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.

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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.

“An Enquiry Into Modes of Existence”

Via Ian Bogost on twitter, the latest book from Bruno Latour: http://www.bruno-latour.fr/node/252

Seems like a kind of magnum opus really.

The phrase “modes of existence” reminds me of Simondon’s work on the “mode of existence of the technical object”, so I guess Latour is working with that as an analogy, or something similar.

Anyway this looks like a massive piece of work that will simultaneously summarise what Latour has been working on for the last couple of decades – in the way that “Reassembling the Social” just didn’t! – as well as setting an agenda for “Latourian” enquiry for a good few years to come.

I was very interested, and conflicted, to read his essay in the recent Nordhaus & Schellenberger edited collection Love your Monsters  – I wanted to hate this book because it seemed like the kind of classic sell-out to capitalist values over green values that I have opposed for years, but in the end I felt that Latour, and others, made a pretty good case and that we may need to go down this kind of pragmatist approach in order to survive the Anthropocene. I can’t believe I am writing this, but anyway.

I wonder if the “very original purpose built digital platform” basically means a website, though?

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.

Bauman and Weil on the present and the future

I found a couple of quotes this evening, and was amused by their juxtaposition.

“In what we do we hardly ever start from a clean slate. The site on which we build is always cluttered: the past lingers in the same ‘present’ in which the future tries to take root.” – Zygmunt Bauman
(via The Sociological Imagination on Facebook)

“The future is made of the same stuff as the present” – Simone Weil
quoted on the Transhumanism website

I have transcribed the full Bauman quote here (found on Google Books – Living on Borrowed Time, 2010):

“In what we do (both in personal life and in history) we hardly ever start from a clean slate. The site on which we build is always cluttered: the past lingers in the same ‘present’ in which the future tries (sometimes by design, but mostly stealthily or surreptitiously) to take root. All continuity is stuffed with discontinuities; no discontinuity (‘rupture’, U-turn, ‘new beginning’) is free from residues and relics of the staus quo ante.
Adorno rightly warned that in trying to make our theoretical models consistent, harmonious, eindeutig, ‘pure’ and logically elegant (as we tend to do, and can’t help doing, whenever we theorize), we advertently impute to reality more rationality than it possesses and could possibly acquire. All theoretical models are for that reason utopias (not necessarily in the sense of ‘a good society’ but certainly in that other sense of the word – of ‘nowhere places’. Our theoretical models can breathe and move freely only in the habitat of academic offices, seminar rooms and scholarly symposiums – and rest only when ossified in their printed or video records. On the other hand, the messiness of our reports, offensive and offending as it is to a logic-loving mind, sometimes results from disorderly, sloppy thinking – but more often than not from a sober and faithful reproduction of the messiness of the reported objects.”

Lovely stuff. I was reminded on John Law’s book After Method which of course draws on ANT and anthropology to explore the messiness of research and of the realities that it aims to capture.

I found this quite reassuring, as my thinking is all over the place at the minute, but I hope that the main reason for this is because the stuff I’m trying to get my head round is so complicated!

Anyway, what do I take from the Weil and Bauman quotes? At least a couple of things:

a) any solution to our problems has to start with where we are at now, not some wished-for alternative universe scenario;
b) the whole enchilada is not going to change overnight;
c) no matter what happens ecologically and economically, we will still be trying to solve similar kinds of problems within similar kinds of worlds for the foreseeable future.