Risky play of late-liberalism

Risky play, defined generally as outdoor play with a risk of physical injury, is being encouraged from all directions. Even governmental organizations and agencies, previously reluctant to shake up the moto of utmost safety, are willing to pay for play spaces marketed as affording opportunities for risky play.

On the (very) surface, the trademark notion of risky play being good for children in so far as it builds their resilience, is a positive message. But only on the surface. For as Spivak (2004) writes, “Repeating slogans, even good slogans, is not the way to go, alas. It breeds fascists just as easily” (p. 560). Here, we ought to realize that the regime of resilience obscures suffering and marketizes endurance of the ostracized, racialized, and made abnormal: Black and Indigenous people, women and children, and marginalized others (see Burman, 2017; Casco-Solís, 2019; Clay, 2019; Lindroth & Sinevaara-Niskanen, 2017).

We could also well remember that the term ‘risky play’ speaks entirely from the point of view of developmentalism. Both in the assumptions of what engaging in such form of play will do for children’s bodies and minds, and in the point of view from which it is articulated – as if we understand precisely and completely how a play is perceived by a child, and what they ‘risk’ within it.

Finally, the proposition of ‘risky play’ is spun as a neoliberal tail: a child who risks hurt and injury now will make for a better (i.e. stronger, faster, more resilient) adult. It’s a message that parallels to Elizabeth Povinelli (DiFruscia interview, 2014) calling out the neoliberal state:

“Life is going to get much worse,” we are told, “but just wait and then things will get better.” Why do we think of this as care and not as state abuse? How long are we willing to give late-liberal forms of care-as-enervation before we are willing to call them a form of killing?


Burman, E. (2017). Deconstructing Developmental Psychology (3rd ed.). Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group.

Casco-Solís, S. (2019). Resisting Resilience in Neoliberal Times: Rawi Hage’s Cockroach. In A. M. Fraile Marcos (Ed.), Glocal Narratives of Resilience (pp. 181-191). Routledge.

Clay, K. (2019). “Despite the Odds”: Unpacking the Politics of Black Resilience Neoliberalism. American Educational Research Journal, 56(1), 75–110.

DiFruscia, K. T. (2014, March). Shapes of Freedom: A Conversation with Elizabeth A. Povinelli. e-flux Journal, 53. Online:

Lindroth, M., & Sinevaara-Niskanen, H. (2017). The Neoliberal Embrace of Resilient Indigeneity. In Global Politics and Its Violent Care for Indigeneity (pp. 79–102). Springer International Publishing.

Spivak, G. C. (2004). Righting wrongs. The South Atlantic Quarterly103(2), 523-581.