Asko Lehmuskallio, University of Siegen & Tampere

Visual media and activated affordances: A case study on seeing with special requirements

A majority of studies in visual culture focus on how vision is socioculturally constructed, and by doing so neglect the physiological substrate for vision. Images, and our visual surroundings, are often considered from the premise that those dealing with them specifically see with average eyesight and that differences in seeing can be accounted for by cultural and ideological analyses.

By drawing on accounts of seeing by Conrad, a friend and colleague who sees with special requirements, I set out to question this premise and the normalisation of vision it implies. Our visual surroundings are the way they are partially on account of the ability to see implied. As Conrad puts it, ‘‘they are designed for average eyesight.’’ I posit that the concept of activated affordances is useful for taking into account that vision is socially constructed, as suggested in important works in visual studies, and that physiological substrates for vision exhibit variation.

I will focus particularly on how the designed environment becomes an area for Conrad in which visuality is lived out differently in accordance with how this eyesight happens to manifest itself. Conrad’s use of ‘‘social hacks’’ again provides a case in point for discussing how Conrad activates affordances in unforeseen ways, in order to fulfil desires for socially meaningful action that does not reduce him to stereotypical behaviour when being treated as visually impaired.

The argument in textual form is complemented with a short film that features an edited interview focusing on Conrad’s account of seeing with special requirements.

Dr. Asko Lehmuskallio is a researcher at Locating Media at the University of Siegen and the COMET Research Centre in Tampere. He has a background in cultural anthropology (M.A., Philipps-Universität Marburg) and media studies (PhD, University of Tampere), and focuses in his research particularly on the relations between bodies, technologies, and visual culture. He is founding member of the Nordic Network for Digital Visuality and Chair of the ECREA TWG Visual Culture, both venues intended to bring researchers together to discuss, study, and think about the role of visual culture.

The seminar is orgnised by the Media cluster and "Visual Media in Anthropology".