Architectural Values, Political Affordances and Selective Permeability

Open Philosophy 3 (1):462–477 (2020)
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This article connects value-sensitive design to Gibson’s affordance theory: the view that we perceive in terms of the ease or difficulty with which we can negotiate space. Gibson’s ideas offer a nonsubjectivist way of grasping culturally relative values, out of which we develop a concept of political affordances, here understood as openings or closures for social action, often implicit. Political affordances are equally about environments and capacities to act in them. Capacities and hence the severity of affordances vary with age, health, social status and more. This suggests settings are selectively permeable, or what postphenomenologists call multistable. Multistable settings are such that a single physical location shows up differently – as welcoming or hostile – depending on how individuals can act on it. In egregious cases, authoritarian governments redesign politically imbued spaces to psychologically cordon both them and the ideologies they represent. Selective permeability is also orchestrated according to business interests, which is symptomatic of commercial imperatives increasingly dictating what counts as moral and political goods.

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Matthew Crippen
Grand Valley State University


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