Playing the Geographical Conference

I’ve just returned from presenting a paper (and listening to others) at the Royal Geographical Society/Institute of British Geographer’s Annual International Conference 2016[1]. About 2000 geographers gathered in London to spend four days of talking, debating, listening – and eating and drinking – about pretty well everything to do with geography, and this covers pretty well anything!

So what does this have to do with play/playwork? Actually quite a bit. There’s a really keen discourse running through various strands of human geography that’s either relevant to play/playwork or directly looks at play and children’s lives. This ranges from theories on use of space, mobilities, non/more than representational theories, to the work of children’s geographers. Hardly surprisingly they have a great interest in play and the word ‘playworker’ is greeted with interest even if not a great deal of understanding. At least we’re not automatically assumed to be childcare/early years/educationalists!

There’s an active, in face fairly cutting edge group who are part of a research group covering geographies of children, young people and families, and they put on a number of the sessions I attended. Some of the papers looked at playing with mud; at play opportunities for children in high-rise buildings in India; playfulness as expressed in the urban public space, child carers in Malawi, and of course my own contribution! ‘Collective agency and everyday affordances: assembling children and young people’s play’. One session that I found particularly relevant given my research was a series of papers on ‘Apps, mobiles and technologies: innovative methodologies in research with children, young people and families’.

Discussions around at sessions revealed a huge range of thoughts and theories on play, and I found this a welcome challenge after attending playwork events and conferences that often preach to the converted and where there is orthodoxy of opinion. I have been challenging much of this in my own thinking so it was refreshing to be able to engage in debate around this with non-playworkers, especially with ones who show an appreciation of what we do.

I think as a sector there is much to be gained by individual playworkers engaging with other academic disciplines, as, amongst other things, it requires us to justify, challenge and reflect on what we may take to be the obvious. It also helps get us out of our silo and takes us to places where the chips on our shoulders are meaningless. It’s refreshing to talk about play from a non-playwork perspective while being able to call upon and contribute some of the really important theoretical work that has been produced within playwork. This is different from the important debates happening within playwork about playwork and about play in a playwork setting.

Although I may be an accidental ‘ludic geographer’, much of the debates, for example on new materialities and post humanism taking place within geography resonate with my interests and I have been able to incorporate them into my thinking on play, and I am sure this may be equally applicable in other disciplines. I also think it has positively influenced my playwork practice, which is extremely important to me. I think there’s a real synergy between academic study, particularly at postgrad level, and face-to-face work, and while it’s not always easy to juggle the two I’ve been finding it extremely rewarding and would encourage anyone to investigate it.

[1] http://www.rgs.org/WhatsOn/ConferencesAndSeminars/Conferences+and+seminars.htm

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