Modal Affordance explained (Jewitt, Multimodality and Literacy)

"The concept of modal affordance refers to what it is possible to express and represent easily. How a mode has been used, what it has been repeatedly used to mean and do, and the social conventions that inform its use in context shape its affordance."



The affordance of a mode is material, physical, and environmental:
"For instance, an image in the form of graphic marks on a two-dimensional surface offers different potentials for the expression and representation of meaning than the affordances of speech in the form of sounds. Physical, material, and social affordances affiliated with each mode generate a specific logic and provide different communicational and representational potentials. For instance, the sounds of speech occur in time, and this temporal context and location shape what can subsequently be done with (speech) sounds. This makes the logic of sequence in time unavoidable for speech: One sound has to be uttered after another, one word after another, one syntactic and textual element after another. This sequence therefore constitutes an affordance, producing the possibility and constraint for putting things first or last or somewhere else in a sequence. It can be said, therefore, that the mode of speech is governed by a temporal logic. By contrast, the affordances of (still) images can be understood as being governed by the logic of space and simultaneity."


The affordance of a mode is also social, historical, and contextual: "How a mode has been used, what it has been repeatedly used to mean and do, and the social conventions that inform its use in context shape its affordance."

  • Example: A gesture that takes on meaning among a group from repeated use (example "waving hello") and the specific instance of that use (waving hello to a person's image on a video recording).