Volkoff & Strong, 2013, p. 823).
Thus, an affordance is not an outcome determined by the actor alone, nor by the artifact alone, but it
emerges in the relation between the two. Being a potential for action, presenting an action possibility,
“affordances are preconditions for activity” (Van Osch & Mendelson, 2011, p. 2).
2.2 Affordances and critical realism
A key principle in critical realism epistemology is the three-layered stratification. The foundational
layer, the domain of the real, is associated with event-generating mechanisms. The second layer, the
domain of the actual, is where the generated events occur, both observable and non-observable. The
third layer, the domain of the empirical, is a subset of the domain of the actual including the observable
events (Volkoff & Strong, 2013).
Generative mechanisms are a key concept in critical realism. According to Henfridsson and Bygstad
(2013), Bhaskar (1998) defines mechanisms as “causal structures that generate observable events”. This
definition helps to understand the notion of generative mechanisms as mechanisms that cause certain
observable outcomes. Generative mechanisms themselves are thus not directly observable artefacts; they
“are only accessible indirectly by developing theory in relation to those mechanisms” (Blom & Morén,
2011). It is further important to emphasise that generative mechanisms actually exist whether or not they
are perceived, and Blom and Morén suggest that they should “be regarded as potential or tendential
(p. 63), underscoring that this implies that they will not always be realized in empirical and observable
events.
Generative mechanisms exist in the domain of the real, the generated outcomes of the mechanisms exist
in the domain of the actual, while the observable events exist in the domain of the empirical.
2.2.1 Affordances as generative mechanisms
There are several similarities between affordances and generative mechanisms. For instance, neither of
them can be directly observed, and they can both be seen as a potential for an event to occur. Also, both
affordances and generative mechanisms do exist, whether or not they are being exercised (Volkoff &
Strong, 2013). This implicates that affordances also exist in the real domain, just as do generative mech-
anisms. But while the affordances need the intervention of an actor (or actors) to be actualized, “gener-
ative mechanisms may arise from structures alone without the intervention of an actor” (p. 823).
Thus, Volkoff and Strong argue, affordances can be seen as a subset of generative mechanisms. This
view is also echoed in more recent IS literature; both Bygstad et al. (2016) and Leidner et al. (2018) use
affordances to abstract the generative mechanisms causing the observed events of their case studies to
occur.
Valbø / The IS-Notion of Affordances
Forty-fourth Information Systems Research Seminar in Scandinavia (IRIS2021), Orkanger, Norway. 4
2.2.2 Identifying generative mechanisms through affordances
Strong et al. (2014) argue that the actualisation of basic affordances can lead to the emergence of more-
advanced affordances, later termed higher-level mechanisms by Bygstad et al. (2016). Thapa and Sein
(2018) also confirm through their findings that actualisation of affordances may lead to the emergence
of other affordances. Bygstad et al. describe a stepwise framework on how to identify generative mech-
anisms through affordances, where one of the steps is about abstracting affordances into higher-level
mechanisms” (e.g., the searching, booking and registering affordances were abstracted into the adoption
mechanism) (p. 92). Leidner et al. refer to these lower and higher-level affordances as first- and second-
order affordances (p. 9). As opposed to Bygstad et al., who place the generative mechanisms at second
“level”, Leidner et al. argue that first-order affordances make second-order affordances possible and
claim that the interaction of these affordances form generative mechanisms. Nevertheless, both Bygstad
et al. and Leidner et al. concur on the idea of abstracting generative mechanisms from affordances, and
in both their cases the generative mechanisms help explain the outcome of the actualized affordances.
3 Methodology
The aim of this study is to map out the usage of Affordance Theory (AT) in the Information Systems
(IS) research field, following Okoli’s (2015) “eight-step guide to conducting a systematic literature re-
view” (pp. 43-44). As there is a large number of IS outlets, the IS journals in the “Basket of 8” (from
here on I use the term Basket of 8 to refer to those journals) were chosen as the outlets for this systematic
literature review as the journals in this “basket” comprise the top journals in the IS field. Articles pub-
lished in these journals are presumed to have highest influence on the application of AT in the IS field.
I used Web of Science to find papers published in the Basket of 8 that mention affordance or affordances
in the title and/or the abstract. If AT is important in the paper, it is presumably mentioned in the title
and/or in the abstract. The following search term was used in an “advanced search”:
(TI=affordance$ OR AB=affordance$) AND (SO=(EUROPEAN JOURNAL OF INFORMATION
SYSTEMS) OR SO=(INFORMATION SYSTEMS JOURNAL) OR SO=(INFORMATION
SYSTEMS RESEARCH) OR SO=(JOURNAL OF INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY) OR
SO=(JOURNAL OF MANAGEMENT INFORMATION SYSTEMS) OR SO=(JOURNAL OF
STRATEGIC INFORMATION SYSTEMS) OR SO=(JOURNAL OF THE ASSOCIATION FOR
INFORMATION SYSTEMS) OR SO=(MIS QUARTERLY))
The special character “$” in the search term represents zero or one character, hence “affordance$” will
match both “affordance” and “affordances”. The search yielded 71 results. Web of Science categorized
67 of them as article, 2 of them as “editorial material”, and the final 2 as “review”. The papers and
their Web of Science categorization are listed in Table A1 in the Appendix.
The time frame for the search had no limits and included all papers ever published in the selected jour-
nals, effectively resulting in papers published from 1999-2021. The two “editorial material” papers and
the 5 articles published in 2021 were omitted from the trend analysis, as they were considered irrelevant
for the trend statistics
2
. They were however included in the literature review and the corresponding
coding process.
I performed an iterative coding process in order to map out the application of AT (e.g., whether af-
fordances were used to describe technology use, features and properties, the outcome of such or some-
thing else) and new concepts introduced to AT. The articles were also categorized in emerging catego-
ries during the iterative coding process (see Table A1).
2
As the editorials just reflect on the content in current journal issue, I deemed them irrelevant for the trend analysis. The 2021
articles were omitted as at the time of writing this article we are just 3 months into the year 2021 and thus the numbers of AT
articles in 2021 will not be comparable to the other years.
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Forty-fourth Information Systems Research Seminar in Scandinavia (IRIS2021), Orkanger, Norway. 5
4 Findings
In this section I first point at some quantitative trends which emerged from the analysis. Second, I high-
light some divergent application of AT. Then, at the end of this section, I give a brief overview of
extensions and new concepts introduced to AT as an attempt to make it better suitable for IS research.
4.1 Quantitative trends
The findings show that there has been a significant increase in the number of affordance articles since
the first appearance in a Basket of 8 journal back in 1999. From 1 article per year in the Basket of 8
during the four first years of appearance (1999, 2005, 2008 and 2009), the number of published af-
fordance articles has increased tenfold to 10 articles per year in 2019 and 2020. Figure 1 below illustrates
this increasing trend of published affordance articles, both in terms of absolute numbers and as a pro-
portion of the total number of published articles in the Basket of 8:
Figure 1. The amount of affordance articles published in the Basket of 8 until 2020. The omitted
years (<1999; 2000-2004; 2006-2007) did not have any published affordance articles.
4.1.1 Citations
The 71 articles that were reviewed had publication years spanning from 1999 to 2021. In the Basket of
8 the two first affordance articles were published in 1999 and 2005, and from 2008 onwards there were
consecutive yearly publications in the Basket of 8. The 2008 article which kicked off the yearly consec-
utive publication trend was Markus and Silver (2008). To date, this is the second most cited affordance
article amongst the Basket of 8 affordance articles, only exceeded by Leonardi’s (2011) seminal paper.
Table 1 below gives an overview of the articles with the most citation links within the review set, and
Figure 2 provides a visualization of the number of citation links between the articles within the review
set. The number of citation links is the sum of other cited articles in the review set and the number of
citations by other articles in the citation set.
0.0%
0.5%
1.0%
1.5%
2.0%
2.5%
3.0%
3.5%
0
2
4
6
8
10
12
1999 2005 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 2020
# affordance articles 1999-2020
% affordance articles 1999-2020
Valbø / The IS-Notion of Affordances
Forty-fourth Information Systems Research Seminar in Scandinavia (IRIS2021), Orkanger, Norway. 6
Article
Citation links
Cited by
Markus and Silver (2008)
40
Leonardi (2011)
38
Volkoff and Strong (2013)
28
Strong et al. (2014)
27
Leonardi (2013)
18
Seidel et al. (2013)
17
Sæbø et al. (2020)
16
Bygstad et al. (2016)
15
Table 1. Articles with 15 or more citation links within the review set. The last column shows
how many other articles in the review set have cited the article.
Figure 2. The citation links between the articles in the review set. The greater size of the frame,
the greater number of citation links. The colours indicate the publication year. Image
generated with the VOSviewer software, version 1.6.16.
Of the eight journals in the Basket of 8, MIS Quarterly is the journal that has published the largest
number of highly cited affordance articles. 6 out of their 11 affordance articles from 2011-2019 has a
yearly citation rate of 10 or more. MIS Quarterly is also the journal with most articles with more than
100 citations in total. See Table 2 below for an overview of the Basket of 8 affordance articles’ citation
rates.
4.1.2 Article methods and foci
As part of the analysis the articles were coded and categorized in order to map out any methodological
trends and content-based foci. The findings revealed that the great majority of the articles were case
studies (30 articles), followed by textual analysis (10) and surveys (8). For a complete overview of the
coding on each article, refer to Table A1 in the Appendix.
As AT was initially developed for animals and their relation with the environment, AT has been adapted
to suit IS research, which is heavily focused on organizational contexts. The articles were therefore also
categorized in terms of focus. The findings reveal that until 2018 there has been a relatively clear organ-
izational focus, while the majority of the articles since 2019 have shifted the focus towards individuals.
Valbø / The IS-Notion of Affordances
Forty-fourth Information Systems Research Seminar in Scandinavia (IRIS2021), Orkanger, Norway. 7
Journal
Papers
Highly cited pa-
pers (>= 10/year)
Highly cited papers
(> 100 in total)
European Journal of Information Systems
11
1
-
MIS Quarterly
11
6
5
Journal of the Association for Information Systems
11
2
2
Information Systems Journal
11
-
-
Journal of Management Information Systems
7
1
1
Journal of Strategic Information Systems
6
2
-
Information Systems Research
4
1
-
Journal of Information Technology
3
1
-
TOTAL
64
14
8
Table 2. Basket of 8 affordance articles (1999 - March 2021) and their citation rates.
4.2 Divergent applications
Through a literature review Leidner et al. (2018) point out that scholars agree that an affordance is an
action or action potential, and not just merely the technology use, features or attributes. To explain the
difference, Leidner et al. give an example of commuting to work by train. Riding the train is the use of
the technology, while “working, sleeping, meditating, or conversing are affordances made possible
by the train ride” (p. 4). Despite the apparent common understanding of affordances and the conceptual
difference from technology use, many IS scholars refer to both technology use, features and attributes
as affordances. Of the 71 articles in the review set, 53 articles described one or more affordances. The
coding process revealed that half of these articles demonstrate an understanding of affordances as tech-
nology use, features or attributes. On the other hand, less than half of the articles demonstrate a fair
understanding of the concept of affordances. Further, Table 3 below shows examples of identified af-
fordances in these 53 articles. The table includes examples from some of the most cited articles in the
review set, as well as examples from more recent publications which are published after Leidner et al.
did a similar exercise.
Leidner et al. (2018) also give some examples on how the outcome of an affordance is muddled with
the affordance itself. These findings are presented in Table 4 below along with additional examples from
articles in the review set.
4.3 Affordance Theory extensions
To adapt AT to IS research, several IS scholars have contributed with new theoretical concepts and
extensions. In the reviewed articles AT was applied in various contexts, hence many affordance catego-
ries were introduced, such as affordances-for-practice (Zheng & Yu, 2016), blockchain affordances
(Rossi et al., 2019), connective affordances (Vaast et al., 2017), convivial affordances (Mckenna, 2020),
crowdsourcing work environment affordances (Deng & Joshi, 2016), digital affordances (Thapa & Sein,
2018), dispositional affordances (Seidel et al., 2018), handling, effecter, instrumental and supplemental
affordances (Benbunan-Fich, 2019), harmonious IT affordances (Chatterjee et al., 2020, 2021), higher-
, medium- and lower-level affordances (Bygstad et al., 2016; Cheikh-Ammar, 2018; Volkoff & Strong,
2013), individual, collective and shared affordances (Leonardi, 2013), informational affordances (Porter
& van den Hooff, 2020), infrastructure affordances (Niemimaa & Niemimaa, 2019), interface af-
fordances (Burgoon et al., 1999), IT platform affordances (Arazy et al., 2016), misperceived affordances
(Demetis & Kietzmann, 2021), organisational affordances (Sæbø et al., 2020), social media affordances
(Chan et al., 2019; Van Osch & Steinfield, 2016; Zheng & Yu, 2016), social affordances (Lankton et
al., 2015), tool affordances (Gaskin et al., 2014) and wiki affordances (Arazy & Gellatly, 2012; Argyris
& Ransbotham, 2016; Majchrzak, Wagner, et al., 2013). I will return to some of these in the Discussion
section below.
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Forty-fourth Information Systems Research Seminar in Scandinavia (IRIS2021), Orkanger, Norway. 8
Identified affordances
Other suitable term
Source
Capturing and archiving digital data about patients *)
Use of technology feature
Strong et al. (2014)
Monitoring organisational operations *)
Use of technology feature
Recording data
Use of technology feature
Volkoff and Strong
(2013)
Communicating with engineering clients
Use of technology feature
Responsiveness
Technology attribute
Lankton et al. (2015)
Animation
Technology attribute
Inputting data
Use of technology feature
Burton-Jones and
Volkoff (2017)
Reporting on operations
Use of technology feature
Content sharing
Use of technology feature
Karahanna et al.
(2018)
Browsing other’s content
Use of technology feature
Possibility to download course material
Use of technology feature
Grgecic et al. (2015)
Possibility to use a forum
Use of technology feature
«Post-Leidner et al. (2018)»
Data recording
Use of technology feature
Abouzahra and
Ghasemaghaei (2021)
Ability to alert seniors to engage in a planned activity
Use of technology feature
Visualize and monitor business processes
Use of technology feature
Chatterjee et al.
(2020)
Provide information to support business processes
Use of technology feature
Information retrieval
Use of technology feature
Chan et al. (2019)
Editability
Technology attribute
Table 3. Examples of identified affordances in some of the most cited articles in the review set.
*) These two findings are from Leidner et al. (2018).
Affordances
Affordance outcomes
Source
Capturing and archiving digital data *)
Digital data about patients are captured
and archived
Strong et al.
(2014)
Standardizing data, processes, and roles *)
Data, processes, or roles are standardized
Reporting on operations
Appropriate report submitted
Burton-Jones and
Volkoff (2017)
Inputting data
Relevant data input
Table 4. IS examples not distinguishing affordances from affordance outcome.
*) These two findings are from Leidner et al. (2018).
4.3.1 New theoretical concepts
A range of theoretical concepts have also been suggested incorporated into AT. A presentation of the
theoretical concepts introduced in the review set is given in Table 5 below.
5 Discussion
5.1 Divergent applications and ambiguous definitions
Markus and Silver (2008) and Leonardi (2011) are the two most cited articles in the review set, and the
affordance articles publication trend in Figure 1 above might indicate that Markus and Silver and
Leonardi indeed can be seen as IS-AT pioneers who inspired the IS community to use AT. The number
of citation links between these two articles and the rest of the articles in the review set (see Figure 2)
supports this hypothesis. Together with Volkoff and Strong (2013) and Strong et al. (2014) they com-
prise the four most cited articles within the review set. Although Strong et al. is one of the most
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influential AT articles in the IS community, Leidner et al. (2018) use examples from that work to illus-
trate that there are inconsistencies in how IS scholars understand affordances and how they apply the
concept in research. Table 3 above also shows that there are similar examples of the same inconsistency
in Volkoff and Strong’s paper.
New theoreti-
cal concepts
Description
Source
Affordance
actualization
lens
“a theory of affordances is incomplete without a corresponding theory of
how those affordances are actualized. Based on our data, we developed the
concepts comprising affordance actualization, which explain how individ-
ual actions connect to organizational outcomes.”
Strong et al.
(2014)
Affordance
dependency
diagrams
“shows the observed temporal sequence in which affordances were actual-
ized” and depicts the dependency between them
Affordance
network
“allows us to describe how larger outcomes are achieved in organizations
through a linked set of more immediate concrete outcomes. For instance, a
decision-making affordance at time 3 may require the achievement of at
least two prior outcomes (right data entered at time 1 and right data ac-
cessed at time 2).
Burton-Jones
and Volkoff
(2017)
Conversion
factors; facili-
tating condi-
tions
enable or restrict individuals' ability to gain new capabilities and make
choices
Hatakka et al.
(2020)
Ensemble of
affordances
Affordances can cluster to form ensembles of affordances. The role of an
ensemble of affordances is to actualize concrete outcome.
Thapa and
Sein (2018)
Facilitating
conditions
Conditions that serve as a prerequisite for an affordance to be actualized.
Trajectory of
affordances
the trajectory along which affordances travel, “specifying the process and
conditions through which affordances are perceived leading to actualisa-
tion of affordances.”
IT spirit
“the incorporeal essence of an IT artifact”. A new conceptualization of De-
Sanctis and Pool’s IT spirit.
Cheikh-Am-
mar (2018)
Needs-af-
fordances-fea-
tures (NAF)
perspective
“The NAF perspective, based on motivation-needs theories …, submits
that people high on a psychological need (e.g., relatedness) will be moti-
vated to use social media applications that have affordances (e.g., relation-
ship formation) that can satisfy that need
Karahanna et
al (2018)
Niches
With reference to Gibson: “a set of affordances for a particular animal.”
In their own case: “a group of end-users in which all members have similar
perceptions of and similar uses for service robots.”
Mettler et al.
(2017)
Symbolic ex-
pressions
the communicative possibilities of a technical object for a specified user
group
Markus and
Silver (2008)
Table 5. Theoretical concepts introduced in the reviewed affordance articles.
5.1.1 Ambiguous definitions
As highlighted in the Background section, the IS-flavoured definition of affordances has gone through
several modifications. However, in terms of distinguishing affordances from technology use, features
and attributes, the great majority of these definitions are quite ambiguous. Table 6 gives an overview of
the affordance definitions that are used by the articles in the review set and highlights the ambiguous
parts of the definitions:
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Forty-fourth Information Systems Research Seminar in Scandinavia (IRIS2021), Orkanger, Norway. 10
Cited affordance definitions in the review set,
sorted by popularity
Source
Ambiguous part
functional affordances are defined as the possibilities for
goal-oriented action afforded to specified user groups by
technical objects
Markus and Silver (2008,
p. 622)
…possibilities for
goal-oriented ac-
tion
the potential for behaviours associated with achieving an
immediate concrete outcome and arising from the rela-
tion between an object (e.g., an IT artefact) and a goal-
oriented actor or actors
Volkoff and Strong (2013,
p. 823)
…the potential for
behaviours
Strong et al. (2014, p. 69)
Functional affordances are a type of relationship between
a technical object and a specified user (or user group)
that identifies what the user may be able to do with the
object, given the user’s capabilities and goals
Markus and Silver (2008,
p. 622)
…what the user
may be able to do
with the object
affordances are relationships between actors and tech-
nical objects) and dispositional (i.e., affordances are a
property of the technical object) nature of affordances
Seidel et al. (2018)
…property of the
technical object…
Cited affordance definitions not from the review set
the possibilities for goal-oriented action recognized by a
specified user group
Carlo et al. (2012, p. 1084)
…goal-oriented ac-
tion…
action possibilities allowed by material properties exist-
ent in information systems
Seidel et al. (2013, p.
1279)
action possibili-
ties allowed by ma-
terial properties…
Technology affordances are action possibilities and op-
portunities that emerge from actors engaging with a focal
technology
Faraj and Azad (2012)
action possibili-
ties
the mutuality of actor intentions and technology capabili-
ties that provide the potential for a particular action
Majchrzak, Faraj, et al.
(2013, p. 39)
potential for a
particular action
a concept to describe the perceived properties of an arti-
fact, primarily the fundamental properties that determine
just how a technology could possibly be used
Norman (1990)
…perceived prop-
erties of an arti-
fact
Not cited in the review set, though frequently cited in other IS literature
the term affordance refers to the perceived and actual
properties of the thing, primarily those fundamental
properties that determine just how the thing could possi-
bly be used.
Norman (1988, p. 9)
…actual properties
of the thing
affordances are functional and relational aspects which
frame, while not determining, the possibilities for agentic
action in relation to an object
Hutchby (2001, p. 444)
…the possibilities
for agentic action…
The concept of technology affordance refers to an action
potential, that is, to what an individual or organization
with a particular purpose can do with a technology or in-
formation system
Majchrzak and Markus
(2013, p. 1)
…what an individ-
ual or organization
can do with a
technology…
Table 6. Ambiguous affordance definitions.
The most cited affordance definition in the review set is Markus and Silver’s (2008, p. 622) more formal
definition of functional affordances, “defined as the possibilities for goal-oriented action afforded to
specified user groups by technical objects”, followed by Volkoff and Strong (2013) and Strong et al.
(2014), who define affordance as “the potential for behaviours associated with achieving an immediate
concrete outcome and arising from the relation between an object (e.g., an IT artefact) and a goal-ori-
ented actor or actors” (Strong et al., 2014, p. 69; Volkoff & Strong, 2013, p. 832).
The main recurring theme in the definitions is that affordances are possibilities or potential for action.
While some claim that affordances arise or emerge from a relationship (Faraj & Azad, 2012; Strong et
al., 2014; Volkoff & Strong, 2013), others state that affordances are relationships (Markus & Silver,
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Forty-fourth Information Systems Research Seminar in Scandinavia (IRIS2021), Orkanger, Norway. 11
2008; Seidel et al., 2018). As a matter of fact, Markus and Silver state that affordances are both 1) action
possibilities and 2) a type of relationships that identifies action possibilities (p. 622).
So how should we understand affordances? Are they relationships, or are they action possibilities arising
from the relationships? Gibson (1979) himself mean by it something that refers to both the environment
and the animal in a way that no existing term does [emphasis added]” (p. 127). If an affordance is a non-
replaceable term and refers to an object and its context “in a way that no existing term does”, can it then
be defined as a relationship? And further, will describing it as action possibilities emerging from a rela-
tionship help?
Leidner et al. (2018) suggest that IS researchers carefully distinguish technology affordance from tech-
nology use. But with the existing definitions, that might be a challenging task. For instance, take a simple
example of inputting data into an electronic healthcare record (EHR) system as an example of technol-
ogy use (borrowed from Burton-Jones and Volkoff (2017)). Now, if the goal of the clinician is to obtain
relevant data in her EHR system, she performs the data input, the data is stored and she has relevant data
input. Taking the definitions into consideration, one can argue that in the relationship between the goal-
oriented clinician with her abilities and the EHR with its features, there is a possibility to perform the
action of inputting data. A non-health worker would not know which data to input, and another computer
system would not allow the clinician to input and store the relevant data. Thus, the action possibility of
inputting relevant data in order to obtain relevant data stored in the EHR system, is undoubtedly existent
in the relationship between the clinician and the EHR. Turning to the two most cited definitions in the
review set, it is thus possible to argue that inputting data is an action possibility “afforded to specified
user groups [the clinician] by technical objects [the EHR system]” (Markus & Silver, 2008) and that
inputting data is a potential behaviour associated with achieving an immediate concrete outcome
[stored data] and arising from the relation between an object (e.g., an IT artefact [the EHR system]) and
a goal-oriented actor or actors [the clinician]” (Strong et al., 2014; Volkoff & Strong, 2013). In light of
this, it is perhaps not so surprising that half of the reviewed articles interpret technology use, features
and attributes as affordance (Table 3).
Although not explicitly stating it, Leidner et al. (2018) indicate that affordances do not arise in the rela-
tionship between the actor and the technology itself, but that they emerge in the relationship between
the actor and the technology use. In their example of commuting to work by riding the train, they state
that “working, sleeping, meditating, or conversing are affordances made possible by the train ride
[emphasis added]” (p. 120). This clarification might help guide IS researchers to be more conscious
when studying technology use, features and attributes, and whether they should label these as af-
fordances or not. This would also imply that the IS-flavoured definition of affordances should be re-
phrased to avoid the ambiguity and divergent use highlighted in this section.
5.2 In search for a common ground
At the core of research lies the desire of understanding and explaining events that occur. Theory helps
us do this, and knowledge is accumulated by building on other’s work. However, to accumulate
knowledge of a concept, such as affordances, it is of utmost importance that there is a common under-
standing of the concept. If some IS scholars label technology use as affordances, some call technology
attributes for affordances, some say that affordances are a type of relationships, while others claim that
affordances are something that emerges from a relationship, and yet others that affordances emerge
through actors’ technology use made possible by the technology attributes how then, can the
knowledge of the concept of affordances be accumulated? How should we “[compare] affordances
across systems and organizations” (Strong et al., 2014, p. 80) without a common understanding of af-
fordances?
Burton-Jones and Volkoff (2017) introduce the affordance network concept to AT, while giving exam-
ples of affordances which arguably are merely technology use (e.g., inputting data). Along the same
vein, Strong et al. (2014) introduce the concepts of affordance actualization lens and affordance depend-
ency diagrams, while presenting affordances that Leidner et al. (2018) state are “direct uses of system
features(p. 119) (e.g., monitoring organisational operations). But can these theoretical concepts be
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Forty-fourth Information Systems Research Seminar in Scandinavia (IRIS2021), Orkanger, Norway. 12
used in studies which refrain from labelling technology use, features and attributes for affordances? And
how about all the other concepts introduced to AT (Table 5) can all of them be applied in all kinds of
studies, regardless of how the concept of affordances is interpreted?
Leidner et al. (2018) suggest that, in order to move forward in affordance research, technology use
should be separated from technology affordances so that we can understand how the use of technology
features provide affordances to individuals and how these affordances produce outcomes(p. 120). As
a response to their suggestion, and rooted in a desire of reaching a common understanding of the concept
of affordances amongst IS researchers, I propose an IS-flavoured affordance definition in the following.
5.2.1 An IS-flavoured affordance definition proposal
Inspired by Faraj and Azad’s (2012) definition, highlighting the active actors “engaging with a focal
technology” (p. 238), as well as by Leidner et al. (2018), I propose a tentative IS-flavoured definition of
affordances as action possibilities that emerge through goal-oriented actors’ use of technology. The actor
can be an individual or a group of actors, such as organizations, while the technology in most cases will
be an IT artefact. Using this definition, it will be more difficult to label “inputting data” from the example
above as an affordance, since it is a direct use of the technology. While Volkoff and Strong (2013) and
Strong et al. (2014) indicate that the outcome is immediate and concrete, Du et al. (2019) point out that
separating concrete from non-concrete outcome can be difficult, and further, that not all outcomes occur
immediately upon affordance actualization (p. 53). Hence, those aspects are left out of the proposed
definition. Figure 3 depicts the proposed definition:
Figure 3. Illustration of the proposed definition of affordances. Affordances arise from the rela-
tionship between an actor and a technology through the actor’s use of the technology.
5.3 Implications for the IS-flavoured AT
5.3.1 Using affordances to derive generative mechanisms
As noted in the Background section above, in the last decade IS scholars have placed affordances within
critical realism as a subset of generative mechanisms (e.g., Bygstad et al., 2016; Leidner et al., 2018;
Volkoff & Strong, 2013), and identifying affordances has proved to be useful in order to derive genera-
tive mechanisms (Bygstad et al., 2016; Leidner et al., 2018). Bygstad et al. (2016) state that, in a critical
realist data analysis, the identification of causal mechanisms is the most challenging step (p. 83) and
thus propose that identifying affordances first, in order to derive mechanisms, eases the task.
Notably, both Bygstad et al. (2016) and Leidner et al. (2018) are cautious when identifying affordances,
as both works refrain from labelling technology use, features and attributes as affordances. Going for-
ward in affordance research, accumulating knowledge of the classification of affordances as generative
mechanisms, a common understanding of the concept is essential. If IS scholars go about identifying
technology use (e.g., inputting data) or technology attributes (e.g., responsiveness) as affordances and
try to derive generative mechanisms from those, it will presumably be a challenging task.
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Forty-fourth Information Systems Research Seminar in Scandinavia (IRIS2021), Orkanger, Norway. 13
5.3.2 The application of new concepts
While the definitions of affordances have been adjusted to suit the IS context, theoretical concepts and
extensions have also been added. This is a necessary means in order to adapt a theory from one field
(evolutionary psychology) to another (IS). Table 5 above shows the new concepts added to AT by the
affordance articles in the review set. The limitations of this article format do not give room for a discus-
sion of these interesting and useful concepts. However, a common consensus on the concept of af-
fordances amongst IS researchers in order to apply the theoretical extensions in our research is funda-
mental if we are to accumulate knowledge and drive the IS-AT research further.
5.3.3 Future research avenues
This literature review might serve as a starting point to delve further into the application of AT in IS
research. For instance, a study could assess whether the added concepts (Table 5) are applicable to all
kinds of studies, regardless of affordance view. The paper could also spark a discussion on whether the
divergent application of AT is purely confusing and disadvantageous or if there are positive aspects
associated with it. A third possibility could be to assess Volkoff and Strong’s (2013) claim about af-
fordances being a subset of generative mechanisms. Does that claim hold for all kinds of affordances?
6 Conclusion
Based on a systematic literature review of 71 articles in the top eight IS journals, this paper has pointed
at the divergent applications of affordance theory (AT) in IS research. Since its introduction to the IS
community in the 1990s, the definition of affordances has been modified several times, and although
there seems to be a consensus on what an affordance is (action possibility), the concept is applied in
various ways. Findings presented in this paper show that about half of the articles reviewed classify
technology use, features and attributes as affordances. As a majority of the definitions define affordances
as action possibilities, I argue that that the divergent application of the concept can be attributed to
ambiguous affordance definitions, as (especially) technology use arguably is an action possibility.
In order to adapt AT to IS, there has been added several useful extensions and theoretical concepts to
AT. However, if we want to move forward in affordance research in the IS community, IS researchers
need to reach a common consensus on the concept of affordances. Only then will it be possible to build
on each other’s work and accumulate knowledge.
This paper contributes to the IS community by proposing a tentative IS-flavoured definition of af-
fordances which aims to look beyond mere technology use in order to identify affordances that emerge
from technology use. I also acknowledge limitations of this paper in two ways. 1) The literature review
could have been done with a larger set of articles to get more nuanced results. 2) Interpretations will
always be limited, and since the coding process is done single-handedly by the author, there is likely
interpretive bias in the findings.
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Forty-fourth Information Systems Research Seminar in Scandinavia (IRIS2021), Orkanger, Norway. 14
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Appendix
Article
Article Category
Citations
per year
Citations
in total
Coded category
EUROPEAN JOURNAL OF INFORMATION SYSTEMS (14 articles):
Abouzahra and Ghasemaghaei
(2021)
Article
0
0
Case study
Benbunan-Fich (2019)
Article
2
4
Archival research
Cheikh-Ammar (2018)
Article
2
7
Literature review
Ciriello et al. (2019)
Article
2
4
Case study
Hacker et al. (2020)
Article
3
3
Case study
Valbø / The IS-Notion of Affordances
Forty-fourth Information Systems Research Seminar in Scandinavia (IRIS2021), Orkanger, Norway. 19
Henningsson et al. (2021)
Article
0
0
Case study
Mettler et al. (2017)
Article
4
16
Case study
Niemimaa and Niemimaa (2019)
Article
1
2
Case study
Pan et al. (2020)
Article
1
1
Action design research
Piccoli (2016)
Article
3
14
Archival research
Porter and van den Hooff (2020)
Article
0
0
Case study
Seidel et al. (2018)
Article
7
22
Design science research
Te’Eni (2016)
Editorial Material
1
7
Irrelevant
Waizenegger et al. (2020)
Article
10
10
Case study
INFORMATION SYSTEMS JOURNAL (11 articles):
Chatterjee et al. (2021)
Article
0
1
Survey
Hanelt et al. (2017)
Article
3
10
Case study
Hatakka et al. (2020)
Article
4
4
Case study
Jung & Lyytinen (2014)
Article
3
21
Case study
Lee et al. (2021)
Article
0
1
Survey
Mckenna (2020)
Article
5
5
Case study
Mettler and Wulf (2019)
Article
9
17
Case study
Sæbø et al. (2020)
Article
5
5
Case study
Thapa and Sein (2018)
Article
6
17
Case study
Tim et al. (2018)
Article
8
24
Case study
Zheng and Yu (2016)
Article
10
48
Case study
INFORMATION SYSTEMS RESEARCH (4 articles):
Alam and Campbell (2017)
Article
3
12
Case study
Arazy et al. (2016)
Article
3
17
Case study
Burton-Jones and Volkoff (2017)
Article
11
45
Case study
Leonardi et al. (2019)
Article
3
6
Case study
JOURNAL OF INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY (3 articles):
Argyris and Ransbotham (2016)
Article
2
8
Case study
Bygstad et al. (2016)
Article
13
64
Case study
Van Osch and Steinfield (2016)
Article
2
12
Case study
JOURNAL OF MANAGEMENT INFORMATION SYSTEMS (7 articles):
Arazy and Gellatly (2012)
Article
5
46
Irrelevant
Burgoon et al. (1999)
Article
5
109
Irrelevant
Chan et al. (2019)
Article
4
8
Survey
Chatterjee et al. (2015)
Article
5
27
Survey
Krancher et al. (2018)
Article
3
8
Case study
Lehrer et al. (2018)
Article
12
36
Case study
Steffen et al. (2019)
Article
3
5
Case study
JOURNAL OF STRATEGIC INFORMATION SYSTEMS (6 articles):
Aversa et al. (2018)
Article
4
13
Case study
Chatterjee et al. (2020)
Article
6
6
Survey
Du et al. (2019)
Article
14
27
Case study
Leidner et al. (2018)
Article
11
32
Case study
Nandhakumar et al. (2005)
Article
3
49
Case study
Valbø / The IS-Notion of Affordances
Forty-fourth Information Systems Research Seminar in Scandinavia (IRIS2021), Orkanger, Norway. 20
Von Krogh and Haefliger (2010)
Article
1
12
Irrelevant
JOURNAL OF THE ASSOCIATION FOR INFORMATION SYSTEMS (13 articles):
Chua and Yeow (2010)
Article
1
16
Case study
Davern et al. (2012)
Article
3
30
Irrelevant
Demetis and Kietzmann (2021)
Article
0
0
Case study
Deng and Joshi (2016)
Article
6
29
Revealed causal mapping
Grgecic et al. (2015)
Article
4
21
Survey
Lang et al. (2015)
Article
2
13
Irrelevant
Lankton et al. (2015)
Article
9
52
Survey
Li et al. (2020)
Article
0
0
Survey
Markus and Silver (2008)
Article
20
259
Literature review
Mittleman (2009)
Article
0
1
Irrelevant
Robey et al. (2013)
Article
5
43
Literature review
Rossi et al. (2019)
Editorial Material
5
10
Irrelevant
Strong et al. (2014)
Article
16
111
Case study
MIS QUARTERLY (13 articles):
Bernardi et al. (2019)
Article
1
2
Case study
Faik et al. (2020)
Review
1
1
Literature review
Gaskin et al. (2014))
Article
6
45
Case study
Jiang and Cameron (2020)
Review
3
3
Literature review
Karahanna et al. (2018)
Article
9
28
Literature review
Leonardi (2011)
Article
53
533
Case study
Leonardi (2013)
Article
15
117
Case study
Leong et al. (2016)
Article
15
73
Irrelevant
Majchrzak, Wagner, et al. (2013)3
Article
13
107
Irrelevant
Nan and Lu (2014)
Article
4
29
Archival research
Seidel et al. (2013)
Article
15
121
Case study
Vaast et al. (2017)
Article
10
39
Case study
Volkoff and Strong (2013)
Article
17
133
Literature review
Table A1. Article list, sorted by journals and authors, showing the Web of Science article cate-
gory, number of citations per year and in total, along with my coding of the articles.
3
Note: This is not the same article as the heavily-cited article Majchrzak, Faraj, et al. (2013). Majchrzak, Faraj, et al. (2013) is
left out of the trend analysis and systematic literature review, as the article was published in the Journal of Computer-Mediated
Communication, which is not in the Basket of 8.
... MoBSE experienced a policy-practice gap, whereby national and international policies called for increasingly granular data, while the education system's capacity to record, interpret and utilize the data for local action remained scarce. This paper draws on and extends an affordance perspective [12], to explore the action possibilities the "EMIS Shift" affords education management in The Gambia. Our main contribution is the introduction of "mid-level IT affordances" to IT affordance research. ...
Chapter
Full-text available
Affordance perspectives have gained traction among information systems (IS) scholars and have seen recent adoption in ICT4D research. Although scholars recognize the need to differentiate between mere technology use and higher-level organizational and societal IT affordances, no clear terminology for the representation of affordance granularity exists. This paper introduces “mid-level IT affordances”, which, we argue, emerge from technology use and serve as prerequisites for the actualization of higher-level affordances. To illustrate, we draw on a case study of education management information systems in The Gambia. International development agendas encourage public sector actors to produce increasingly granular data. Yet, the capacity to utilize the data is not strengthened correspondingly. This introduces a disconnect between policy and practice, whereby investments in technology use affordances fail to translate into IT affordances for monitoring progress towards complex policy goals. A mid-level IT affordance perspective allows for the identification and potential mitigation of such gaps.
Article
Full-text available
While there has been much work on the relationship between information technology (IT) and organizational change, there has been limited research that theorizes the relationship between IT and societal change. This paper draws on institutional theory, in particular institutional logics, to develop a model of IT and societal change, which we argue is critical in an era of large-scale digital transformation. Our approach is based on a view of society as an interinstitutional system, reflecting the multiplicity of logics at the societal level. We conceptualize societal change as shifts in the multiplicity of logics, with a focus on changes in the levels of centrality and compatibility. Our model relates these changes to the materiality of technology through the concept of IT affordances. We propose three mechanisms (sensegiving, translating, and decoupling) through which IT affordances become elements of societal change. We identify three corresponding carriers through which IT affordances gain scale and stability (objects, networks, and platforms). We discuss the implications of our theoretical developments for future research on IT and societal change.
Article
Full-text available
This paper conceptualises the COVID-19 pandemic as a “rare event.” Rare events channel managerial attention to magnified issues and foster resource mobilisation and learning. We draw on a case study of a US consumer lender to develop a model explaining how organisations actualise digital affordances as part of their rare event response and, in doing so, leverage the transformative experience towards establishing a “new normal.” The model and its instantiation contribute conceptual understanding and advice for how IS managers may effectively address rare events and, in particular, the COVID-19 pandemic, including the aftermath of its lockdown and the transition to the new business status quo. The model emphasises the importance of understanding the evolution of digital affordances as possessing teleological paths where affordances are developed in steps corresponding to where an organisation focuses its managerial attention, with indirect consequences of possibilities to attend to other objectives enabled by digital technologies. Overall, the model contributes to theory by explaining the role of rare events in the evolution of affordances, including some that can be transformative and introducing the rare events literature into the IS discipline.
Article
Full-text available
Wildlife management is becoming increasingly critical to improving the sustainability of biodiversity and the welfare of human beings. This paper uses affordance as a lens to explore the design of information systems that can assist in managing wildlife in protected areas. Through an action design research (ADR) study with a forest department, we develop and test design principles for a class of wildlife management analytics system (WMAS). We identify the initial design principles, including elements of the action potential, materiality, and boundary condition, and iteratively refine them based on an instantiation of WMAS through two iterations of design and implementation cycles. Through our work, we contribute to design knowledge by abstracting the artefacts, design principles in particular, and the ADR approach by generalising two new activities and corresponding principles when designing analytical models. Our findings can also be used to address a class of similar problems and systems in practice.
Article
Full-text available
In this study, we investigate the nature of the influence of organizational information technology (IT) on innovation. To examine this relationship, we leverage a fundamental construct: harmonious IT affordance (HITA). HITA is defined as the degree of coalignment between three salient organizational IT affordances, each of which allows an organization to carry out its most fundamental functions using IT-collaboration, maintenance of organizational memory, and management of organizational processes. We theorize that HITA has a quadratic (Ushaped) effect on innovation. Our theory proposes that when IT affordances increasingly co-align (reflected by increasing HITA), the organization enters a synergistic, virtuous phase that encourages innovation. Counterintuitively, the increasing misalignment of IT affordances can also result in organizational innovation via creative dissonance, which enables organizations to look for opportunities in the presence of misalignment and leverage it to create a synergistic virtuous cycle. We conducted two empirical studies-one with high-level IT executives knowledgeable about innovation and one with sales and business development executives (who market innovations) knowledgeable about IT-that corroborate our theory. Crucially, if the IT affordances are unrelated (low coalignment, where HITA is close to zero), then innovation does not take place. We thus surmise that the relation between HITA and innovation is quadratic.
Article
Full-text available
Regulations to contain the spread of COVID-19 have affected corporations, institutions, and individuals to a degree that most people have never seen before. Information systems researchers have initiated a discourse on information technology's role in helping people manage this situation. This study informs and substantiates this discourse based on an analysis of a rich dataset: Starting in March 2020, we collected about 3 million tweets that document people's use of web-conferencing systems (WCS) like Zoom during the COVID-19 crisis. Applying text-mining techniques to Twitter data and drawing on affordance theory, we derive five affordances of and five constraints to the use of WCS during the crisis. Based on our analysis, our argument is that WCS emerged as a social technology that led to a new virtual togetherness by facilitating access to everyday activities and contacts that were "locked away" because of COVID-19-mitigation efforts. We find that WCS facilitated encounters that could not have taken place otherwise and that WCS use led to a unique blending of various aspects of people's lives. Using our analysis, we derive implications and directions for future research to address existing constraints and realise the potentials of this period of forced digitalisation.
Article
Full-text available
COVID-19 has caused unprecedented challenges to our lives. Many governments have forced people to stay at home, leading to a radical shift from on-site to virtual collaboration for many knowledge workers. Existing remote working literature does not provide a thorough explanation of government-enforced working from home situations. Using an affordance lens, this study explores the sudden and enforced issues that COVID-19 has presented, and the technological means knowledge workers use to achieve their team collaboration goals. We interviewed 29 knowledge workers about their experiences of being required to work from home and introduced the term “enforced work from home”. This paper contributes to the affordance theory by providing an understanding of the substitution of affordances for team collaboration during COVID-19. The shifting of affordances results in positive and negative effects on team collaboration as various affordances of technology were perceived and actualised to sustain “business as usual”.
Article
Full-text available
Massively multiplayer online role‐playing game (MMORPG) addiction presents a serious issue worldwide and has attracted increasing attention from academic and other public communities. This article addresses this critical issue and fills research gaps by proposing and testing a research model of MMORPG addiction. Building on the conceptual foundation of the hedonic management model of addiction and the technology affordance perspective, we develop a research model explaining how MMORPG affordances (ie, achievement, social and immersion affordances) are associated with the duality of hedonic effects (ie, perceived positive mood enhancement and perceived negative mood reduction) and the extent of MMORPG addiction. Using structural equation modelling, we empirically test our research model with 406 MMORPG players. The results show that both perceived positive mood enhancement and perceived negative mood reduction positively correlate with the extent of MMORPG addiction. Furthermore, achievement and immersion affordances are positively associated with the duality of hedonic effects, whereas social affordance is not. Our study contributes to the growing body of technology addiction literature by revealing the relationships between the two hedonic effects and the extent of MMORPG addiction, and by offering a contextualised explanation of the role of MMORPG affordances in these relationships. We offer an alternative perspective on the far‐reaching, unintended relationships between technological affordances and addictive technology use. Our study provides game developers and policymakers with insights into preventing MMORPG addiction to create an entertaining, healthy virtual playground.
Article
Healthcare is an area that has benefitted from the developments in wearable device technology. Seniors, who usually suffer from multiple comorbidities, are among the target users of these devices, and research has shown potential health benefits for seniors when they use these devices effectively. However, the adoption rate of wearable devices is low, especially among seniors, preventing the full utilisation of their data in healthcare. In this study, we interviewed forty-four seniors across North America and collected data from their wearable devices to develop a theoretical affordance network-based model to explain seniors’ effective use of wearable devices. Our model indicates that despite the apparent simplicity of wearable devices, they have multiple affordances that help seniors achieve several goals, including activity monitoring, activity planning, and activity improvement. Furthermore, we identified factors that enable seniors to actualise the affordances of wearable devices and achieve their goals. The results of this study suggest a strong relationship between seniors’ mental and physical capabilities and their willingness to use and benefit from wearable devices. We join other researchers in their call for a contextual study on consumer technology use.