Material Sensibilities

making space for play across the life course

Can we still teach about media bias in the post-truth age?

Following on from my earlier re-blog of David Buckingham’s insightful piece on the role of media literacy in response to fake news, here is his latest piece focusing on the matter of media bias.

David Buckingham

Bias – along with related ideas like objectivity, impartiality and balance – is a staple issue in public debates about media, and in media literacy education. Yet in the wake of the Brexit referendum campaign, the victory of Donald Trump, and the attacks on the Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, many have argued that we are entering a ‘post-truth’ era. In this context, is bias still a useful and meaningful concept in media literacy education? And if so, how should we teach it?

Two weeks ago, the BBC Trust – the body that regulates the UK’s national public service broadcaster – ruled that its chief political correspondent, Laura Kuenssberg, had breached impartiality and accuracy guidelines in her reporting of a story involving the British Labour Party leader, Jeremy Corbyn. Given that the Trust is not exactly the most ferocious of media regulators, the ruling might have been rather surprising; although…

View original post 1,715 more words

Fake news: is media literacy the answer?

David Buckingham

Growing concerns about ‘fake news’ have led to calls for young people to be taught critical media literacy skills. Yet while media literacy would obviously be useful, it isn’t enough to address the problem. Media educators need to frame the issue more broadly, and join forces with those calling for media reform.

My apologies for the length of this post (believe me, I’m trying). I hope it won’t take you more than ten minutes to read.


In the wake of the election of Donald Trump, there has been considerable debate about the problem of so-called ‘fake news’. Trump’s opponents have accused his supporters – including the Russian government – of circulating fabricated news stories in order to gain support. Yet Trump himself has frequently used the term to discredit what he claims is false information about him.

The problem is somewhat less evident here in the UK, although the Brexit…

View original post 2,862 more words

Funded PhD Opportunity

Understanding the lived realities of informal kinship care for grandparents

Supervisors: Dr Tara Woodyer (Geography); Dr Annabel Tremlett (Social Work); Dr Carol Ekinsmyth (Geography)

Project description
The question of how best to attend to intergenerationality and support informal kinship care provision by grandparents has emerged as a pressing issue for research and social care practice. Whilst geographical research is beginning to make important contributions in the future direction of age-related research, grandparents and their crucial role in informal kinship care remains noticeably under-researched.

Using a qualitative approach, this project will examine the lived realities of informal kinship care provision from the grandparent’s perspective, exploring the role of intergenerational connections in shaping the life transition to grandparenthood. More specifically, it will examine: the role of space, age, gender and intra-familial relations in the construction and performance of a carer identity; the role of local networks and community in informal kinship care provision; social and economic obstacles in informal kinship care provision and how these can be mitigated; and the perceived benefits and/or detrimental impacts to self in undertaking an informal kinship care provider role. Drawing on established connections with user communities, the research will use Portsmouth as a case study site.

The project aims to provide an in-depth evidence base for addressing major questions surrounding kinship care and later life transitions within social care. Working closely with key non-academic organisations, it seeks to inform local and national social care policy, support provision and social care education.

Find out more here.
If you have any questions or would like to discuss your application, please contact Dr. Tara Woodyer by email.
Funding includes: bursary stipend (at current RCUK rates), University fees (UK/EU rate) plus £1,500 pa project costs/consumables for the duration of the studentship.

The bursaries are offered for full-time, Home or EU candidates only. You will need to meet the following requirements to undertake a research degree at the University of Portsmouth:
A good honours degree or equivalent in a relevant subject or a Master’s degree in an appropriate subject. Exceptionally, equivalent professional experience and/or qualifications will be considered. For those students without English as a first language or without a first degree from an English speaking University, an English Language Proficiency at a minimum of IELTS band 6.5 with no component score below 6.0 is required.

How to apply:
If you would like to apply for one of these projects, please use the web links above and complete the online application form which includes uploading a CV and 1000 word project proposal. We recommend that candidates contact the first supervisor prior to applying to discuss the proposed project.
Closing date for applications:
The closing date for applications: Sunday 5th February 2017.
For more details about studying as a PhD student at the University, visit

How to talk to children about politics… and Donald Trump


Article in the Orlando Sentinel

As we’ve been finding out through our research, many parents question whether they should discuss world events with their children, or if it’s best to just to try to shield them from worrying events all together. As Stephens (1995, p14) notes in her discussion of the sentimentalisation of childhood, our ideal conception of the child is one founded on innocence, with no engagement with matters of sex, money and politics. 

“Modern children are supposed to be segregated from the harsh realities of the adult world and to inhabit a safe, protected world of play, fantasy, and innocence”

Parents we’ve meet during our ethnographic research have expressed how they sometimes struggle to respond when their children demonstrate knowledge of events such as beheadings by terrorist groups. Such concerns demonstrate how it is naive to believe we can shield children from the realities of the wider world. This is especially the case with the growth of social media.

“Children today are more exposed to world events than ever and despite the urge to protect our children from what’s happening, this can mean their worries build up. (John Cameron, Head of NSPCC Helplines, quoted in the Huffington Post)”

A recent NSPCC study revealed there has been a 35% rise in children who have had counselling for anxiety in 2016, compared to last year. Alongside personal and family issues, concerns about world affairs such as the EU referendum, the US election and troubles in the Middle East were also frequently mentioned as causes of anxiety.

Dr Amanda Gummer, founder of the Good Toy Guide Ltd, CEO of Fundamentally Children and member of the Ludic Geopolitics Project Advisory Board, recently offered advice on how to talk to children about world affairs and politics in an interview with the Huffington Post.

“Conversations that happen in front of a child, that don’t involve the child can be scary, so try and hold the conversation in a way that the child could join in with if they wanted to, otherwise leave the more complex or disturbing topics for when the children are out of earshot.”

Read the full article here.

Artist Mark Neville explores childhood play in collaboration with The Foundling Museum

In preparation for a lecture on children and conflict, I’ve recently been reading Helen Woolley’s work on play in disaster areas. It was interesting to read about an exhibition on Child’s Play by artist Mark Neville, which includes photos from the war torn zones of Afghanistan and Ukraine alongside this work. Tom Seymour writes about this forthcoming exhibition in the British Journal of Photography.

Tom Seymour (reblogged from

As identified by the UN in the 2013 General Comment on Article 31 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child – a child has a universal human r…

Read more: Artist Mark Neville explores childhood play in collaboration with The Foundling Museum

The end of innocence?

David Buckingham

Channel 4’s new drama National Treasure has brought the issue of celebrity paedophiles back to public attention. What does the most notorious and well-documented of these cases – that of Jimmy Savile – tell us about the role of media celebrity and children’s culture?

When it comes to holiday reading, most sensible, well-adjusted people pick up a pile of three-for-the-price-of-two novels at the airport bookshop. For better or worse, I tend to take things that will give my brain something to chew on. And so it was that I found myself in some beautiful locations in Southern Italy this summer reading all 600 pages of In Plain Sight: The Life and Lies of Jimmy Savileby Dan Davies.


While it’s eminently readable, this is not a book you want to escape into – more one you want to escape from. I felt almost soiled while reading it, and I…

View original post 1,200 more words

The Dystopia of Sodor? Thomas the Tank Engine and Neoliberalism

I haven’t engaged closely with Thomas and his friends for many years now so I’m not sure how far I’d agree with Oli’s comments, but his post (below) makes for interesting reading. Given that my students are asked to undertake a critical reading of Postman Pat in my first year Rural Geography lectures, I may have to tune in to Thomas soon…

Thomas the Tank Engine, the popular children’s book and TV series, has been with us for 70 years, and still captures the imagination of children around the world. As a father of two rapidly growing-up children, trains seem to have some sort of mystic fascination with the preschool demographic. So it is no surprise that […]

via The Dystopia of Sodor: Thomas the Tank Engine and Neoliberalism — Landscape Surgery

Young People and the EU Referendum

This morning’s #Brexit news gives pause for thought as I put together the material for a new third year geography unit we’re launching this coming academic year: Geographies of Children and Young People. An understanding of young people’s agency and participation sits at the core of this unit. Polls from a variety of sources show that voters were split by age, with some showing up to 75% of young people (18-24 years) in favour of remaining part of the EU.

Screen Shot 2016-06-24 at 09.32.28

Source: Wall Street Journal (

We could, of course, also look at the polls that suggest the same age group were the least likely to vote in the referendum. Hence, Eddie Izzard’s tour around universities to make an impassioned plea for young people to have their say.

See Eddie Izzard talking at UoP here.

It’ll be interesting to talk to students to gauge their reaction to the decision. The news comes at the end of a week where I was heartened and genuinely impressed by the levels of global citizenship on display in undergraduate work at Bath Spa (where I am external examiner). Students were taking longstanding geographical ideas around representation and power, and actively choosing to apply these to the contemporary situation for Syrian refugees. This was through critical analysis of British newspaper coverage and reflective commentaries on work placements with refugee charities.

This afternoon I’m on an interview panel for postgraduate study on intergenerational geographies. This has also taken on a new feel in light of the age related statistics.

As we begin to work through what this morning’s decision means for the UK, the recent edited collection on Children, Young People and Critical Geopolitics by Matt Benwell and Peter Hopkins seems to have taken on even greater significance.


The Conversation – are toys becoming more violent?

This week I had the opportunity to write for The Conversation, an online, independent news outlet that delivers stories direct from the research community to the public. The opportunity arose from a request to respond to the recent news story concerning a New Zealand study reporting that Lego has become more violent since the 1970s.

A number of people alerted me to story through social media and via email, and followers may have seen my response on Twitter about the limitations of the reported study.

Screen Shot 2016-06-02 at 16.49.22

Screen Shot 2016-06-02 at 16.48.25

Writing a short piece for The Conversation was an interesting activity as I had to consider how to pitch the response and write in an appropriate way for a public audience. This meant doing something different to the kind of academic critique to which I’m more accustomed. This was less about assessing and outlining the limitations of the particular approach taken by the study (a number of which are noted in the published report) and more about communicating how we might best contextualise and interpret the findings in a ‘real world’ setting.

The piece links to concerns about the multiple moral panics linked to contemporary childhood and children discussed in our recent chapter, Ludic Geographies, in the Springer volume, Play and Recreation, Health and Wellbeing

It was also a useful exercise ahead of the launch of my new final year unit, Geographies of Children and Young People. As part of the assessment for this unit students will be required to compose blog posts about contemporary debates concerning children and young people (in relation to such issues as children’s play, children as consumers and children’s involvement with conflict).

You can read the commentary here.

Screen Shot 2016-06-02 at 16.56.18

HOT OFF THE PRESS! Ludic Geographies

Hot on the heels of the first academic publication arising from our ESRC funded Ludic Geopolitics project is a chapter on ‘Ludic Geographies’ in the Evans and Horton edited collection Play and Recreation, Health and Wellbeing. This collection is volume 9 of the Living Reference Work Geographies of Children and Young People edited by Tracey Skelton.

Screen Shot 2016-05-10 at 13.37.23

To whet your appetite:


In many ways, twenty-first century (western) childhood may be characterized by a cacophony of moral panics. Spatiality is pertinent, if not central, to these moral panics, not least those concerning contemporary children’s play. Yet, despite this, the presence of spatiality within play research beyond the geographical discipline is, at best, marginal. This chapter examines how geographical work is well placed to challenge problematic characteristics of agenda-setting discourses about children’s play. This is not restricted to the marginal presence of spatiality but extends to the nostalgic reification of “innocent” play, the valorization of a developmental approach, and a limited apprehension of embodiment and materiality. The chapter begins with an overview of geographical work that has favored the outdoor spaces of the playground, street, and neighborhood and emphasizes how children’s independent spatial mobility has changed over time. It then introduces more recent and emerging trends, namely, attempts to (1) position children’s play within a broader context and stress its contribution to the reproduction and shaping of “adult” society and (2) recognize vitality as the intrinsic purpose and value of play and the role of materiality, embodiment, and affectivity to this. While it is shown there is much to celebrate in relation to geographical research on play, it is argued that geographers could and should do more to better understand play from the player’s perspective and challenge the prevailing direction of play research beyond the discipline.


British Armed Forces – Cold War – Developmentalism – Embodiment, Industrial capitalism – Industrial Revolution – Learning process – Materiality Public space – Social agency – Social transformation – Socialization Toxic childhood syndrome – UK Ministry of Defence (MOD)

(Woodyer et al 2016 pp.1-2)

The chapter includes a discussion of war play and how it does not merely reflect the socio-political life of its period, but rather actively helps to shape and reproduce geopolitical climates and cultures. We use Fraser MacDonald’s (2008) work on toy rockets to show how this was the case in the Cold War era. We then draw upon our Ludic Geopolitics research with Action Man enthusiasts to discuss this in relation to the Falklands War, before using our research material on the more contemporary HM Armed Forces action figure range to show how this continues in relation to the War on Terror.

Our discussion of war play is set alongside a wider examination of how we need to attend to the material dimensions of play to more fully understand play’s positioning within wider sociocultural, economic, and political frames. Here we draw on my previous doctoral research with children and toys (also funded by the ESRC) to demonstrate the embodied and vitalist nature of play. Specifically, we use a case study of magical role-play to illustrate how imaginative play is a bodily, sensory practice.

The chapter ends by reiterating how and why ludic geographies have a great deal to offer the wider geographical discipline and the broader field of play research. Namely, ludic geographies:

  • challenge the problematic characteristics of agenda-setting discourses of play relating to spatiality, developmentalism, nostalgic reifications, and materiality and embodiment;
  • stress children’s important role in the reproduction and shaping of wider society;
  • emphasize the importance of the more-than-rational to the human condition.

“There is much to celebrate in relation to geographical research on play, but geographers could and should build on emerging areas of interest to do more to better understand play from the player’s perspective, appreciate that play is not the discrete activity of children, and challenge the prevailing direction of play research beyond the discipline.”

(Woodyer et al 2016, p.15)

Published by Springer, the wider Living Reference Work comprises twelve volumes that ‘pull together the best international reflective and innovative scholarship focusing on younger people’. The aim of living reference works is to use‘an industry-first publishing model to deliver living editions of Springer’s trusted reference works well in advance of print or ‘static’ online reference editions’. (Quotes taken from the Springer website.)

More information about this series can be found here.

Thanks to Bethan Evans and John Horton for inviting us to be part of this interesting collection and for their work alongside editor-in-chief, Tracey Skelton, in putting it together.