Eddie Nuttall’s “Possible Summers”

Some wonderful reflections from Eddie Nuttall here, gathered together and beautifully published. I haven’t read the concluding “Frames of Magic” yet. Great that there is so much being written online at the moment by playworkers about their role, their learning, and the qualities of playspaces. Thanks Eddie!

Possible Summers: Stories and Reflections from the Playspace

Welcome to Possible Summers. The links to the four sections of the book are accessed through the links below:


This is the main body of the book.

Links to the other sections are to follow…

The pdf is opened with a password; Caliphate1782.  The password exists simply to direct folk through this site so that I can log how many people have accessed the book.

Please post any comments or questions on this site. I would love to hear from reads and I will respond as quickly as I can when required.

With love,

Eddie Nuttall.

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Presentation on the concept of ‘technologies’ in my research

I gave a 15 minute presentation at my university’s postgraduate research conference today. I was planning to record my voice as I spoke to help get some feedback on my delivery, but in my slight anxiety I completely forgot to record. I tried to say too much within the time, so skipped past a couple of slides. Anyway, I thought I’d embed the presentation file here. It will make only limited sense at best, without me speaking to it. Happy to have any comments on content.

The image on slide 3 should work as a link to a video on vimeo.com. I showed from 0:10 to about 1:25 as part of my presentation, just as a way of introducing an adventure playground as a potential field of study.

Thoughts on the train

Sitting in some peace on the train home from a wonderful day out in Exeter to participate in Tara Woodyer‘s Playability workshop.

This was an ESRC-funded workshop hosted and organised by Tara and colleagues in the Exeter University Geography department.

It’s nearly always a pleasure to go somewhere new, and to meet interesting people and to explore. It is enjoyable to wander round other university campuses and pick up their particular feel and style and to wonder what it is like to be a student there, what their issues and priorities and subcultures and traditions are.

We were made really welcome in the large, light circular Senate Chamber. A great room for a meeting, though not completely customisable if you want to do games in the middle (Play Torbay!)

There were four presentations in the morning, with questions, followed by introductions. In the afternoon we split into two groups for discussions on topics arising from the morning and from the questions outlined on the Playability website.

It was really good to chat afterwards to Seth Giddings, whose own research has drawn on many of the influences I am now looking at. For example, we talked briefly about Latour, Haraway, McLuhan; and I almost mentioned Ihde, Stiegler and Simondon, but didn’t, yet I see from his various websites that his work has also drawn on these thinkers.

It struck me again (I can’t remember when it last struck me, but it has done!) how there is a whole lot of research work in the area of media and technology studies around play and games that doesn’t tend to specifically reference children’s play, but that playworkers and playwork-oriented researchers could benefit from. Not to mention all the other work going on around play and performance and public gaming by people like Hannah Nicklin, Andy Field, Hide’n’Seek etc. Anyway.

Others I was pleased to meet and chat with include: Philip Waters who works creatively with children and play possibilities at the Eden Project ; Tomas Rawlings who is a game designer who clearly thinks a lot about play and playfulness; Sarah-Jane Dowson and Tanny Stobart from Play Torbay; and Ian Cook and John Wylie from Exeter Geography.

Another overlap (forgive me, I can’t resist a nice overlap) was with the Philosophy of Computer Games conference going on at the same time, but in Madrid. I’m doubtful that materiality was mentioned much in Madrid, yet there must have been other areas where the two events could have been talking to each other!

I got such an incredible buzz from meeting up with geographers, and researchers from other disciplines, who are looking at play, and sharing ideas and enthusiasms.

Some interesting areas to me were the tensions, in discussions, between the desire to frame play in terms of learning, or behaviour, or rules, versus the angle on play that Tara’s work provides, which is to accentuate the tactility and proximity and micro-movements of skin, fingers, heads, toys, fur, plastic and other surfaces that constitute the material basis of the affective – and sometimes affectionate – experiences of play.

My questions after leaving the event are:
1. Can we do another one next year? I know, I know: just because this was great, there doesn’t have to be another one… but… I wonder.

2. What about the ‘connections’ bit of ‘material connections’? There was in my opinion a lot of talk about play and toys and players and their various ontological statuses …. but relatively little about the relations between them, the microethnographical details (smartly laid out by Tara in her opening provocation) of connection and contact and clash and cuddle. Perhaps that’s just not where we collectively ‘were’ today (maybe an emphasis for a follow-up?!)

3. Who’s up for submitting an abstract for Tara’s epic Ludic Geographies session at the RGS-IBG this summer? I’d love to talk about something collaborative if anyone from today wants to throw ideas around with me.

The State of Play – 27 January 2012

We have an event at Gloucester in a couple of weeks, for which I have written the following spiel.

Technology, innocence and experience: Walter Benjamin on ‘the child’ and play

This presentation will introduce the work of Walter Benjamin (1892-1940) as a way of exploring concerns about technology, innocence and authenticity in childhood and children’s play. For Benjamin, the figure of ‘the child’ was a recurrent and ambiguous theme in his critical cultural theory and philosophy, representing elements of both a Romantic yearning for lost innocence but also a hope for a materially better future. Against the contemporary moral panics about children’s use of certain toys and technologies, this presentation will explore how technologies of touch, vision, creativity and lived experience can be understood as vital and beneficial aspects of children’s play for a ‘posthuman’ 21st century.

Now just need to write the paper/presentation.

Agency, Don Ihde’s postphenomenology and the emotions of playing

EDIT: Unfortunately I was not able to travel to London to attend the conference and give this presentation, for personal/family reasons. However I will try to write it up and post it on here in the end!


I was notified today that my abstract for a paper for the 2011 (Aug-Sep) RGS-IBG annual conference has been accepted. I’m really pleased. My paper is for a session entitled “Researching and (re)imagining children’s emotions in geography” (CFP), and my title is: Conceptualising the emotions of play as voluntary partial concession of control, a terrible title, which I hope to change.

My take on this is that the intense emotions that playing can produce are made possible by the player’s voluntary and partial relinquishment of agency (or control) to the topology of the play space.

My full 250-word abstract is here:

One of the characteristics of playing, which gives rise to the consuming and transformative emotions of surprise, joy and exhilaration, is the sense of the player being “in control of being out of control” (Gordon & Esbjörn-Hargens, 2007:216). Similarly, Špinka, Newberry & Bekoff (2001:143) propose that “a major ancestral function of play is to rehearse behavioural sequences in which animals lose full control over their locomotion, position, or sensory/spatial input and need to regain these faculties quickly.”

This can be seen in children playing with structurally volatile equipment, testing the limits of their capacities and nerve, creating dizziness, nausea or vertigo, and provoking affective responses in themselves and others. Playing is integral to children’s lives, and provides for the experience and display of a range of emotions within the relative safety of the play space. For geographers, then, places where children are playing are inescapably sites of emotion.

Using Don Ihde’s postphenomenology as a ‘minimally humanist’ framework for exploring the relativities between players and the topology of the play space, I suggest that the notion of the cognitively lucid, in-control agent is displaced in playing by a hybrid conception of agency distributed between player(s) and the environment. Špinka et al. (2001:156) claim that “self-handicapping – in the sense that animals deliberately do not exert full control over their movements … – is omnipresent in play”; similarly, I will argue that the emotions generated through playing can be most usefully and accurately conceptualised as the result of the voluntary partial concession of control to the unpredictable quirks and hidden potentials of the environment.

Gordon, G. & Esbjörn-Hargens, S. (2007) Are we having fun yet? An exploration of the transformative power of play, Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 47 (2): 198-222

Ihde, D. (2003) If Phenomenology Is an Albatross, Is Post-phenomenology Possible?, In: Ihde, D. & Selinger, E. eds. Chasing Technoscience: Matrix for Materiality, Bloomington & Indianapolis, Indiana University Press, pp131-44

Špinka, M., Newberry, R. & Bekoff, M. (2001) Mammalian Play: Training for the Unexpected, The Quarterly Review of Biology, 76 (2): pp141-168

Play, playfulness and the notion of technology

An evolving explanatory post about the title and themes of this site.

This site is intended to explore philosophical themes relating to play (and what I might mean by that is a topic in itself) and the idea from Heidegger via others, including Bruno Latour, Graham Harman and Don Ihde, of what technologies are.

I am also fascinated by the non-representational theory approach of Nigel Thrift and others within human geography and anthropology (Tim Ingold, Jon Murdoch) and how this might illuminate how play and space are related.

My hunch is that these two thingies are related. Thrift after all writes on technology, and the influence of Bruno Latour is huge on Thrift and Harman alike.

Another common thread is Alphonso Lingis, whom I have not yet read. Both Harman and Thrift have cited Lingis in their work.

My own tendencies are towards the posthumanist, including cyborg theory, and the eliminativist (I spent the majority of my three years as an undergrad at Sheffield reading Daniel Dennett, and he remains a favourite writer: a writer I find endlessly entertaining, but even more importantly a writer I trust).

I think a huge proportion of what is written about play is very “romantic,” and I acknowledge that play represents, for adults as well as for children, important time/space for the experience of exultation, joy and restoration. I don’t want to knock those things at all (if I’m honest I am usually a hedonist myself) but I do expect that I will be rather sceptical of glowing assumptions about the humanist, liberal and developmentalist virtues and functions of play. It has been good to read the work of Tara Woodyer recently, whose take on play I wholly concur with. So I will blog here about play as children’s activity in the world and how it is mediated by technologies (in the broad discursive sense rather than primarily the electronic sense).