Thesis thinking

This site is intended to be my research journal as I work towards an MPhil part-time at the University of Gloucestershire. I hope that I will use it to blog my current thinking and reading and progress.

For the time being, I will just post my initial thesis proposal, but since writing this in January 2012 I have already moved on loads and this needs updating. My next step is an RD1 (a much tighter proposal) for January 2013, so this will be updated by then. But for now, here was where I started…:


I’m trying to draw together (not too close together, but somewhere in the same room) ideas from metaphysics and epistemology; post-structuralist geographies; postphenomenology; ecology/posthumanism/actor-network-theory; and a bit of media ecology theory in there too! Oh, and play theory and playwork. Perhaps a little too eclectic? But then they all seem to contribute to where I want to go with this.

I am keen to look at adventure playgrounds, as Morgan L-S has done, but so much is closing down at the moment across the country that there may soon be little left to research, unless I go to London to do it. However there will always be play, and there will always be children at play, and there will always be places where they like to play. And there will probably always be playgrounds. So, I’ll see. My thoughts below are meant purely as an example of how one might proceed. To be truthful, I have very little concrete idea, yet, of how this research might, logistically, happen.


Ludic technologies: a geo-philosophical investigation into the materials, practices and politics of playwork on adventure playgrounds

research questions

How is children’s play mediated, constituted and made possible by the “unnoticed ground” of compositions of human and non-human entities; theorised as material-natural-cultural, practical-professional, vital-affective and economic-political technologies?

Do the ambiguities of play (Sutton-Smith,1997) arise where ordering technologies breakdown/are broken down, or can technologies support ambiguity directly (Gaver et al., 2003)?


In researching ‘ludic technologies’ as materials and strategies that make possible particular forms of play(fulness), I intend to draw on an eclectic range of disciplinary approaches, from geographies of place, space, mess, and affect (Nicholson, 1971; Bingham & Thrift, 2000; Law, 2004; Thrift, 2008), to philosophies of technology, media and existence (Latour, 1999; Riis, 2008; Harman, 2009; Ihde, 2010; Yablo, 2010), to a post-humanist (in Wolfe’s (2009) sense) anthropology of materials, environment and culture (Verbeek, 2005; Knappett & Malafouris, 2008; Ingold, 2010); as well as research into playwork, children’s play and playground cultures (Leichter-Saxby, 2007; Kozlovsky, 2007; Woodyer, 2009).

The concept of a ‘playground’ (or ‘playsetting’ or ‘playspace’) emphasises the aspects of environment and geography in the processes of children’s play. Of course, all activity is embodied and situated somewhere, yet the significance of place and material environment for children’s play is often taken as read and rarely explored in detail.

Current UK government policies have led to the withdrawal of political support and funding for many playgrounds. For some, the segregation of children’s play into sites away from the flows of society is connected to restrictions on children’s ontology and agency in mainstream discourse.

Children will appropriate time/space for playing, whether or not ‘authorised’ spaces are available (Lester, 2011). Yet playwork theorists and play advocates have made the case that there is great value in the provision of playgrounds as designated spaces for children to play, and also in the work of those who “support the play process” and “creatively disorder” spaces for children (Hughes, 2001; PPSG, 2005;Cloke & Jones, 2005; Lester & Russell, 2008).


My approach will be investigative (case study approach) and broadly ethnomethodological (Latour, 2003; Massey, 2003). My methodological intentions are: firstly, to pursue an affirmatory (Anderson & Harrison, 2010) and pluralist approach based on the cautious yet generative epistemologies of Foucault and Latour (Kendall & Wickham, 1999; Harman, 2009). Secondly, although the approach will be descriptive and observational, this should be understood complexly, in that the objects to be described are more than meets the eye (folded, layered, obscure, ‘black-boxed,’ withdrawn). My aim is to follow the connections between actors and to let them “have some room to express themselves” (Latour, 2003.)

An alternative way of describing this methodology is the “observation-minus-theory” approach (Ralon Facchina, 2009:4) of McLuhanite media ecology. For McLuhan, the study of media (a rough synonym for technologies as I want to use the term) is the study of the ‘ground’ rather than the ‘figure’, the taken-for-granted substrate of life (Taylor, 1993; Harman, 2002).

2 thoughts on “Thesis thinking

  1. Hello! How have we not been talking for ages? Also, if you’re into ordering systems, have you read Edensor? His stuff really helped me through this landscape.


  2. Hi Morgan! Thanks for your kind comment. I know the name Edensor but I don’t think I’ve read any of his stuff – I’ll bear it in mind. I am drawing a lot on work in cultural geography though. There’s masses of stuff to read (of course) and it’s hard to keep focused on a particular angle on research when there seems to be so many options. I am not sure I am actually that interested in ordering and disordering… I think I am veering more towards ideas of technologies as ‘volatile’ or fragile strategies and the implications of this for creativity and improvisations.

    I’m not sure why we haven’t connected before – I love your blog and have followed for ages. You are so clearly grounded in playwork practice, whereas I am very much a dabbler and an observer – which makes my insights and perspectives feel rather inferior to yours! Anyway I love the fact that there is now the Playwork Bloggers Network and it’s totally great that you bring your insights from anthropology and related disciplines to playwork writing and thinking.



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