Call For Papers: Towards playful urban futures? Animating, experimenting and participating in the city as playground.

Session conveners: Luke Dickens (King’s College London) and Tara Woodyer (University of Portsmouth)

Call for Papers: RGS-IBG Annual International Conference, Cardiff, 28-31 August 2018

Play is an inherently social practice, an open process that prioritizes the intrinsic value of becoming through a performative engagement with the world. As such, play has long been of interest to urban scholars, activists and practitioners, especially for its excessive, experimental and transgressive potential to resist the rational dominance of urban capital (Borden 2001, de Certeau 1984, Lefebvre 1996, Stevens 2007, Wark 2015, Ward 1978). Nonetheless, the academic consideration of play has often remained centred on the experiences of children, particularly within the quintessential site of the playground (after Allen 1946; Sørenson 1951; see Koslovsky 2013); or on the practices of Letterists, Situationists, psychogeographers and similarly motivated groups (Pinder 2005; Souzis 2015). While offering a range of important critical insights, further work is needed to develop our scholarship beyond these often historical and sometimes nostalgic accounts (Voce 2017).

Skateboarder doing a trick in a skate park

Indeed, this task has become pressing given an apparent ‘playful turn’ (Ackerman, Rausher & Stein 2016) in contemporary urban planning, policy making and design. In these fields, various notions of play are increasingly articulated as ‘animating’ or ‘enlivening’ experimental visions of the urban future: whether through renewed calls for ‘child-centric’ forms of planning and governance (Williams, Wright & zu Dohna 2017); local state and community initiatives to reclaim and reimagine urban spaces, such as play streets (Stenning 2017); play- and game-based participatory decision making and simulations (Tan 2017); or by using media technologies and infrastructures to produce ‘playable’ urban spaces intended to ameliorate otherwise rather stark ‘smart’ city agendas (Nijholt 2017).

This session seeks to critically develop and creatively engage with this expanded field of play – whereby the city itself is variously approached as both laboratory and playground – as a means of exploring potential urban futures. In this regard geographers have initiated a conceptual and empirical focus on play beyond sanctioned spaces of childhood and children’s geographies, and towards a critical, socio-material politics of the everyday (Woodyer 2012; Horton and Kraftl 2017). To further advance this work we invite geographically focused, theoretically informed papers that approach notions of the urban future through a range of philosophical understandings of play (e.g. McLean, Russell and Ryall 2016; Sikart 2014).

Some of the key questions we hope to address include – How and in what ways might emerging forms of playful urbanism become central to imagining, and indeed realizing, the future city? Can play be used to deliver radically sustainable and progressive alternatives to the neoliberal city? To what extent does a playful turn in urban planning, policy and design offer responses to the various crises, challenges and problems faced by contemporary and future cites? Is it necessary to position urban life as ‘playful’ for it to be engaging, rewarding or affirmative? Does play in/of/with the city necessarily have to be ‘digitised’ and/or ‘mediated’? Are playful qualities of cities such as serendipity, hospitality and openness best approached through technological interventions? Who might or might not have a stake in a playful urban future?

Find out more about the RGS conference here.

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Ackermann, J., Rauscher, A. and Stein, D. (2016) Playin’ the City: Artistic and Scientific Approaches to Playful Urban Arts. Siegen: Navigationen.
Allen, L. (1946) Why not use our bomb sites like this? Picture Post, November 16th, pp. 26–27.
Borden, I. (2001) Skateboarding, Space and the City: Architecture and the Body. Oxford: Berg.
de Certeau, M. (1984) The Practice of Everyday Life. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
Horton, J. and Kraftl, P. (2017) Rats, assorted shit and ‘racist groundwater’: Towards extra-sectional understandings of childhoods and social-material processes. Environment and Planning D, online early, DOI:
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Lefebvre, H. (1996) Writings on Cities. [Trans. Kofman, E. and Lebas, E.] Oxford: Blackwell.
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Nijholt, A. (ed.) (2017) Playable Cities: The City as Digital Playground. Singapore: Springer.
Pinder, D. (2005) Visions of the City: Utopianism, Power and Politics in Twentieth-Century Urbanism. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.
Sicart, M. (2014) Play Matters: Playful Thinking. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Sørenson, C.T. (1951) Junk Playgrounds. Danish Outlook, 4(1):311-316.
Souzis, A.E. (2015) Momentary ambiances: psychogeography in action. cultural geographies, 22(1): 193-201.
Stenning, A. (2017) Playing Out and Everyday Relationships: Mapping the Psychosocial Geographies of Street Play in North Tyneside. Research project funded by the School of Geography, Politics and Sociology, Newcastle University (2017-2018). Source: Last accessed: 05/01/2018
Stevens, Q. (2007) The Ludic City: Exploring the Potential of Public Spaces. Oxford: Routledge.
Tan, E. (2017) Play the City. Source: Last accessed: 20/11/17
Voce, A. (2017) Adventure playgrounds are too important to consign to history. Policy for Play blog. Source: Last accessed: 04/01/2018
Ward, C. (1978) The Child and the City. London: Penguin.
Wark, M. (2015) The Beach Beneath the Street. London: Verso.
Williams, Wright & zu Dohna (2017) Cities Alive: Designing for Urban Childhoods. London: Arup.
Woodyer, T. (2012) Ludic geographies. Not merely child’s play. Geography Compass, 6(6):313-326.




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