Permission to play: taking play seriously; making sport playful

Lead Research Organisation: University of Strathclyde
Department Name: Geography

Abstract

Playfulness is an innate human trait crucial for making sense of the world, creativity, development of social skills and positive emotions. It is a trait which is strongly encouraged in children and young people but increasingly is being squeezed out in adulthood amidst the pressures and technologies of contemporary western society. It is often viewed as 'juvenile' and 'unproductive' use of time. Yet playfulness is celebrated in different forms within some arenas - particuarly the creative arts and sport - where the act of play is viewed as offering positive health and well-being benefits, actively encouraged as part of community cohesion agendas and providing spaces for creativity and entrepreneurial thinking.

By engaging actively with these the arenas of creative arts & culture and sport, and drawing on the experiences and practices which encourage and celebrate playfulness, the proposed research will seek, firstly to characterise attributes of playfulness and, secondly to identify new research questions concerning ways in which it might be fostered in adults in order to promote flourishing, resilience, creativity and therefore enhance wellbeing for both individuals and communities. It will thus also explore how playfulness can help to reconnect people and communities, assisting to overcome conflict and dissonance but reducing isolation, stress, and alienation.

Planned Impact

Improving the mental and physical health and well-being of the population as a whole, and not just individuals experiencing illness, has become a key objective of central and devolved governments and agencies in the UK, spanning areas of culture, sport, economic activity as well as community regeneration. Well-being and mental resilience is seen as critical to supporting social and economic benefits, and the absence of this has often been associated with and reinforcing social and health inequalities in deprived communities.

Confident and sustainable communities are those who have the strength, safety, resilience and inclusiveness to foster supportive social networks, and who are themselves connected communities. Finding approaches and mechanisms to support improvements in health and well-being within communities has drawn together academic disciplines from across the humanities, social sciences and sciences. It has seen for example community arts projects being based in hospitals, reading groups being used to explore issues of community identity, and sporting and cultural events fostering greater community cohesion.

This research will add to this important area of academic and policy engagement through its focus on how playfulness can enrich these connections. It will have impacts thus not only in key policy areas, supporting the UK government's policy on Confident Communities, the Scottish Government's joint health & wellbeing and sustainable communities initiative, and the Welsh Assembly Government's Communities First partnerships.

Through direct collaboration with partners in London Philosophy Club and Glasgow Life, and with the team's connections with policy makers and practitioners in local areas, the impact of this research will be disseminated into practice within local organisations. These include those involved in directly in connecting arts and health at national and local scales (The Reader Organisation, Merseyside Arts in Health Initiative), organisations such as Centre for Applied Research in Inclusive Arts and Design who are researching wider issues of wellbeing and inclusion, and national community-focused collaborative art charities in the NVA.
Active engagement with these through the workshops will provide mutual learning and sharing.

Beyond these specific groups who have involvement with the project directly, we envisage contribution in both commercial games sector and third sector organisations involved with community involvement. Commercial companies developing and designing products for play, the games industry, and researchers working in the area of Human Computer Interaction e.g. Creativity and Cognition Studios at University of Technology Sydney, Georgia Institute of Technology, and in the arts management and technology (eg Carnegie Mellon) will benefit from the insights on how playfulness can assist with such involvement.

Publications


10 25 50
 
Description Research findings

Expressing playfulness

In focussing on play, past research has emphasised the visible, movement-based expression of playfulness involved with such activity. Our live experiments, using the technologies and stimuli developed by the CARIAD research team to reveal playfulness in children with autism, highlighted that only some playful activity was clearly visible (eg through rhythmic movement, interaction with others, expressive facial and body movement). It was also clear that there were times when participants were passive, unmoving but engaged in mind both with the play activity and with the others in the spaces around about, and times of disengagement with the active play, equally associated with immobility. This was also evident in the reading group workshop, when the transcripts revealed not those actively speaking but also how in their 'silences' some (but not all) other participants in the group were engaged with the reading and the group as a whole.

In these respects, play is not constant, and relies on a continuous process of separation and engagement - both emotionally and physically. Play itself can be enriched by such separation (eg the thoughtful but apparently distant participant making an occasional but perceptive comment to the reading group). Interpreting playfulness can thus be challenging when lack of visible 'play' can be subject to multiple interpretations, raising questions about what methods and methodologies from across the humanities and social sciences can used to help capture and interpret non-expressive playfulness? And, do such non-expressive forms of playfulness have wellbeing benefits for individuals and how can they assist in social connectivity?


Playable spaces

In focussing on children's play, there has been an understandable emphasis in public policy in on the creation of safe, attractive physical spaces where play is designated and encouraged through design and planning. Indeed, western societies have to a far greater extent than in the past now regulated the opportunities for play. Significant investment -has been made to generate formalised and designated or designed spaces for the purpose of play (eg football pitch, skating park) or allowed along with other uses and activities (eg urban parks). Beyond these, other play spaces have been encouraged, with conscious interventions to make children welcome, provide more informal and adaptable play infrastructure, and provide a safe environment, although these other spaces within which play can and does take place are often in conflict or contestation with others (eg the street, the back alley, urban parks).

By creating alternative 'playable spaces' where playfulness was temporarily permitted, the project has sought to explore the impact of creating territories of and for play. These included encouraging play within the inherently unsafe and disused spaces of St Peter's seminary, the transformation of a laboratory into a group play space, and the creation of a reading group for playful engagement with text. Our experience in these settings was contrasted with the aim of brining more playful activity into the formalised spaces of museums and sports centres in Glasgow.

Several key insights emerged which raised research questions. First, the creation of physically designated play spaces does not in itself generate playfulness and play. The Glasgow city experience of providing community sports and recreation facilities as play spaces struggled to overcome associations of these spaces more with regulated, physical activity and less about playfulness. Second, playful behaviour can be engendered in routine and (apparently) unplayable spaces where the very notions of safe and managed physical characteristics are absent. The insertion of families into the derelict spaces of St Peter's seminary offered imaginative opportunities for play where the very absence of safety and regulation enhanced the playfulness of the situation.

Third, being playful challenges the existence of bounded territories into which activity can be harnessed and supported. Play itself seeks to extend such boundaries - at times consciously occurring elsewhere and challenging designations (eg football in the street adjacent to the designed football pitch). And fourthly, playable spaces extend beyond physical spaces, occurring in liminal and emotional spaces which people enter into and retreat from at different times and in different ways.
Exploitation Route In this follow on project it has only been possible to touch on possible ways in which enabling and permitting playfulness in adulthood can assist in addressing disconnections with communities. It does however offer some insights into how a deeper understanding of how play is being used to reconnect people with others and the potential for using playful activity and engagement as a means of overcoming some of the dissonance issues of contemporary society associated with isolation, stress, and alienation. Permitting adults to engage playfully in tasks (eg shared reading) and settings (eg exploring spaces together) can assist to break down barriers and foster new connections.

Two main research challenges persist however. First research into playfulness has concentrated in measurement at the individual scale, focussing on their strengths of characters which are thought to enhance playfulness. Extending scales such as the Adult Playfulness Scale beyond individuals and into playful interactions would be desirable to ensure that measurement of playfulness has more relevance to communities and in shaping public policy interventions.

Such a focus on reassessing the characteristics of playfulness would also assist in the second challenge. Although having many similarities to the nature and character of play observed and researched in children, play in adulthood is potentially more complex. Perhaps because of society's association of play with childhood (and the associated marginalisation of play by adults), there has been a tendency in research to focus of comparable expressions of playfulness in adulthood as is found in childhood. Like child's play, visible, vocal and movement-focussed expression - such as found in research on the arts and sport for example - are assumed to be indicators of playful engagement. But playful engagement can exists in other, less visible ways and have equally potentially important potential benefits on wellbeing and connectedness. To understand such playfulness requires the application of different approaches and methods. Textual and discourse analysis of transcripts from the reading groups revealed some of the outcomes of playful engagement in the silences. Film and personal accounts of 'play' stimulated by visual images revealed insights into forms of engagement (and disengagement).
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy,Creative Economy
 
Description The research project included engagement with a number of third sector organisations based in communities who used playfulness towards educational and community engagement. Our research has assisted the Liverpool project to make a submission for grant funded to extend their work with adults. The project findings also assisted Dr Treadaway with research co-funded in Australia on measuring playfulness.
First Year Of Impact 2013
Sector Communities and Social Services/Policy
Impact Types Societal
 
Description Academic member of Scottish Centre for Regeneration Advisory Board repsonsible for 'Skills and learning for regeneration in Scotland' 
Organisation Scottish Centre for Regeneration Advisory Board
Country United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland (UK) 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution Participant : Work on advisory panel to industry or government or non-gov organisation : Academic member of Scottish Centre for Regeneration Advisory Board repsonsible for 'Skills and learning for regeneration in Scotland'
Start Year 2008
 
Description Invited contribution to Northern Ireland Office workshop on "Attitudinal and behavioural change: sustainable energy production and consumption", Belfast 
Organisation Government of the UK
Department Northern Ireland Office
Country United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland (UK) 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution Advisor : Consultancy (in kind) : Invited contribution to Northern Ireland Office workshop on "Attitudinal and behavioural change: sustainable energy production and consumption", Belfast
Start Year 2009
 
Description Joint research with University of Cardiff 
Organisation Cardiff University
Country United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland (UK) 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution University of Strathclyde researchers worked on this project with researchers from University of Cardiff
Start Year 2012
 
Description Joint research with University of Glasgow 
Organisation University of Glasgow
Country United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland (UK) 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution University of Strathclyde researchers worked on this project with researchers from University of Glasgow
Start Year 2012
 
Description Joint research with University of Liverpool 
Organisation University of Liverpool
Country United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland (UK) 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution University of Strathclyde researchers worked on this project with researchers from University of Liverpool
Start Year 2012
 
Description Joint research with University of Manchester 
Organisation University of Manchester
Country United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland (UK) 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution University of Strathclyde researchers worked on this project with researchers from University of Manchester
Start Year 2008
 
Description Joint research with University of Warwick 
Organisation University of Warwick
Country United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland (UK) 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution University of Strathclyde researchers worked on this project with researchers from University of Warwick
Start Year 2008
 
Description Project partnership with Culture and Sport Glasgow 
Organisation Glasgow City Council
Country United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland (UK) 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution Culture and Sport Glasgow worked with the research team and assisted/contributed to the project outcomes
Start Year 2012
 
Description Project partnership with The Reader Organisation, UK 
Organisation The Reader Organisation, UK
Country United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland (UK) 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution The Reader Organisation, UK worked with the research team and assisted/contributed to the project outcomes
Start Year 2012