My interest in play extends beyond my research with children to its role across the lifecourse, and coalesces around three key themes: the relation of play to the everyday, a reconfiguration of the politics of play toward an inwardly oriented vitality, and the ways in which play exceeds representation. I am particularly concerned with the need to take the vitality and materiality of play seriously, and how play’s potential for reconfigurating the self and time-space marks it as a geographical concern. Understanding play on these terms affords it critical and ethical potential in terms of a form of coming to consciousness and a way to become other, and its role in the cultivation of what Bennett (2001) refers to as ethical generosity. For me, the term ludic geographies is useful for denoting both the study of being playful beyond the preserve of children and a playful way of working as geographers.
Geographies of Material Sensibilities
In relation to a commitment to embodied practice and non-human agency, my research examines how material geographies and sensuous geographies can inform each other in productive ways around questions of tactility, affect and relational agency. Through my ethnographic work, I actively craft animated geographies of material relations which are punctuated with an array of provocations to action and feeling. As a geographer, it is not only the material relations between people and things that are of concern to me, but also the imaginative spaces that can be configured through these relations. I am particularly interested in conceptual and empirical distances and folds between such spaces and spaces of the ‘real’. Or to be this another way, how imaginative spaces are enacted in and of the everyday. To date, my research has engaged with magical, miniature and virtual spaces configured through playful practices with toys.
Affirmative Modes of Critique
Inspired by the affection, passion and vitality I witness and experience during my ethnographic research on children’s embodied relations with toys, I am interested in the critical and ethical potential of enchanted and playful ways of being and doing. Recently, I have been exploring this potential in relation to commodity activism. In particular, I am interested in how the vitality experienced through playing can provide the spark of energy needed to act on social injustices and guard against feelings of impotence in the face of repressive forms of power relations. This work forms part of a broader concern with affirmative modes of critique. Shifting away from forms of critique based on objective moralistic judgment, affirmative critique is concerned with ways of opening up new possibilities and potentialities for the future through the cultivation of affective attachment.
Influenced by my concern with material and sensuous geographies, I am interested in exploring ways of investigating non-cognitive and profoundly practical knowledges. To date, this has involved experimentations with ethnographic and ethnomethodological approaches and video technologies (see Woodyer 2008), but I am also currently exploring the possibilities of new media and bio-mapping technologies. Beyond a purely practical level, I am interested in the ethical implications/opportunities presented by such methodologies. In particular, the challenge to the privileged position cognitive and linguistic competences hold in the fashioning of the ethical subject and the cultivation of ethical sensibilities that are responsive to the affective dimensions of everyday encounters. I am also interested in how creative methodologies can reconfigure the politics of knowledge production. I draw particular inspiration from Katz’s notion of a ‘space of betweeness’ in which researchers and participants can share, learn and transform.