Play play play

Thought I'd add some notes on play and why I find it such an vital way of working/researching and an intriguing subject to be debating. Maybe some food for thought...

Notes, possible themes for discussion:

What's the point of playing through/with/as research? (rather than researching play).
How does play relate to 'effecting change' and how is change an imperative for (action) social research?
What are the politics of 'play'? How is this related to motivations to play as research and how is this (is this?) taken seriously as research?
Does play = 'freedom'? [adults play in their 'free-time'; small children and animals can play anytime, unless they're told off for doing so]
When is 'play' sensible and sincere?
The utility of play / taking play seriously (I've written an article that touches on this, I'll post it later)
Does play imply participation / action?
Mischief, deviance, the trickster
Staging, performing, pretending
Trespassing as play - on other disciplines, land, languages - how to create and occupy other (conceptual) places to create 'useful discomfort' (this was a phrase used by Jane Trowell, Platform recently)
What are the (irrational) rules of play?
Who plays with who? Abuse and manipulation as 'play' - e.g. Abu ghraib (power-relations of tactical play)

Notes on Huizinga:
All play is voluntary. Play cannot be denied.
He writes about the secrecy of play (masks, disguises)
Play as relaxation, escapism, instinct
Tension in play (between rules, uncertainty, chance, risk)
'Play to order is no longer play' [what does is mean to be paid to play?]
The 'spoilsport' robs play of its illusion
Play is often considered inferior to serious work - when the contrast between seriousness and play is fluid, according to Huizinga ("The inferiority of play is continually being offset by the corresponding superiority of its seriousness. PLay turns to seriousness and seriousness to play", p.8)
Repetition, order, rhythm and harmony of play

"Play is older than culture, for culture, however inadequately defined, always presupposes human society, and animals have not waited for man to teach them playing. We can safely assert, even, that human civilisation has added no essential feature to the general idea of play. Animals play just like men. We have only to watch dogs to see that ll the essentials of human play are present in their merry gambols." (p.1, Huizinga).

Some references:

Johan Huizinga, 'Homo Ludens. A Study of the Play Elements in Culture' (The Beacon Press: Boston, 1950)

Roger Callois, 'Man, Play and Games' (University of Illinois Press: Urbana and Chicago, 1958, 1961, 2001)

Michel de Certeau, 'The Practice of Everyday Life'(1984, trans.)

Nato Thompson and Gregory Sholette (eds.), 'The Interventionists. Users' Manual for the Creative Disruption of Everyday Life' (Mass MoCa: Massachusetts, 2004)

Other current initiatives, practices and research using play in different ways:

"With play and scavenging as two essential ingredients in our work, we manoeuvre between making artworks and inventing communications tools to developing innovative software applications and building environmental sensors to crafting objects and costumes with found materials."

Rebel Clown Army:
"Roll up, roll up - ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, friends and foes - welcome to the unparalleled, the unexpected, the perfectly paradoxical, the grotesquely beautiful, the new-fangled world of the Clandestine Insurgent Rebel Clown Army (CIRCA)."

Lottie Child's practice:

Download an article about Lottie's Street Training by Tim Gill: DOWNLOAD FILE

Kip Jones and performative social science:

Portable Pixel Playground - a playspace developed by folly, the digital arts organisation based in Lancaster, UK - a portable, physical digital art playground which consists of new artists' commissions: so far they have works by Squidsoup and Andy Best & Merja Puustinen. See for more information.

To be continued... If you have any suggestions / links to add - post a comment or email sophie[at]

Contacts and how to book

To book a place go to:

Cost (includes vegetarian lunch): £35 standard, £15 students.

Numbers are strictly limited, please register early.

We hope to record the discussions and will post the podcasts online in July 2009.

If you have any links, references or relevant information connected to the concept of 'tactical play' that we could post here, please do contact sophie[at]

About Tactical Play

Informed by discourses of cross-pollination between art and social science, this colloquium will discuss the role of “play” as a tactic for social change within reflexive and performative social science methods and socially engaged art processes.

Positioning playful enquiry as both a method and meeting place between the disciplines, the event will seek to address the following questions through the presentation of case studies and open discussion:

- In what way do the essential characteristics of one discipline offer possibilities for “play” within the other?

- How is research through performance, fiction, collaboration and conversation employed by each discipline and what are the individual motivations for this?

- At what point does playful enquiry meet “hard edged” research, and what are the academic implications?

- In what way is “play” a politicised method, and how can members of each profession use it to antagonise the frameworks in which they operate?

Biographies of people involved

Here's some more information about the contributors to the colloquium (we are still confirming some of the speakers and respondents).

Anne Douglas

As an artist researcher I am excited by the powerful contribution artistic practice can make to rethinking how we know in the world. I am also interested in research as a mode of working within the practice of art. Since 2001 I have directed a research programme at Grays School of Art, Aberdeen – On the Edge research - concerned with rethinking the role of the artist in the public sphere. This work started out by creatively interconnecting contemporary visual art and remote rural cultures of NE Scotland. Increasingly the research has drawn inspiration from the practices of activist artists such as Suzanne Lacy, Helen Mayer and Newton Harrison, Barbara Stevini and John Latham as well as Reiko Goto and Tim Collins. Their different responses to social cultural change and the idea of art as a transformative process have articulated artistic practice through a series of clear concepts, metaphors and related values. My own doctoral study (1988-1992) worked with the notion of improvisation as a way of thinking through the creative process of an artist. Through post doctoral artistic research from 1992 – present I have developed more relational ways of working in which improvisation is a foundational idea, played out differently within particular social, cultural situations.
For publications and project details please see,

Lynn Froggett

Lynn Froggett has a background in the humanities, sociology and social policy and is Professor of Psychosocial Welfare and Director of the UClan Psychosocial Research Unit which draws on the expertise of the International School for Communities, Rights and Inclusion. She has a professional background in Health and Social Work and a strong interest in researching the arts in health, community and youth justice settings. Her work is interdisciplinary drawing on perspectives from the humanities and creative arts, social sciences, psychoanalytic theory and gender studies. Her wider project is to develop the theoretical and conceptual terrain on which to link social policy and social provision with day-to-day experiences of well-being. This is supported by an empirical research programme with a particular focus on arts-based research strategies which include narrative, biographical, visual and performative methods. She recently completed a three-year study of integrated approaches to adult health and social care in an arts-based healthy living centre with a specific focus on the experience of older people and is currently developing research and evaluation in a range of locations which use creative and arts-based interventions. These include youth offending teams, children’s centres, mental health facilities, primary health care, hospitals, social inclusion projects, public health promotion as well as innovative means of community and public engagement.

Justin McKeown
Justin McKeown is an artist, writer, educator and curator. He was born in Northern Ireland in 1979. His main field of interest is the relationship between politics and art. Justin has exhibited extensively in Europe, America and Canada. He is a regular contributor to Circa, Irelands leading art magazine. He has also written for several other publications including the recent book Arkive City. Justin completed his PhD with the University of Ulster in 2008 in the school of Art and Design. The title of his thesis was Materialising a Political Art Practice within Contemporary Systems of Power: Northern Ireland. Justin currently lives in Belfast.

Christian Nold

Christian Nold is an artist, designer and educator working to develop new participatory models for communal representation. In 2001 he wrote the well received book ‘Mobile Vulgus’, which examined the history of the political crowd and which set the tone for his research into participatory mapping. Since graduating from the Royal College of Art in 2004, Christian has led a number of large scale participatory projects and worked with a team on diverse academic research projects. In particular his ‘Bio Mapping’ project has received large amounts of international publicity and been staged in 16 different countries and over 1500 people have taken part in workshops and exhibitions. These participatory projects have a strong pedagogical basis and grew out of Christian’s formal university teaching. He is currently based at the Bartlett, University College London.