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:

https://db.tt/gwFTCyLV

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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Tara Woodyer & co. have put together some very interesting papers at the RGS-IBG conference this summer, on “Ludic Geographies”.

Some very interesting stuff here, but in particular I’m interested in Tara’s abstract…. seems she has been doing some work on themes from Walter Benjamin.

Today I finally got round to starting the process of straightening out my material on Benjamin that I presented at the State of Play back in January… it all came out in a bit of a mess then but I hope to get it better structured and written up properly over the summer.

Material Sensibilities

I’m pleased to announce the line up for our sessions on Ludic Geographies for the RGS-IBG Annual Conference in Edinburgh in July. It’s great to see the various ways people responded to our call for papers.

LUDIC GEOGRAPHIES I

  • Playful vitality and ethical generosity: thinking and doing our worlds differently (Tara Woodyer, Portsmouth)
When playing one adopts an openness to the world in the moment, responding to not only the cognitively recognised but also the corporeally sensed. The reciprocal relations emerging within and through embodiment – a sensory being-in-the-world – allow people and things to be set free of cultural co-ordinates. Drawing on the philosophical writings of Benjamin, this paper explores how these embodied relations can awaken a ‘revolutionary consciousness’ – a realisation that our everyday worlds are enacted and can therefore be (re)made differently. This potential lies in the permeation of play by mimetic modes of behaviour, which do…

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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.

Notes on Kendall & Wickham (1999) “Using Foucault’s Methods”

Some notes made on reading Kendall, G. & Wickham, G. (1999) Using Foucault’s Methods, London: SAGE (read back in October, finally blogged!)


Kendall & Wickham aim to show how the work of Foucault can be used as a framework or set of guidelines for approaching research or thought. They situate Foucault’s approach as a single set of precepts that can restrict the researcher from falling into various traps of thinking and interpretation of data.

Although Foucault’s work itself was famously quite varied as to its methodologies and styles, here Kendall & Wickham aim to present a unified picture of his methods which irons out the internal differences.

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The style of the book is interesting in itself, pedagogically, with quite believable pen portraits of a range of (presumably semi-fictitious) students grappling with historical, sociological and political topics and trying to “apply Foucault” to them, and in process falling into a variety of errors (thereby highlighting and exemplifying these for the reader, which allows Kendall & Wickham to use these as leverage to explain how Foucault’s methods provide a somewhat different angle).

To begin with, Kendall & Wickham standardise a few precepts of Foucault’s approach:

  • look for contingencies not causes (avoid teleology);
  • avoid political interpretations
  • don’t limit historicity; there is nothing ahistorical   … or as Kendall & Wickham have it, “don’t let history stop”

We’re living in history and we can apply historical/archaeological techniques to the present.

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One of the key aspects of this book was the distinction drawn between two types of Scepticism, and this distinction is crucial to the main pedagogical point of the book in understanding and using Foucault’s methods. It is crucial for the authors that students apply the right kind of scepticism to their thinking and don’t end up by “using Foucault” to show that we can’t know ‘anything’!

The two types of scepticism described are: Academic and Pyrrhonian. Academic scepticism is of the kind that Descartes attempted to practice in his Meditations: suspend all judgement; “how can we know anything?” Kendall & Wickham point out that we’re used to suspending “first-order judgements” in Western academic work – but only to replace them with the “surer knowledge” derived from second-order knowledge: the world of theory, science and political categorisation.

That’s fine, but Kendall & Wickham suggest that it’s not the whole story (we can’t help but work with knowing things in a direct, perceptual sense, for example, or as a result of personal experience, and not to acknowledge this leads to a kind of rejection or at least mistrust of the empirical nature of science (based on the ‘myth of the given’ and so on) rather than a strengthening of it).

But it’s when it comes to drawing further conclusions from that experience that the second, Pyrrhonian variety of scepticism comes in. This, Kendall & Wickham describe as (indefinitely) “suspending second-order judgements” (p13) such as ‘critique’ or ‘politics’; resisting the assumption that there is ‘hidden meaning’ in a work of history or sociology (p16) that we must identify or divine.

The Pyrrhonian sceptical approach therefore functions almost as a reverse of the scholarly moves so central to many academic disciplines, and opposes the assumption that the aim of scholarship or research is to uncover a previously-hidden order of things.In contrast, a “Pyrrhonian” approach to research accepts things as they appear, not expecting to reveal deeper meanings or layers of reality. This rings bells for me in relation to my previous obsession with Richard Rorty and his pragmatist refusal of the meaningfulness of Meaning as a deeper or more Real structure that language and experience refers to. In contrast to Rorty, who can talk about interpretation (in pragmatist terms, of course), Kendall & Wickham refer to the Foucaultian approach as ‘non-interpretive’ (p26). [Of course this view opens up this approach – and Latour’s – to the criticism of being ‘apolitical’ or ‘lacking critique’ – see the recent paper by Whittle & Spicer (2008) entitled “Is Actor-Network Theory critique?” to which my answer is a simple “No.”]

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A few quotes that I noted down as of interest:

… one of the by-products of the way we handle the Pyrrhonian heritage is an almost unfettered eclecticism.” (p17)

[my thesis proposal so far is nothing if not eclectic, composed of a mash of theoretical perspectives that may or may not cohere. I keep being told that it has to be tighter, more focused, scoped, less messy – and I want to listen to these voices of wisdom and experience and not be a young arrogant hothead. I do listen and I don’t dismiss my elders. But then I think about this quote and this book generally and I think… maybe I will try and have a bit of that!]

Archaeology is a methodological device that owes much to Heidegger, Bachelard and Canguilhem, in that it is anti-humanist and non-Marxist… (p28)

[a link here again to my views on posthumanism… ok, not the same thing as anti-humanism at all; perhaps my view is better described as anti-humanist though? In previous writings I have used a little phrase from Nigel Thrift: “minimal humanism,” which I take to mean acknowledging the “obvious” reality that there are many things about humanity and human culture which are unique and amazing and well worthy of study and investigation… but to make a little metaphysical or ontological fuss about this as possible.]

Later in the book, Kendall & Wickham introduce the work of Bruno Latour (and other “Actor-Network” theorists); Latour is someone I have been reading a lot by, and about, over the last couple of years. The connection between Foucault and Latour had escaped me, though. Kendall & Wickham shamelessly present Latour’s work as an extension of Foucault’s, in epistemological and ontological terms, if not quite in methodological terms. For a book with Foucault in the title, a large proportion of it is spent discussing Latour as Foucault’s heir in some sense. It’s personally quite satisfying to find such a connection between two thinkers whose work I had found separately interesting, but I had not made the connection that Kendall & Wickham make.

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All I have from here in my notes is quotes now, so I will include these and leave it at that!

Kendall & Wickham (p61) write about John Law and his 1994 work “Organising Modernity”:

Law… draws extensively on Foucault’s notion of discourse, which he extends by asking questions that foreground the relational materialism (1994:23) that would mark any successful account of social order. Briefly, Law’s concern is to extend a sociology of knowledge beyond human actors. As he bluntly puts it, “left to their own devices, human actions and words do not spread very far at all… Other materials, such as texts and technologies, surely form a crucial part of any ordering” (1994:24)

Then in p73-, Kendall & Wickham write about Latour’s concept of ‘black boxes’: “accepted, unquestioned processes”, components of the experimental system that ‘just work’ and which participants don’t have to understand or think about. For Latour, effort (research? investigation?) is required to break apart the black boxes, to show how they are heterogeneous rather than unitary. It’s really hard, says Latour, to argue against a black box, because its presence and its function has become commonsense and commonplace (all this is similar in a way to Kuhn’s idea of the paradigm – hmm, Foucault and Latour, now we are mixing in Rorty and Kuhn… interesting times! I love it when two main interests come together!)

On black boxes (p76):

Latour suggests that the best laboratories are the ones with the most black boxes, where the least dissent is possible. And the macro-actors are simply the actors who have a lot of black boxes underneath them.

on the concept of ‘enrolment’ (p76):

Enrolment is necessary, because, if you do not enrol other actors, your work will be limited to yourself, to a single point in space… Latour suggests that enrolment works by the translation of interests; put crudely, you have to convince people to want what you want.

and from p132: theories that inform practice become ‘black-boxed’ -> embedded and unquestioned.

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As for what on earth all of this has to do with my thesis or with play and playwork, well, you can be sure I am stroking my beard about this as you read!

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.