Playing or being played?

Lead Research Organisation: Queen Mary, University of London
Department Name: Geography


Play and playfulness are increasingly conspicuous in contemporary urban spaces. In work spaces play is used to foster creativity, socialise and retain employees, build emotional intelligence and alleviate boredom, and extend the working day blurring boundaries between work and leisure. In retail spaces it is used to create consumer experiences, build brand awareness and loyalty, and overcome the growing distance between distribution logistics and point-of-sale, itself increasingly virtual. In cultural spaces it is deployed to democratise high culture, create new opportunities for art practice, reach new audiences and drive patronage. And in public spaces it is used to support place-making, provide activity and animation, stimulate conviviality, enliven memorials, reconcile different user groups and manage their differing norms of behaviour.

Whilst play often appears entirely carefree, it is subtly being operationalised or even instrumentalised to achieve particular economic, social and spatial outcomes. Numerous spatially-led and sectorally-led approaches have separately generated scholarship of considerable value on this topic. However the emergence of play as a cross-cutting phenomenon in contemporary urban culture has yet to be adequately researched, theorised or critically analysed. This is where my enquiry aims to make an intellectual contribution to the field.

Drawing on cultural geography, critical urban studies and the cross-disciplinary scholarship of play itself, I will examine the motivations, interests, discourses and practices behind this 'ludic turn' in cities. This study will explore the unique potential of play as expressive form and social leveller, but will also consider the scope for critical participation through performative, politicised, ritualised and perhaps 'dark' forms of play. It will attend to the inclusionary and exclusionary practices of play forms - for example, how the roles of 'player' and 'spoilsport' interact in contested urban spaces - and the processes through which the wider geographies of play and spoiling concurrently produce 'winners' and 'losers', leisure and misery, conviviality and conflict, luxury and waste.


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
ES/P000703/1 30/09/2017 29/09/2027
2112559 Studentship ES/P000703/1 30/09/2018 29/09/2023 Conor Moloney