Understanding play as a field of messy, uneven relationships suggests a kind of awkward dynamic tactile/imaginary shape that may be hard to capture but is attractive to think with. I imagine playing coming of Barad’s (2015) queer self-birth: “out of chaos and void, tohu v’vohu [tohu vavohu], an echo, a diffracted / differentiating / différancing murmuring, <a…> repetition without sameness” (p. 393).
In the forest, preschoolers climb onto a stump of an old, uprooted tree. It’s so large that six bodies find space on top of its root ball, bellies flat against frozen bark, chins over the edge.
There isn’t careful consideration on how to play on the tree, and there has hardly been a moment for selection. Their confidence excites me. They are proud to show up and climb, but it seems that any other detour will also do. Things are pulled together because they are here. There is a sense of promiscuity: a tree sets of play, or leaf sets of play. It’s worth nothing in particular, and sometimes it’s worth everything. I want to find a detail that would complete this picture, make this moment known and matter, but there is no arrival, just flashes of laughter from swift ones and anger from those who didn’t find space up on the tree, boots slipping, sound of waterproof clothing dirtying. How can I make descriptive a relationship without a function? Without a pattern or causality, I can hardly be clever, only see what will happen next.
As a playground designer, I go back to this sense of promiscuity. In a market economy, the ease with which play relationships are formed (with rocks and leaves and stumps and sticks and garbage and paths) demonetarizes my profession. We have put play on the pedestal, venerated it, separated it from the messy common everyday life, made is special not in a way that everything is special, but in a way that special things (playing children) are separate from dirty politics and messy circumstances.
I wonder, if there is even a thing that can be gathered and labeled as ‘play’? Seeing play as a quantifiable activity is only a must if one is working within the realm of developmentalism. Afterall, if one wishes to propose that it is through play that children learn appropriate societal norms and values, and that it is through play that children develop physical and cognitive competencies, then we must always already know play as a tool to achieve better future adults.
Barad, Karen (2015) Transmaterialities: Trans*/Matter/Realities and Queer Political Imaginings. GLQ: A JOURNAL OF LESBIAN and GAY STUDIES, 387-422.