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.

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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).