Part VII | Affinity Spaces

Part VII | Affinity Spaces

Part VII of Dissertation Research Series

Technological changes are impacting the way people to learn and their purposes for learning, with children now learning frequently in informal settings outside of school (Gee, 2004). Researchers such as Gee (2004) argue that the learning process is more efficient when the learner is becoming part of a culture (like a games culture, or a culture of physicists) than through direct instruction because the learner becomes more involved with the cultural learning, participating in experiences, discussion, and adopting the identity of the learning group (Gee, 2004).

Gee (2005) describes this online environment where people are organized around a common endeavor or interest as an affinity space (Gee, 2004). Affinity spaces require a generator for the content to be about (for example, the game), and one or more portals with which people engage with the content, such as the forums on a website. Portals often also serve as a generator, with individuals creating new information while participating (Gee, 2005). The most prominent affinity spaces are online video game fan sites (Hayes & Duncan, 2012). While most focus is on an affinity space as an online phenomenon, they can also be based on a physical location (such as a classroom), or contain a mixture of both online and offline experiences (Gee, 2004).


Features of an Affinity Space

Gee (2005) defines affinity spaces as having specific features:

  1. Common endeavor, not race, class, gender, or disability, is primary.
  2. Newbies and masters and everyone else share common space.
  3. Some portals are strong generators.
  4. Content organization is transformed by interactional organization.
  5. Both intensive and extensive knowledge are encouraged.
  6. Both individual and distributed knowledge are encouraged.
  7. Dispersed knowledge is encouraged.
  8. Tacit knowledge is encouraged and honored.
  9. There are many different forms and routes to participation.
  10. There are lots of different routes to status.
  11. Leadership is porous and leaders are resources. (Gee, 2004, pp. 76-78)

Affinity spaces are formed around a common interest or goal, with race, class, gender, and disability not being factors in the social organization like they often are in classrooms (Gee, 2004). Many types of knowledge are encouraged, with players often becoming specialized experts on one aspect of the game while also developing extensive broad knowledge about the game in general. Distributed knowledge is encouraged, with users sharing knowledge and also using resources across an affinity space, rather than within a single portal. Tacit knowledge, or knowledge that one has but cannot necessarily explain in words, is also shared as individuals interact with others, helping them learn within the game setting; portals also provide opportunities for users to practice putting this knowledge into words. Affinity spaces also allow many different types of participation that can lead to different types of status and leadership, such as building a reputation for being good at a specific specialized knowledge that can be shared with others (Gee, 2004).

Compared to Classrooms

These characteristics of affinity spaces are often not present in classrooms, or are much more weakly present than they are in online portals (Gee, 2004). Digital natives have access to many different affinity spaces; it is a different, and possibly more powerful, way to learn and have identity as anyone, whether adult or child, can develop skills, become a creator of knowledge, and experience becoming a leader within a broader community (Squire, 2008). Learning in affinity spaces is personal and active. “What these young people see in school may pale by comparison” (Gee, 2005, p. 231).



Gee, J. P. (2004). Situated Language and Learning: A Critique of Traditional Schooling. New York, NY: Routledge.

Gee, J. P. (2005). Semiotic social spaces and affinity spaces. Beyond Communities of Practice, Cambridge, Cambridge UP, 214–232.

Hayes, E. R., & Duncan, S. C. (2012). Expanding the Affinity Space. In Learning in Video Game Affinity Spaces (pp. 1–22). New York, NY: Peter Lang Publishing, Inc.

Squire, K. (2008). Critical education in an interactive age. Mirror Images: Popular Culture and Education, 105–125.



Lindsey Tropf

Lindsey Tropf

Founder & CEO of @immersedgames // School psychology doctoral candidate interested in #edtech, game-based learning, and using data.

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