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making space for play across the life course
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 bjp-online.com)
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…
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.
Source: Wall Street Journal (wsj.com)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
“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.
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row
“In Flanders Fields”, Major John McCrae
It’s that time of year when a splash of red brightens the greying days and people pause to remember the fallen. Each year over 50 million poppies are produced by the Poppy Factory in Richmond, south-west London, and Lady Haig’s Poppy Factory in Edinburgh to commemorate members of the armed forces, but an increasing number of people are choosing not to wear them. Why? Many, including World War Two veterans, believe the poppy has been misappropriated. The words of Harry Leslie Smith, a 92-year-old World War Two RAF veteran, are indicative: “the spirit of my generation has been hijacked” by latter-day politicians to “sell dubious wars” in Afghanistan and Iraq. Harry has not worn a poppy since 2013 and is not shy about discussing why.
As I read Harry’s words I’m reminded of an interesting conversation in a local distillery following one of the university’s Centre for European and International Studies Research seminars last year. Whereas some colleagues were vocal about their choice not to wear a poppy because they felt it symbolised a militaristic ethos above all else, others were torn. On the one hand, they shared concerns about militarism and misappropriation. On the other hand, the poppy, over time, had come to represent a private connection to (sometimes distant) family members; a chance to recognise their experience and sacrifice and to stand alongside them (either literally or symbolically). This little red object gave them a chance to share something with loved ones that was difficult to express via other means. Despite my reservations about the poppy, exemplified by recent vilifications of celebrities for not wearing it in public, I’m sympathetic to this view. Every year, my initial thought on the first sighting of the red symbol is my grandfather, a wonderful man I’ve always been extremely close to; and this is less a thought than a very visceral sensation in the pit of my stomach. I’m lucky to still have my grandfather with me, but we don’t speak about his war time experiences; we’re not really a family for talking. Objects of all kinds have always played a large part in our communications: be it fir cones collected on a Sunday afternoon walk, a board game shared on a rainy day, or trowels and seed trays in the garden. I know that he’ll have the Remembrance Sunday service on the TV or radio, and the poppy is a little way of saying, “I know this important to you, we don’t have to talk about it, we can just share a moment, albeit experiencing this moment in our own personal way”.
Then I see the vilifications of those who opt not to wear the poppy and see the TV screens awash with the small red symbol and cynically think about the obligation to be seen displaying it. In November 2013, I was faced with a particular dilemma. Due to administrative delays the start of our ESRC project, ‘Ludic Geopolitics: Children’s Play, War Toys and Re-enchantment with the British Military’ had been pushed back… to the 11th November. The department wanted to make a fuss of the project launch, proud of achieving substantial funding, but I was uneasy. Given the themes of the project I didn’t want people to think the date had been deliberately chosen, that we were making some kind of comment. With the naval history of Portsmouth, Remembrance commemorations are keenly felt. From my office I hear the cannon marking the two minute silence at the 11th hour. In the end the launch was marked by a hand written note, “Ludic Geopolitics starts today” on a single sheet of A4 on the notice board in our departmental office.
Tensions, such as these outlined here, are a feature of our research as we negotiate our multiple roles as academics, family members, children at heart. Within the team there are different attitudes towards the objects we research, which creates a productive tension we are continuing to work through.
Readers may be interested in reading a recent Guardian article: ‘Five reasons people don’t wear poppies‘, which includes discussion of ‘poppy fascism’ and the white poppy.
The War Games travelling exhibition created and curated by the V&A Museum of Childhood has now moved to the Herbert Art Gallery & Museum in Coventry. As part of the launch, the gallery tweeted behind the secndes pictures of the exhibition.
The Ludic Geopolitics project has been following this exhibition as it travels around the country, examining how visitors engage with its themes. Focusing on the last couple of centuries, the exhibition is a great opportunity for adults and children alike to explore the relationship between war and popular cultures, and public sentiments towards war and their reflection in the toy market. It is also a window onto the shift from military related toys to space and fantasy ranges such as Star Wars and Dr Who and superheroes toys and comics including Captain America and Iron Man. War Games is informative and also a great opportunity to learn through play.
War Games runs at the Herbert Art Gallery & Museum of Coventry from 10 October 2015 until 17 January 2016. Entry is free!
For information on the Herbert Art Gallery & Museum and the War Games exhibition see here.
Readers might also like to read the web essays that myself and Sean Carter wrote for the V&A Museum of Childhood to accompany the exhibition.
War Games and the Cold War – Sean Carter
After much anticipation, SPECTRE is finally here. The release of the film has proved timely for our Ludic Geopolitics research. Its themes chime with some of our current writing around popular cultural representations of individuals with elite combat training and their pivotal role in legitimising particular geopolitical logics. More specifically, our writing engages with the continuing, perhaps even greater importance of these individuals despite the increasing use of unmanned drones in Western battle spaces. SPECTRE makes clear reference to this notion in the battle between M’s human-focused 007 programme and C’s technology-focused Nine Eyes programme. *SPOILER ALERT* While C works to get the 007 programme closed down, we see Bond (and hence the programme) ultimately triumph. This is underscored by Bond choosing not to kill his enemy, Blofeld, echoing the earlier comments of M about the unique characteristics of the 007 programme; his agents not only have a licence to kill, but also a licence not to kill, and therefore a humanity and morality not as readily present in warfare involving technologically-led forms of warfare.
Importantly, a key feature of our research is cultivating a more-than-textual approach to the study of geopolitics. We place great emphasis on the embodied practices of play, which not only challenges the discursive bias of geopolitical studies, but also attends to the politics of reception of popular geopolitical texts alongside the politics of representation. This said, we recognise how children actively draw upon popular culture – TV, films, books, video games – as they develop particular narratives and themes in and through their play. To date, the play we’ve been part of has made reference to, among others, The Hunger Games, Doctor Who, Black Hawk Down, Call of Duty, Marvel Avengers and Night at the Museum. Our aim, therefore, is not to treat the representational and the non-representational as discrete , but rather to establish the need to attend to the latter alongside the former, in a manner that has been lacking to date. As I have written elsewhere, ‘in terms of consuming toys, one cannot fully understand their use without reference to the intertextual, semiotic culture within which they are produced and situated’ (Woodyer 2008, 358).
Readers might be interested in other writing by members of the Ludic Geopolitics team that engages with film more explicitly.
Phil’s work on The Hunger Games:
Kirby, Philip. “The Girl on Fire: The Hunger Games, Feminist Geopolitics and the Contemporary Female Action Hero.” Geopolitics 20.2 (2015): 460-478.
Sean’s work on film:
Carter, Sean, and Klaus Dodds. “Hollywood and the war on terror’: genre-geopolitics and Jacksonianism’ in The Kingdom.” Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 29 (2011): 98-113.
Carter, Sean, and Derek P. McCormack. “Film, geopolitics and the affective logics of intervention.” Political Geography 25.2 (2006): 228-245.
Klaus’ work on James Bond:
Dodds, Klaus. “Shaking and Stirring James Bond: Age, Gender, and Resilience in Skyfall (2012).” Journal of Popular Film and Television 42.3 (2014): 116-130.
Dodds, Klaus. “Popular geopolitics and audience dispositions: James Bond and the internet movie database (IMDb).” Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 31.2 (2006): 116-130.
Dodds, Klaus. “Screening geopolitics: James Bond and the early Cold War films (1962–1967).” Geopolitics 10.2 (2005): 266-289.
Dodds, Klaus. “Licensed to stereotype: geopolitics, James Bond and the spectre of Balkanism.” Geopolitics 8.2 (2003): 125-156.
Read more about Klaus’ recent work on Bond here.
Last week I was pleased to learn that details of the Ludic Geopolitics project’s museum and learning resources work has been included in the September 2015 “Back to School” issue of Museum Education Monitor (MEM) and on the MEM Blog: FORUM. Co-ordinated from Ontario, Canada, MEM aims to boost the development of theory and practice in the field by both academics and museum workers by tracking and recording research and resources in museum education around the world.
Our inclusion in MEM is based on one particular strand of our multi-faceted project concerned with in-depth ethnographic research of the War Games travelling exhibition, curated by our project partner the V&A Museum of Childhood. In addition to the presentation of results at academic conferences and in academic journals, this strand has two other main forms of output: (i) as part of the museum’s educational outreach programme, the research team is developing learning resources for children that will focus on the use of toys to talk about contemporary conflicts; (ii) through a series of reports presented to each participating museum hosting the War Games exhibition (see list below), the research team is offering an assessment of the ways visitors engage and interact with the exhibits, and the discussions provoked by the exhibition around war play, war toys and geopolitics.
Find out more about the project in its entirety here.
It’s exciting to be part of a new international network of researchers and practitioners!
Sites where research is being conducted: V&A Museum of Childhood, London (May 2013-Mar 2014); Sunderland Museum and Winter Gardens (May-Sept 2014); Tullie House Museum and Art Gallery, Carlisle (Oct-Jan 2015); Sea City Museum, Southampton (Feb-May 2015); Historic Dockyard, Chatham (June-Sept 2015); The Herbert Art Gallery and Museum, Coventry (Oct-Jan 2016); City Museum and Art Gallery, Plymouth (Feb-June 2016).
Watch this space for details about our KS2 learning resources!
This summer the Ludic Geopolitics project went continental. I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to share our now rather vast collection of HM Armed Forces action figures and accessories with German children aged seven and nine years old. This was a chance to extend the domestic ethnography strand of our project, which involves: (1) creative tasks to explore children’s wide ranging toy collections; (2) playing with military themed toys along with the children; and (3) children filming their play. The latter is both a means for the children to become proxy observers of their own embodied practice and highlight key features of their playful practice that may not be immediately obvious to me as an adult researcher. Read more about the approach used in our domestic ethnography research in:
Woodyer, T. (2008) The body as research tool: embodied practice and children’s geographies, Children’s Geographies 6(4): 349-362.
To date, I’ve been playing with children based in Hampshire, UK. Marking out enemies as German, even when action is set in desert environments more reminiscent of contemporary sites of conflict involving British Armed Forces, is a common feature of this play (albeit when it follows an explicitly military theme, this isn’t always the case). Given this trend I was really interested to see how the German children engaged with the toys modelled on British Armed Forces. The sample size was too small to draw any firm conclusions, but it was really interesting to see how the children initially engaged with the toys in the embodied manner I’ve become familiar with, but also developed superhero themes to follow. The hot summer weather and large garden space available to us allowed the action figures to scale and jump from trees (aided with a parachute) and to undertake daring water-based rescues in the paddling pool. I’m looking forward to exploring ways to extend cross-comparisons of the playful practices of children from different national backgrounds. Find out more about the Ludic Geopolitics project here.
It’s been a busy few months for the Ludic Geopolitics project team. Earlier this month we convened a double session on the theme of Domesticating Geopolitics at the Royal Geographical Society with the Institute of British Geographers’ Annual International Conference.
“From the outset, critical geopolitics has emphasised approaches that question spatial distinctions between foreign/domestic politics and political distinctions between formal/popular geopolitics. More recently, feminist contributions to critical geopolitical debates have re-articulated the necessity of including the ‘everyday’ and the ‘ordinary’ into our accounts of the geopolitical, in part to work towards the dissolution of clear-cut distinctions between public and private, and towards the increasing realisation that different scales are not separate but intertwined.
This session then will focus both on what Pain & Staeheli (2014) describe as ‘the intimate outwards’ as well as ‘the geopolitical inwards’. We therefore take ‘domesticating geopolitics’ to capture a broad range of practices, objects, performativities and discourses that contribute to how geopolitics is rendered familiar and sanitised, and the ways in which the home and bodies become a terrain of the geopolitical. Bodies, personal decisions, religious beliefs and feelings thus become sites for reproduction and contestation of geopolitical imaginaries and possibilities. They ‘are territory but also make territory’ as intimacy becomes a ‘site of geopolitical practices’ (Smith 2012, 2009). This session seeks then to explore the potential of notions of domesticating and the intimate for expanding our understanding of the geopolitical.”
The conference provided a welcome return to the University of Exeter where plans for our Ludic Geopolitic project were initial hatched. The session included nine papers addressing a range of topics from Scottish Nationalism to Space Shuttle Mission Patches:
Watch this space for a review of the session!