Play makes the World the World makes Play



A literature review can be a study in itself (Cooper 1988; Creswell 2003; Boote and Beile 2005; Bowman 2007), or the means of generating and, or contextualizing a research endeavour (Blaxter et al. 2006; Maxwell 2006; Rocco and Plakhotnik 2009). Whether self fulfilling or accompanying, a literature review can be seen as bearing the task of validating the inquiry. In the first instance, described as a process of synthesis or systematic review (Cooper 1988; Bowman 2007), and differentiated as review of rather than review for (Blaxter et al. 2006; Maxwell 2006), validity can be understood to rest in the reviewing technique of the researcher (Cooper 1988; Bowman 2007). In the second instance the literature review must additionally bear a symbiotic relationship with rest of the study (Maxwell 2006; Locke et al. 2009; Rocco and Plakhotnik 2009). The key to a good literature review seems to be its relevance, both in what it encompasses and in how it is undertaken. However what relevance is seems to be open to question. Two articles, Boote and Beile (2005) and Maxwell (2006) written within the field of American educational research, yet located in international literature (Strauss 1987; Delamont 1992; Creswell 1994; Bruce 2001; Locke et al. 2004) offer a juxtaposition of perspectives on relevance, with regard to undertaking valuable research within a concern for professional identity. Though the context is different than that of this inquiry, the concern of professional identity is echoed in the task of this literature review and perhaps in essence in every literature review; as expressed in the requirement of locating the field and locating the research study (Cooper 1988; Creswell 2003; Boote and Beile 2005; Blaxter et al. 2006; Maxwell 2006; Bowman 2007; Locke et al. 2009).

Particularly, however, these two articles concern themselves with the subject of professional identity as portrayed by its researchers’ aptitude for literature review (Boote and Beile 2005; Maxwell 2006). As will be shown this inquiry’s literature review is also centred around the identity of its situational field, not through a critique of the skills and techniques of its writers, but in terms of their motivational frame as discernable from the literature. The points raised in these two articles, thereby, can be seen as relevant to content and process. Boote and Beile (2005) argue a case for comprehensive and thorough literature review, with a broad net, as the ‘foundation’, or generative ground for further research. Quoting Cooper (Cooper 1985) they seem to propose that the criteria by which synthesis is undertaken within a stand alone review should be appropriated to reviews that are precursors to further research. Their perspective seems to be that future research should be indicated by review of previous research, this enabling research to be cumulative. In response to this article Maxwell (2006) argues that Boote and Beile have paid scant regard to relevance, which he notes is only mentioned twice in Boote and Beile’s article. He suggests that by the approach that Boote and Beile propose, research students might turn out very thorough literature reviews that bear no relevance to the questions of their inquiry. Rather, he writes a literature review is a tool of the researcher and no more foundational than a hammer is the foundation of carpentry. He quotes Locke et al. (1999) “the writer’s task is to employ the research literature artfully to support and explain the choices made for this study, not to educate the reader concerning the state of science in the problem area” (Locke et al 1999, p.69, emphasis in original, in Maxwell 2006). However what Maxwell does not draw attention to, is that ‘relevance’ in Boote and Beile’s (2005) article seems to be directional, bound with the authors’ aspirations regarding the standing of their field in relation to other fields of research. Reading, perhaps superficially, from outside their field, what seems to be at stake is whether the identity of the field is given and perhaps served more greatly by being indicated and thereby predicated by its literature, or through an inquiry born from individual interest by a professional within the field, who contextualizes their perspective in the literature. Perhaps the prevalence of one form of literature review over another might be open to consideration as not so much reflective of the development of reviewing skills, as of a field’s dynamics.

This research inquiry was not generated by a review of literature. It arose from observing children’s play. Yet the context of how the thinking came about is embedded in a sense of what being a playworker is. While recognising a sense of identity, there was also an awareness that the literature and conceptual framework did not automatically provide a frame for this research. Therefore on two counts this literature review could, by Blaxter et al’s differentiations of types of literature review, be called a report – being “not only a synthesis of literature relevant to the research, (but) a final representation of interaction with the literature” (Blaxter et al. 2006, p.124). This inquiry concerns an aspect of children’s play interactions with things, perceived and related to within a personal frame of understanding as a playworker. The concern of this inquiry indicates two interlinked areas for literature review, namely play and playwork. As will be illustrated the first, play, is a subject that not only seems to find reference in myriad fields and disciplines, but by its nature seems to be moulded by the interests and methods of frames of investigation. While presenting challenge to those who would define play (Huizinga 1955; Sutton-Smith 1997; Bekoff and Allen 1998; Caillois 2001; Burghardt 2005) this quality avails the possibility of illuminating the field by their relationship to play, similarly perhaps to the insight which is afforded by those who watch the playing child (Axline 1969; Sturrock and Else 1998; Jennings 1999; Burghardt 2005; Hughes 2006; Fisher 2008). By this situation a review of playwork theories of play offers at once the possibility to locate and describe the field by its constructs of play, as well as providing context to the stance of this inquiry towards the playing child, which arguably enabled the inspiration of the subject of inquiry. This first area indicates a further aspect for review, that being the conceptual ground of which these theories seem to be a manifestation—both in their content and of motivational impetus. The second part of the review will search the playwork literature for its portrayal of the development of playwork’s identity. As such this part of the chapter can be seen as concerned with the conceptual framework (Blaxter et al. 2006; Rocco and Plakhotnik 2009) of the field in which this inquiry is situated; which is not wholly the conceptual framework of the inquiry itself, for that is developed throughout the following chapters. The difference between an individual playworker/researcher’s conceptual framework and that identifiable as definitive of the sector might arguably be enabled by the very form of the professions framework being describable as unconstrained (Maxwell 2005).

While the interest of this inquiry is best served by this focus in the review of the literature, such demarcation should not be seen as an indication of lack of awareness of the breadth of literature on the subject of play, nor indicative of a lack in individual playworkers’ interactions with this extensive subject matter. Although this literature review will not take the form of a list (Blaxter et al. 2006), it is perhaps of merit to provide a non exhaustive illustration of the breadth of playwork’s reference to theory and research outside its field. The eclectic attitude, which can be thus demonstrated, is perhaps indicative of the sector’s openness and search for resonant meaning, qualities which will be further explored as they are illuminated in the body of the literature review. The anthropologists Huizinga (1955) and Sutton-Smith (1997) give an impression of the breadth of situations, forms and concepts of play. Huizinga displays the interaction between the human instinct to play and the occurrence of fundamental aspects of culture, including language, law and war. Within seven rhetorics of play Sutton-Smith (1997) describes and considers what he later quantifies as 308 forms of play (Sutton-Smith 2011b). These two authors could be considered the ground of reference for playwork’s recognition of play’s diversification, both in terms of play’s materialization and its affect on the human organism (Hughes 2001; Guilbaud 2003; Davy and Gallagher 2006; Russell 2007; Brown 2008; Lester 2008; Russell and Lester 2008; Brown 2009b; Else 2009; Kilvington and Wood 2010). In 2004 Sutton-Smith spoke at the 5th Conference on the Playwork NVQ & SNVQ and in 2006 he spoke at a celebratory event at Leeds Metropolitan University. His filmed interview contribution to the 2011 International Play Association (IPA) conference (Sutton-Smith 2011a) was conducted by Brown who is Reader in Playwork at Leeds Metropolitan University, and Sutton-Smith (2009) refers to Britain’s playwork degrees in the introduction to the ‘Encyclopedia of play in today’s society’ (Sutton-Smith 2009). Many of the disciplines and fields of practice included in the texts of Huizinga (1955) and Sutton-Smith (1997) are further explored and incorporated into playworkers’ reflective writing.

For instance:

Biological and evolutionary implications of play are also drawn from:

·Damasio (1994) - by Sturrock (2003b), Hughes (2006), Lester (2007), Shenstone (2007);

·Burghardt (2005) - by Hughes (2001, 2006), Russell (2007) and Russell and Lester (2008);

·Bekoff and Allen (1998)  - by Hughes (2001, 2006).

The repercussions of play deprivation and the therapeutic potential of play are also drawn from:

·Axline (1969; 1984) - by Brown and Webb (2003), Guilbaud (2003), Rennie (2003), Ward (2008), and Brown (2009a);

·Jennings (1995) - by Hughes (2001; 2003);

·Miller (1995) - by Guilbaud (2003);

·Brown (1998) - by Hughes (2003; 2006);

·Winnicott (2005) - by Sturrock (2003c), Else (2008), Richards (2008) and Taylor and Wilson (2008).

The socio/cultural aspects of play, human creativity and self-actualisation are also drawn from:

·Bateson (1972) - by Hughes (2001), Russell (2007) and Else (2009);

·Bruner et. al. (1976) - by Hughes (2001), Brown (2003) and Conway (2003);

·Vygotsky (1978) - by Hughes (2006) Shenstone (2007) and Brown (2008);

·Csikszentmihalyi (2002) - by Guilbaud (2003, 2008), Battram (2008) and Else (2009).

Interest in philosophical perspectives of play can be seen to be immerging in the discussion of certain authors (Sturrock 2003b; Russell 2007; Else 2009) and the recent Philosophy at Play conference (2011), which Russell was instrumental in organising. Though this breadth of engagement with concepts of play may indeed be brought about and formative of the geist of playwork, a comprehensive listing as an approach to the body of the literature review was not deemed to offer the same strength of representation of the sector’s sense of identity as availed by a critical investigation of its own fundamental theories of play and perception of the development of its own theoretical framework as visible within its own literature. For the same reason the task of this literature review is not to redress any shortcomings within the field of playwork’s engagement with the broader field of play, for this would arguably muddy the water. The review is not concerned with what playwork should be, but with its perceptible materialization in its theories of play and with how its literature communicates its sense of identity.  


Faced with a literature review of any aspect of play, is to be faced with a question as to what play is. In that question we are faced with vastness. This vastness is not only in the volume of texts but also in what play can be, its seemingly infinite manifestations that are the cause of its presence in so many texts, and also perceptibly part of many authors awareness of the very nature of play. This relationship, apparent in so much of the literature (for example; Campbell 1991; Cobb 1993; Chawla 1994; Sutton-Smith 1997; Jennings 1999) can be found expressed in the following, oft cited, fragment of Heraclitus “Lifetime (aiõn) is a child at play, moving pieces in a game. Kingship belongs to the child.” (Heraclitus fragment 52, in, Heraclitus and Kahn 1981, p.227). In its seeming interaction with every aspect of life (Huizinga 1955; Spariosu 1991; Sutton-Smith 1997; Nagel 2002) play does indeed seem reflective of lifetime, or as aiõn is sometimes understood a kind of ‘vital force’ (Spariosu 1991, p.66). This refraction between life and play is noted from, for example, the specific minute actions of finger play (Riker 1957; Call 1968; Naylor and Bower 2005), to mythological (Campbell 1991; Goldman 1998; Ackerman 1999) and scientific views of the creation of the universe (Spariosu 1989; Ackerman 1999; Heisenberg 2000; Kane 2005). The next part of Heraclitus’ statement concerning movement of pieces in a game brings up the dichotomy of games with rules (Koestler 1976; Caillois 2001), in the combined significance and insignificance of actions and structures within the context of play (Huizinga 1955; Kane 2005). The kingship belonging to the child can be seen to build on this—there is a sense of children’s best knowledge of play and thereby their implied creative power (Cobb 1993; Chawla 1994; Goldman 1998; Patra and Prasad 2006), juxtaposed with the randomness and unpredictability (Ackerman 1999; Hughes 2006; Sandseter 2009) or perhaps both inherently and conversely the fatality of life (Sutton-Smith 1997) and thereby the insignificance of play and of life (Popkin 1993).

These interpretations of this extensively dissected and used fragment are however based on a personal reaction to it. Others have explored and applied it with different understanding and emphasis. For example: Sheets-Johnstone (2008) discusses these words in relation to time, within a multidisciplinary perspective of child’s play in the context of morality; Morris (1998), considers this metaphor with reference to Huizinga in relation to Plato’s harnessing of play as a means to a good society, in a chapter entitled ‘no coercion in learning’ in a section on play and meaning, in a book concerning play from birth to 12yrs; Spariosu discusses in terms of metaphysics and power and the “agõnes logõn (verbal contests) among the Presocratic thinkers” (Spariosu 1991, p.58, original italics ); Nagel (2002), critiques interpretations of the meaning of this fragment within a genealogy of play; Caputo (2003) deals with it first in relation to Heidegger (p.228) and play as reason for itself in relation to epoché, and second with the lyrical discourse of Morgenstern’s Lament—which suggests that to write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric though inevitable, for to do so poses the danger of “giving it an aesthetic glow” (Morgenstern in, Caputo 2003, p.176). These relationships to the words of Heraclitus are not so widely disparate that they could not be related to each other, yet they are by no means one response within one frame. In that situation there can be seen a reflection of the combined partiality and universality evident in our understanding of play, a shared search for meaning of something we collectively understand yet cannot describe in separation to our partial understanding.

The quote also brings to focus the affect that a perceived genesis of play in infancy bears on concepts of play, and the affect which perceptions of play can also have on constructs of childhood (James et al. 1998; Brown and Cheesman 2003; Russell and Lester 2008). The cultural context in which Heraclitus wrote these words, as well as his personal situation, is very different to those of this inquiry and to that of those who have used the quote. Those who study Heraclitus and thereby have far greater reference to what he might have meant by these words, take the view of childhood at the time into account (Heraclitus and Kahn 1981; Nagel 2002). In his critical synthesis of interpretations Nagel comments on Frankel's identification that “in Heraclitus’s times, children were considered weak or feebleminded creatures” (Nagel 2002, p.19). Caputo (2003), however builds on Heidegger’s interpretation of the playing child being an expression of play for its own sake. Once again, though the points of view do not necessarily negate each other they certainly impart a different tone.

Within the cultural influence of perspectives of childhood on perceptions of play there are today many different fields of interest through which play is seen and given meaning. The following is an attempt to illustrate how data used by one researcher/author in one field could equally have been differently interpreted in relation to the concerns of another field. A child’s play with blocks may, for example, be interpreted by those involved in education, in concordance with the development aptitude for academic learning (Bullock 1992; Pickett 1998; Wolfgang et al. 2001); or equally, by a researcher with sociological concern as a differentiated type of object, indicative of gender orientated support of play given to children by their parents (Roopnarine 1986). An educationalist with interest in social development may focus on the value of block play to social behaviour in relation to development (Rogers 1985). Yet a different configuration of interest in the same form of play data can be seen in Bassi’s (2000) interest in gender difference in block play as a predicator for mathematical achievement. The buildable nature of bricks has equally been observed in the different, yet not completely unrelated, form of imitative and symbolic cathartic value (Schiffer 1984). Levin (2003) discusses children’s use of blocks after 9/11 in relation to her concern of creating peaceable classrooms in violent times. Johnson (2007) then sites this discussion in his work on a play evaluation scheme for practice and policy.

The attempt with these previous paragraphs has not been to compute literature regarding play in relation to this inquiry, so much as to illustrate the way in which our knowledge of play is moulded by who we are, personally, culturally and professionally. In so doing the intent has been to communicate the vastness reflected in this malleability, which seems implicit in what play is; that being a situation relevant to this inquiry. I am not alone in having taken this approach, yet such an approach often also culminates in an attempt to define and ascertain reasons for play, such theoretical construction being visibly predicated by the researcher / theorist’s orientation (Sutton-Smith 1997; Brown 1998; Burghardt 2005). Perhaps our curiosity and our valuation of play cannot but originate in the differentiation of play from non play, and the very creation of a word or words for naming play (Huizinga 1955). Play’s capacity, both in our doing it and in our viewing it, to reflect what we imbue it with, seems to furnish it with a capacity to exist before and after any aspect of life as a creator and an echo, and as a means of enabling and of judging. This situation makes sense of understandings of play and theoretical perspectives of play developed by professions with concern in different areas of life, but what happens when a profession’s concern is stated as play and the playing child. How is play then seen, and how does that seeing define the profession called Playwork?

The aim of the following sections will be to review literature within the playwork field that sheds light on the sector’s understanding of play, and on playwork’s relationship to play, the child, and itself, which seems to enable, and result from, that understanding. How does a profession who’s concern is primarily play and play for the child, interact with what play is in society, to other professions and to the practicing playworker?


This section will consider three playwork theories, Play Types (Hughes 1996b; 2006) Compound Flexibility (Brown 1989; 2003a) and The Play Cycle (Sturrock and Else 1998), which can be seen to have had significant impact on the sector’s policy and practice (Examples of this impact include, Conway 2003; Hughes 2006; Russell et al. 2007; Brown 2008; Else 2009; Kilvington and Wood 2010). While it is recognized that the intent seems in each to be the articulation of a theoretical frame for the contextualizing of playwork practice, the attempt here will be to decipher the understanding of play apparent within the theories’ premises, constructs and assimilation into the field.

Play types

The Taxonomy of Play Types (Hughes 1996b; 2006) is a theoretical frame describing sixteen forms of play, speculating on the origins of play, and proposing the essentiality of play in relation to these forms. Since the original publication in 1996 of A Playworker’s Taxonomy of Play Types this theoretical frame can be seen to have become imbedded in the practice, policy and psyche of the playwork profession (Hughes 2006; Russell 2007; SkillsActive 2007; Brown 2008). Its creation and development as a theory—initially by Hughes(1996b), then via exploration, and application in the field (Bonel and Lindon 2000; Conway 2003; Hughes 2006; PlayWales 2006; Russell 2007; Brown 2008; Conway 2008), accompanied by Hughes (2006) revisiting and extension—seems illustrative of playwork’s attraction to and creation of perspectives wherein play is understood as vital. Hughes (1996b, 2006) describes his initial motivation to create a tool for articulating the playworker’s perspective of play, which seemed to him, often to be something playworkers sensed in relation to their experiences but for which they lacked the theoretical defence. He tells of the initial frustration of his literature search for material by which to define play in concordance with the observations of his practice (Hughes 2006). He expresses his initial despair with the literature’s non-representation of ‘real play’ and the self-doubt, which this lack of reflection engendered. “Where was play in the raw? Or was I just romanticising or imagining what I thought I had observed?” (Hughes 2006, p.21). Hughes tells of his ‘delight’ and perceptible relief in coming across deep play (Geertz 1973), the subsequent discovery of descriptions of mastery play (Ellis 1973) and the beginnings of his theoretical structure in which the first fifteen types of play, which rang true to his experience were drawn from the literature of different fields.

The play types incorporate literature from different disciplines that resonated with Hughes’s experience and observations. Hughes (2006) particularly acknowledge the editors Bekoff and Byers (1998) and the contributing authors to Animal Play, Burghardt (2005) for The Genesis of Animal Play, Stephens and Price (2000) for Evolutionary Psychiatry, and Sutton-Smith (1997) for The Ambiguity of Play. However, the theory’s proposed necessity of humanity’s play experience within all of the play types potentially removes the view of play as a means or an indicator visible within disciplines from which Hughes draws. In the first edition of A Playworkers Taxonomy of Play Types Hughes offers the possibility that “while the reason for different ‘play types’ might exist remains unknown, one possible explanation might be that each play type is a specific biological ‘key’ to a different ‘treasure chest’ of knowledge and understanding in the environment and that only by playing in a particular way can we unlock the knowledge to which that ‘key’ applies (Hughes 1996b, P.2).

That suggestion was, Hughes retrospectively explains, put forward in the first edition to stimulate questions about the environments (in the broadest sense of the word), which were ‘being proposed for children’s play’ (Hughes 2006, p.26). Ten years later when Hughes re-examines the theoretical framework, hence assimilated into playwork identity, he reiterates his belief in the subtly yet crucially discrete nature of every play type and the criticality of children’s opportunity to engage in all play types. Often referencing sources inspired by Sutton-Smith (1997), Hughes cites scientific research (for instance, Huttenlocher 1992; Bekoff and Allen 1998; Burghardt 2005) which he sees as having in those ten years between the first publication and this revisiting ‘to some extent born out’ the premise of this suggestion. This literature from the realm of physics and biology is deciphered in terms of unique patterns offered to our physical brain by each play type.

Drawing from this premise in his critical evaluation Hughes proposes a sixteenth play type, that of ‘recapitulative play’. This play type reflects the work of Hall (1904) and Reaney (1916). With this addition we can see the partnership of play with life and circularly with play itself, its reason for itself. Yet through the other play types this theory also provides the value of play to development in all areas of life, or in any specific area of life. Hughes describes this theory as offering an interface of common ground between playworkers (those absorbed in the magic of play) and those with other concerns. Yet he perhaps fails to make enough of the affect which orientation can have on the lens that you look through. By its very synthesizing this theoretical frame seems vulnerable to disbanding into its constituent parts and thereby to the loss of its seemingly intended holistic focus on play’s vitality. The original intent and introductory discussion offers space for every greater exalting, understanding and to an open watching for what today’s play may be telling us of tomorrow. However, the communication of the play types, and the propositions regarding their use in relation to observing play, seem to have the possibility of contradicting that aim.

Hughes suggests that play types can be differentiated from the background noise of the rest of play (2006, p.101). He also suggests that play types can be expanded and merged by interpreting that background noise as combinations of play types (ibid). In the two suggestions Hughes perhaps lays the ground for the differentiation of important aspects of play that can be understood as crucial play types or mergings of these, and the play that falls outside of these because of and resulting in its situation outside of our interest. This reduction seems contra to the magic that Hughes describes in his memories and observations of play. The suggestion of seeing tag games as composite of “Social + 3D Gross + Locomotor + Communication + Recapitulative + Deep” (Hughes 2006, p.106) could be seen as potentially blinkering. As expressed by a practicing playworker, by looking for the obvious play types when a child is running around we might fail to see that they are actually exploring a fantasyland in their mind and the running is secondary (personal communication with Vale 2010). While the creation of combinatory play types actually leaves space for the noticing of such experiences, such suggestions as that “we may find that games of tag contain roughly the same amalgamation of play types perhaps even in the same proportions” (Hughes 2006, p.106) is perhaps engendering of interpreted limitation.

The dichotomy of this situation within this theory seems to be reflected in the way it is referred to and discussed within the writing of other playworkers (Davy 1995; Bonel and Lindon 2000; Brown 2008; Taylor 2008a; Else 2009; Kilvington and Wood 2010). This inquiry cannot for the sake of space and balance provide critical review for every mention of play types within the playwork literature. However two chapters written five years apart by Conway (2003; 2008) offer an apt illustration of the experienced capacity and limitations of the theory of play types. In a chapter entitled ‘Professional playwork practice,’ Conway (2003), describes a ‘design and build’ play project set up several years previously by Hackney Play Association, in which children were consulted with regard to improving their playground. Conway describes how playworkers tried to explain the play types to children and how children had difficulty understanding them perhaps because the playworkers did too. He explains how children came up with their own three types of play, one of which being ‘just mucking about’ and how these were considered by children and playworkers in relation to Hughes’s play types with the purpose of creating a structure that would enable experience of as many play types as possible. He states “the children eventually decided on a ship structure …, because it would be good for several play types such as role, fantasy, dramatic and imaginative play, while other play types such as locomotor, social and communication play were already at least partly catered for in the existing playground. The playworkers stifled a groan – this was the third project in a row where children had come up with a ship structure as their preferred design” (Conway 2003, p.111). Conway also notes the post project evaluation that “while individual components were often varied, what was called ‘the silhouette’ of a lot of the larger and more permanent structures was very similar, revealing that we had in fact been unconsciously designing and building to templates” (ibid). In the closing of this chapter, which comments on playwork through the subject of the quality of the compensatory play spaces where playworkers work, Conway returns to an aspect of the design and build evaluation. He notes the identified discrepancy in what came to be described as the ‘play literacy’ of children from different settings. He describes this ‘play literacy’ as the overall competence of the children within a setting across a range of forms of play. The fundamental contributor to play literacy is judged to be the extent to which ‘children’s play shapes and drives the playwork response’. The dependence of judged play literacy on responsiveness to children’s play perhaps summarizes the ambiguous nature of play types as manifest in its application and there-through its interaction with the playwork understanding of play.

Five years later this ambiguity can be seen to remain, while being subtly differently related to, in Conway’s (2008) exploration of playwork’s relationship to the play of the child, via his evaluations of the Playwork Principles (PPSG 2005). Conway who was commissioned alongside Hughes and Sturrock to review and develop proposals for the Playwork Principles, states the developed intention as to have Principles that described the “unique playwork perspective” (Conway 2008, p.119). In this chapter Conway takes the reader through the meaning of the Principles in relation playwork’s concern with the playing child. Conway’s reference to play types in this chapter sits between principle 2 and 3 which Conway relates to “the proposition that play appears to be universal and instinctive, but while many of the play behaviours of children individually or in groups can be observed and described, the internal mental states and intentions that drive or produce them can only be inferred” (ibid. p.121). Conway recommends ‘Play Types: Speculations and Possibilities’ (Hughes 2006), as a text which recognizes children as experts of their play, contextualizing this understanding with a quote from the back cover of Hughes’s book, which asks, “whether what we think we see when we observe children playing is what is actually going on” (ibid. p.121). Here the relationship to play types seems to be to its underlying precept of starting with what we observe of children’ s play and thinking about what that might mean; or in Hughes’s case looking for texts that reflected his experience of watching children play, being involved in play with children, and of his own play experiences. Conway (2008) states that playworkers should have an understanding of key concepts such as play types, and other stated playwork theoretical perspectives. However the dichotomy between predication and possibility, visible in the field’s assimilation of play types, does not seem as oppositional to a knowledge inspired by the children’s play, as it did in the former chapter (Conway 2003). The affect of inferences as to the reason and the value of play are clearly present in discussion of the other principles and in the wording of the principles themselves. However in this later (Conway 2008) positioning of the playwork view of play, the theory’s proposed types of play and the underpinning ethic of unknowingness seem closer together, more as one than they did in Conway’s expression of playwork understanding of play five years previously (Conway 2003).

Is this perceptible rapprochement indicative of a movement in Conway’s understanding, perhaps in reflection of movement in the view of play in the playwork field? Perhaps such movement interacted with a development of emphasis between the publication of ‘A Playworker’s Taxonomy of Play Types’ and ‘Play Types Speculations and Possibilities’ (Hughes 2006) – as is arguably reflected in the tone of the titles. Hughes himself recognises the affect of the sector’s incorporation of play types on his relationship to the theoretical construct (Hughes 2006). In each of the two discussed chapters Conway makes reference to Hughes’s consultative role on the pieces of work that are the subjects of Conway’s writing. This situation would suggest possibility for influence between the two authors’ perceptions of play types. Furthermore Conway was one of two playworkers providing the examples of play used to illustrate the play types in the original document (Hughes 1996b). Thus the representation of what play is to playwork that is evidenced by this theory and its assimilation into the field, as illustrated in Conway’s chapters, can be seen as a symbiotic and cumulative interactive process. However the possibility for this to be the case seems to originate as much in the potential of the theory itself as with the field’s and its authors’ exploitation of its potential. The theory proposes that there are sixteen types of play as yet identified, playing within which is crucial to how we have become who we are and crucial to becoming who we will be. Within the ‘who we will be’ there seems to rest the unknown as a quality of play itself, this leaving potential for the theory to grow.

Compound Flexibility

Brown’s theory of compound flexibility can be seen as foremost a theory concerned with the potential of the environment in which the child plays and the role of the playworker within that (Brown 1989; 2003a). The role and stance of the playworker as represented in the literature will be explored in the latter part of this chapter. As stated above the task of this part of the literature review is to focus on how the literature represents playwork’s understanding of play. This initial focus will then provide ground for discussion of playwork’s approach to the playing child and its sense of professional identify—approach and identity arguably being implied and implicit in such concepts of play. Therefore though the theory of compound flexibility is presented by a weaving of practice and theory, the intent here is to concentrate on the ideas of what play is, contained therein. As with play types (Hughes 1996b; Hughes 2006) Brown’s theoretical frame seems to encircle a substantial space of what play can be, of the potential for play to be more than. However the frame itself, though it bears similarities to that of play types, is also different both in overt and more subtle ways. The attempt below will be to demonstrate these similarities and differences during this exploration of the theory of compound flexibility (Brown 1989; 2003a), in so doing adding to and perhaps refining the concept as described by the literature, of what play is to playwork.

Central to Brown’s proposition is that “the ideal developmental cycle for a human being (especially as child) involves the gradual growth of an interaction between a flexible environment and an increasingly flexible human being” (Brown 2003a, p.53). This developmental cycle encompasses; social interaction, physical activity, intellectual stimulation, creative achievement and emotional stability, as well as fun, freedom and flexibility. Brown (1989; 2003a) describes the process by which flexibility in the play environment draws forth flexibility in the child, an increasingly flexible child is then able to exploit greater and greater potential from the flexibility of the environment. This is a cumulative process, which rests on the environment’s potential to stimulate the child’s potential. The environmental flexibility is not however understood in terms of ever more constructed complexities, but rather in terms of the opportunity for access and malleability through all the child’s capacity via the aspects of fun, freedom and flexibility. These three qualities of experience and corresponding aptitude seem to be at the core of Brown’s suggestion that play avails perhaps the highest opportunity for holistic human development, given environmental potential. It is here that what play is within this theoretical perspective can be seen implied. Herein play seems to be a self-originating yet responsive experience, of which fun freedom and flexibility are interdependent composites. Though Brown does not explain these in great depth, the illustrative examples communicate their actualization within the interplay between the child and environment. These examples are not defined in relation to the developmental areas to which Brown offers the mnemonic SPICE. Rather they seem to describe children’s appropriating of aspects of their environment by their own freely decided ever flexible terms, motivation for which can be understood to stem from within the experience itself, by inference from the fun of it.  Without these qualities the development offered by the environment to the different areas has no discernable carrier, and by deduction could be gained by another experience. Furthermore without fun, freedom and flexibility the theory itself loses its centre and becomes arguably more of a synthesis of other theorist’s views on the developmental benefits of play. With the cumulative spiral of compound flexibility, however, Brown offers a contextualization that ratifies the proposed degree of affect which play has been found to have on development in all areas.

In the context of a critical review of playwork understanding of play as represented in its literature, this theory’s assimilation into policy and practice seems to offer additional elements and thereby further insight into the sense of dichotomy that began to be present itself though the appraisal of play types.  On the one hand it could be argued that the integration of holistic development through play with compound flexibility, on which the theory seems to hinge, did not resonate with the field. Brown (2003) notes the separating out of SPICE from the rest of the theoretical frame, and its misuse as an acronym rather than as its intended mnemonic, via specificized focus on the benefits of play to areas of development. The differentiation between SPICE as a reminder for what play cannot help but affect and SPICE as an intentional orientation for play provision is perhaps key to the view of play implied by the attitudinal tone of this theory. Seemingly contra to this subtle differentiation is the fact that an internet search for Spice and playwork brings up numerous policy documents stating the benefits of play to the different areas, illustrated by types of activities. These are often accompanied by a statement of an agency’s commitment to the children’s development through play and therefore to the provision of a setting in which such developmental opportunities exist. Perhaps the most strikingly disparate in the first five that come up on a Google search is that of Denbighshire County Council. Within the tab of ‘playwork’, after listing the Playwork Principles this online document states, under the subheading ‘Denbighshire Playschemes’, “Denbighshire Youth Service is concerned with the SPICE (social, physical, intellectual, creative, emotional) development of children and young people” there is then a list of the playschemes locations and followed by the statement “The Playschemes provide inclusive play opportunities and a wide range of safe, stimulating and suitable activities including arts and crafts, sports and non competitive games for 5-13 year olds” (Denbighshire County Denbighshire County Council 2005) . In his revisiting of the theory Brown (2003) suggests the focus on the idea of ‘variety is the SPICE of life’ to be due to the fact that fun freedom and flexibility requires something at odds with the adult agenda, and this is perhaps the case. In certain references to SPICE there is a tangible quality of play for the purpose of (Davy 1995; Fair play for children n.d.). However if the critique is concerned with the representation of play within this theory, a subtly different rationale might be presented. The questioning of playwork’s understanding of play in relation to a theory such as this, that has been visibly incorporated in one way or another, does not only requires consideration of direct references to its terms, namely compound flexibility, SPICE and fun freedom and flexibility, but of visible accord or discord with the theory’s premise within the playwork literature. This will be the attempted below.

The Assumptions and Values of Playwork were developed in the early 1990s during the drafting of the Playwork Occupational Standards. The two Assumptions and twelve Values then underpinned the sector’s occupational standards until their revision and rewriting as the Playwork Principles, which were endorsed in 2004 (PPSG 2005). The first Assumption stated “Children’s play is freely chosen, personally directed behaviour, motivated from within; the child explores the world and her or his relationship with it, elaborating all the while a flexible range of responses to the challenges she or he encounters; by playing, the child learns and develops as an individual” (Bonel and Lindon 2000, p.16; SkillsActive 2002). This assumption seems to mirror Brown’s theory of compound flexibility as a whole. The reflection could be indicative of an assimilation of the theory into the playwork field’s understanding of play, or of the theoretical frame’s concordance with the field’s understanding of play. From such a perspective, a re-examination of certain uses of SPICE, that might initially have seemed exclusive, can yield alternate interpretation. For example the Play Bristol website uses a tab of ‘Spice – Play development’ and gives only descriptions of forms of play in the areas of ‘Social, Physical, Intellectual, Creative and Emotional Development. Yet the play described under ‘Social development’ includes ‘daydreaming’, and under ‘Creative Development’ includes ‘a child walking along the street can be mentally engaged in a different world and will experience the world though a variety of filters’ (Play Bristol 2009). These descriptions are not contraindicative to a recognition of fun, freedom and flexibility, and could be argued to echo the theory’s proposition of the centrality of these qualities to play by which the child develops.

When considering Play Bristol’s (2009) descriptions of play together with those by Brown (2003a) they seem to share a necessary reflection of fun, freedom and flexibility in their identifiability as playful activity that is relevant to these areas of development. One wonders if where SPICE is used without such descriptive communication of play, the perspective of play is other, or if it is inferred. In Brown’s text itself each area of development is accompanied by a list rather than a description, for example “Intellectual stimulation – Information; knowledge; inspiration” (Brown 2003a, p.54). In the context of Brown’s theory the spiral of cumulative flexibility rests on the development of flexibility in all areas of the child’s development though play. In terms of how understanding of play is represented within this theory and re-represented through assimilation of this theory, does a focus on one part necessarily negate the other? While in terms of practice this theory can be separated out, into activities geared towards SPICE and a flexible environment in which holistic development naturally occurs; in terms of the play that is represented in this theory, both parts rest together and rely on an understanding of the play experience—the understanding of the play experience being that by which the theory will be understood. In this case the starting point of perception of play governs the interpretation, and the subtlety implied by the differentiation between a mnemonic and an acronym may either be inferred or go unnoticed.

Although the Assumptions have been replaced, and the Playwork Principles (PPSG 2005) do not contain the words ‘elaborating all the while a flexible range of responses to the challenges she or he encounters’, the Principles seem more indicative of a relationship to the essence of Brown’s proposition ‘as read’ than of any rejection or contradiction (for discussion that supports this suggestion see Palmer et al. 2007; Conway 2008). Furthermore there are numerous instances within the writings of different playwork thinkers, which concur with the ideas of Brown’s theoretical frame. For example: Lester in a chapter entitled ‘Play and the play stage’, references Sibley’s distinction between closed and open spaces, the latter being “sites where space and things have not been named and determined, but provide a site of possibilities and ambiguity” (2008, p.55); under the subheading ‘Combinatory Play’ Else quotes Einstein and refers to Einstein feeling or experiencing a new concept “before he was able to verbalize it in language”, that “play preceded the symbolic formulations that he then used to communicate that through to others” (Else 2009, p.133); and finally there is the notable significance which Nicholson’s writing on the value of ‘loose parts’ can by its citing and incorporation be seen to have for playwork (The following list is illustrative rather than exhaustive; Hart 2002; Brown 2003a; Hughes 2006; PlayWales 2006; Hanscomb 2007; Macintyre 2007; Palmer et al. 2007; Else 2009; Patte 2010). Taylor who reflects on ‘Playwork and the theory of loose parts’ describes how the artist Simon Nicholson observed children playing on playgrounds while they were being built and noticed the children left after they were completed. Nicholson suggested that “in any environment both the degree of inventiveness and creativity and the possibility of discovery are directly proportional to the number and kinds of variables in it” (Nicholson 1971, p.30). Together these three examples suggest a resonance with play’s meshing with flexibility, as portrayed in the theoretical frames of other professions. Such a resonance would suggest this conception of play to be present at the core of playwork, a presence that might have been a factor in compound flexibility’s partial inspiration by Bruner’s combinatorial flexibility (Bruner et al. 1976; Brown 2003a)

The element of ‘as read’ may as suggested above have been implicated in the literary representation of the theory itself, and/or the theory may have been an instigating, factor. The interaction of the theory’s instigation and reflection of the playwork understanding of play is interesting when considered alongside the interpretive orientation of those who have assimilated the theory into their literature. However it is difficult to draw the line between the instigation of understanding by the theory and the theory’s requirement of a certain understanding. To an extent such a line is irrelevant to an exploration of what play is to playwork, when the focus is not concerned with genesis so much as reflection. Yet the perceptible presence of the quality of ‘as read’ both represented by SPICE as a mnemonic (Brown 2003), and suggested by the use and reflection of aspects and essence of the theory in the field, could be seen to afford insight to the very understanding of play by the playwork sector.

Exploration of this theoretical frame has illustrated a further aspect of what seems to be a dichotomy in the understanding of play by the playwork field. This dichotomy first noted in relation to play types (Hughes 1996b; 2006) seems to pivot around play’s perceived potential to exceed the boundaries of what we know of it, and thereby actualize the very attributes that we know of it. This is present not only in the structuring and content of these theoretical frames but also seems to be implied as a quality of play. In play types (Hughes 1996b; 2006) play is a unique key by which our phylogeny is enabled, in compound flexibility (Brown 1989) play engenders development, tailored moment by moment by the child’s needs beyond what could be pre-anticipated. In both these theories play is more than the actions and more than the development, it is visible through these yet in addition to these. In the perception of this ‘something which exists within, yet is more than, the actions’ there seems to be the element of play ‘as read’ discussed above—play rests in our identification with it, within its presence in action and experience. The juxtaposition of play types and compound flexibility, with their overlapping yet different portrayals of play seems to highlight the quality of play as open ended, this seeming to be a very part of what play offers the player in experience and in value (such value is discussed by Brown 1989; Hughes 1996b; 2003a; 2006; Hanscomb 2007; Lester 2008; Taylor 2008a; Else 2009). Yet seen together these theories, and the field’s perceptible relationship to them, also communicate the recognition that without surrounding action, or affect, play is difficult to hold up as anything—therein lies the dichotomy.

The Play Cycle

The final playwork theory to be considered in the examination of indicators in the literature as to what play is to playwork, can be seen, as the previous two, to focus on playwork practice. The introduction (Sturrock and Else 1998) is perhaps even more forceful than Hughes (2006) in the lament of a perceived lack of appropriate validating theoretical frame for playwork. This notable frustration includes a suggestion that “playwork has drifted into a kind of inauthentic voice; this may account for the difficulty of translating ‘what we know into what we say” (Sturrock and Else 1998, p.3). Such a proposition provides interesting juxtaposition to the possibility presented above regarding the premise of compound flexibility being incorporated ‘as read’ versus being missed or misunderstood. The way play is represented and interacted with as part of the propositions in the play cycle (Sturrock and Else 1998) differs significantly from play types and compound flexibility. As such this theory offers much to a representation of play understanding within the sector, when laid alongside the previous critiques. By a similar process of appraisal and deduction, that which the portrayal of play within the theory of the play cycle contributes to the picture will be explored.  

The concept of the Play Cycle first appeared in 1998 in what is referred to in the field as ‘The Colorado Paper(Sturrock and Else 1998). This paper entitled ‘The playground as therapeutic space: playwork as healing’ was published after its presentation at the IPA conference in Colorado. The paper proposes that “a recognition of play as having a child-ordinated, healing potentiality . . . should more fittingly form playwork’s manifesto” (ibid. 1998, p.4). This theory’s root in the field of psychology is reflected in the term ‘psycholudics(Sturrock and Else 1998; Sturrock 2003c; Newstead 2004; Else and Sturrock 2006; Shenstone 2007), a term created to describe its constructs. The development of this theory (Sturrock and Else 1998) draws on literature (Meares 1993; Schaefer and Kaduson 1994; Person 1996; Winnicott 2005) in such a way as to bring about a focus on child agency and healing or health within the play process rather than the play affect. Play is not described in terms of actions or behaviours but in terms of something that we have empathetic consciousness of, irrelevant of whether the actions of play are overt or still. This something is portrayed as a frame and a process that manifests via, but irrelevant to whether it includes, fire building or daydreaming. Although once again play is an interaction between player and environment, here the play itself, which frames what it encompasses, is given a more defined form.

In representing this form Sturrock and Else (1998, p.8) propose play as a cycle (see Fig.1), suggesting that “the cyclic processes of play are often referred to” commonly in terms of creation and destruction. They suggest the need for enlarging the understanding of the play cycle and to this end propose a “looping cycle of play, seen and understood as a drive”. Of this cycle they state “For our purposes, the play process has four, key, functional components.

These they describe as:

“M-L: the meta-lude; from which the drive or cue to play is issued to the environment.

T > : the termination or decay; the breakdown of this drive over time.

@: the active development; the response to the play cue by the environment or another player.

§ : the loop and flow; the response is picked up, processed and acted on in the metaludic space

The resulting formula expresses the ludic cycle (L) – thus

L = (M-T. T>. @. §), where if @ or § are absent the cycle ends”

Fig.1 The Play Cycle

(Sturrock and Else 1998, p.8)

By describing the form of play in this way, this theory can be seen to offer a means of holding play through a focus on the play experience itself. Sturrock and Else draw on psychology, philosophy and Eastern religion in exalting the aliveness in the moment that play offers. They describe this being in the moment of playing in terms of production and sharing of internalized gestalts, of self-being and of the manifestation of the gods in the state of being that is play.

Within this portrayal, the potentialising of play in terms of evolution and development is included, but neither are the carriers of play’s representation. The authors quote Cobb’s likening of “the child’s urge to ‘body forth the forms of things unknown’” to a microcosm of the “morphogenesis characteristic of nature’s… evolution” (Schaefer and Kaduson 1994). They extend the metaphor to suggest “the child’s play universe and the meeting with the external world as a flexible, holistic and ludic process” (Sturrock and Else 1998, p.12). Herein we can see an incorporation of the premises of both play types (Hughes 1996b; 2006) and compound flexibility (Brown 1989; 2003a), contextualized not by the forms of play that arise but by the urge to play itself. Careful examination of the former two theoretical frames suggests this not to be contradictory, rather an alternate emphasis.

This theoretical frame does not however simply describe the play cycle and in so doing frame the moment of the play experience. In the very proposition of the specific components of the cycle, the potential for ascertaining and maintaining the health or authenticity of the cycle—of play itself—is provided. It is this potential which seems then to be emphasized in its incorporation into the field (Farrow et al. 2003; Newstead 2004; Davy and Gallagher 2006; Kilvington and Wood 2010). This is perhaps of no surprise, the paper (Sturrock and Else 1998) is structured around the role of the playworker in relation to this cycle. Yet in the identification of the stages of the play cycle and the recognition of the playworker’s impact on this, there seems to be the same potential of limitation by knowledge as provided the discernable dichotomy discussed with regard to play types and compound flexibility. The health of the child can be judged by their play, and ameliorated by the right kind of response by the playworker (Sturrock and Else 1998; Sturrock 2003c; Kilvington and Wood 2010). One of the fundamental aspects to be taken forward from this is the potential for adulteration (domination, curtailing, derailing or taking over) of play; either through a playworker’s own un-played-out material or by individual or societal conceptual shoulds and shouldn’ts regarding child behaviour and play (Hughes 2001; Macintyre 2007; Kilvington and Wood 2008; Wragg 2008). In the requirement of consciousness on the part of the playworker as to their impact on the play of children this theoretical frame seems to offer a structure of contextualized judgments. The context relies on the judgment of the playworker, supposedly from their own play literacy, a literacy, which by this theory can only be born of sense rather than concept. The referentials for those judgments however, are often held within an extracted list similar to that of SPICE and of the 16 play types (CACHE 2009; Oxfordshire Play Association 2011; n.d.), wherein sensing must be implied, and not overridden by predictive observation, for such pre-emptiveness would presumably itself be a form of adulteration.

However it seems that juxtaposition of perception and adulteration can manifest by and within this theoretical frame, not only by extraction but also by extrapolation. In a chapter of a book celebrating the contributions to the playwork field made by Sturrock and Hughes (Russell et al. 2007), Shenstone (2007) undertakes an extension of psycholudics, which she says was inspired by a conversation with Sturrock regarding the comparative lack of language by which to describe play. Though the propositions developed in this chapter have not been incorporated into the playwork field at large, their construction is illustrative of the struggle which seems inherent to the theory of the play cycle. In this chapter Shenstone meshes her interpretation of the play cycle, play types, SPICE, with other theories, in what seems to be an attempt to create such a language through specification of aspects of play process and content. Though Shenstone recognizes the incongruity of the discretion of specific aspects to the experience of play she continues to do just this, suggesting the usefulness of such referentials. The closing of the chapter states that the correlation of this language to observed play will remain to be seen, and suggests some possibilities to a divergence from her theoretical proposal. Yet this chapter does not address the perceptible discrepancy between her determinative model and play as something divergent and ulterior to logic which she suggests Else and Sturrock express in their portrayal of the play process.

 Examination of this theory of the play cycle, with its proposed potential to sit close to and in the moment of the child’s experience, seems to illuminate another facet of an ever more discernable dichotomy of playwork’s understanding of play. This facet, which the above exploration has started to describe, might be explained in more detail through the relationship to the essential premise of psycholudics (Else and Sturrock 2006) visible in two of the subsequent writings by its authors.

In ‘The Ludic Third’ Sturrock (2003b) extends what the play cycle might be and might hold. He takes this construct further into the realm of psychotherapy, incorporating by his own admission selected reading on brain function. He suggest the “function of play” (ibid. p.4) as emotional, referring to Damasio’s construct of emotion as combining mental evaluative process, with dispositional responses to that process, mostly towards the body proper, resulting in an emotional body state” (Damasio 1995 in Sturrock 2003b, p.4) including physiological changes in the brain. Sturrock draws similes to the play process and suggests that this form described by Damasio in terms of emotion to be “a latent and universal, ludic structure” (Ibid. p.5). Sturrock proposes playwork as valid in the therapeutic field, and looks at the affect of the playworker’s responses to the child’s play in a way that ratifies the unavoidability of affect, and so both increases and dispels some of the issues of adulteration. Sturrock proffers an ‘injunction’ that requires that the playworker

“as well as having a fluency in the more externalised recognitions of play types or the various combinations of flexibility, must also be an astute guide to the more internal dynamism of fantasy and reverie in their own imaginations. For it is in concert with our own thought processes, as they are evoked by the play of the child, that we make our various responses” (Ibid. p.5).

Within this internal dynamism as a means of comprehending the playing child, and indeed within the whole paper there remains the concern with the sublime. Sturrock seems to go so far as to imply universal healing in the space between two players. He seems to propose that the playworker must be psychologically healthy, yet also that the play space is transformative towards the healing adult’s perception of existence, or perhaps towards the non-religious sublime manifest in the state of play.

Through this extension of the precepts laid out in the Colorado Paper (Sturrock and Else 1998), Sturrock (2003b) emphasizes the quality of play inherent in the theoretical frame of psycholudics—namely that we know play by our sensed recognition of it. In this later paper he states “the best description of the childs play is achieved through the mechanism of play content that is played through me” (Ibid. p.5). He illuminates play as a state of being that one has to be in, and can by the stimulus of its latent presence in ourselves be in, in order to comprehend. In closing the paper with these words of Rilke, Sturrock provides thick description of his take on this essence as carried through the whole paper.

“And by your light and by lamplight
these big pages will become familiar;
if understanding tires you a bit,
simply hold them to the light
to gild them at its pleasure.
These big pages love to be quiet:
so much silence has collaborated here”
(Rainer Marie Rilke, cited in Sturrock (2003b, p.10)

The way in which Else (2008) takes forward the concepts of the play cycle seems to be quite fundamentally different. However when the representation of play is the focus, what initially seems fundamental can be found to reduce to just a subtle differential of perspective that illuminates the same quality. Else (2008) entitles his chapter ‘Play and the space between’. He opens the chapter with the statement “The playing child exists in a world of their own making” (Ibid. p.79). He continues to explain that, and how, this world is experienced in its moment, yet interacts with the past and the future, through the elements of the environment, and who the playing child is and will be as and after she or he plays. He suggests that the playworker’s “role in the play cycle of children should be as observers or passive participants, any intervention we make in the child’s play should only be to facilitate play – to do otherwise would be to ‘adulterate’ or contaminate that play” (Ibid. p.83)

The simple and short conclusion to this chapter consists of the statement:

“Children play in the space between themselves and others, in the space between reality and fantasy, between what is and what could be. They play for reasons that we can speculate on but never really know. So we believe that:” (Ibid. p. 83).

“1. All children and young people need to play. The impulse to play is innate. Play is a biological, psychological and social necessity, and is fundamental to the healthy development and well being of individuals and communities.

2. Play is a process that is freely chosen, personally directed and intrinsically motivated. That is, children and young people determine and control the content and intent of their play, by following their own instincts, ideas and interests, in their own way for their own reasons” (PPSG 2005 in Else 2008 p. 83).

In this way Else completes his conclusion by quoting the first two Principles of Playwork (Playwork Principles Scrutiny Group 2005). Through this conclusion with the Playwork Principles Else seems to suggest that his preceding words are representative of an attitude towards the playing child inherent to the professional identity of playwork.

The perspectives demonstrated by Sturrock (2003a) and Else (2008) are different. The one suggesting knowing play by subjectively entering the play sphere, the other suggesting that to put ourselves into that space is to adulterate it. Sturrock (2003a) suggests that when in a shared play sphere, knowing play and how to be in the child’s play, is available to us through a recollected openness in being. Else’s (2008) stand implies that this openness must remain external to the child’s play, rather existing in our recognition that we cannot know without affecting, so should make space in our being not to intrude. However in their difference they illuminate the view of play within this theoretical frame, namely that play is a state of being that can only be understood by being in it, and further that being in it we affect it. The additional facet of the proposed dichotomy in playwork’s understanding of play brought to light by this theoretical frame seems to focus inwards onto the very frame of play. The theory of play types can be seen to demonstrate a recognition of play’s quality to evolve and to evolve us beyond what we could know, and compound flexibility contributes the moment by moment interplay between player and environment that exceeds prediction by the very quality of play. Psycholudics and the play cycle seem to add a state of being to the understanding portrayed, together with the possibility of altering and being altered by that state of being, by being in or around it.

Playwork theories of play – summary comments

Thus through critique of the representation of play within three fundamental playwork theories (Brown 1989; Hughes 1996b; Sturrock and Else 1998; Brown 2003a; Hughes 2006) and their assimilation into the field, aspects have been illuminated that seem to describe some specifics of an essential dichotomy. The dichotomy in the representation of play in the playwork literature, cited in this critique, seems to turn around a central point of knowing and unknowing. This is visible both in descriptions of how play is comprehended, but also in terms of portrayals of an unfinished, open, infinite possibility of play. These two interlocking aspects could be summarised, from the theories considered, as a constant alteration of being. Play seems represented through these playwork theoretical frames, and their incorporation, as a state of being that is sensible but not exhaustible. In this situation there can be seen at once a universality and individuality. Play is shown to contextualize and affect, it is perceived to belong to the player, and may be comprehensible by others in a state of play and partially accessible, by emulative sensing, to those who are not in the play. Examination of play within these theoretical frames suggests that our conceptions of play when we are not playing are always incomplete, and that is a feature of play. Play seems perceived to be crucial to our healthy existence today and in the future, as it was also in the past. This cruciality seems to be related to the actions, behaviours and developments which happen in and via play, and that are not themselves play but would not be the same if they did not occur within play. Within all this there seems to be a struggle with a recognition that in order to hold play up as something we must describe something of it; yet we find ourselves unable to describe what play is without the lens through which we are looking at it, though we know each lens is itself formative of what we may describe of play. This situation reflects the way that the play experience is formed and forms myriad aspects of life but never holds them static nor is held by them.

In the introduction to this chapter concordance was suggested between the perception of play represented in a profession’s theories and research, and the concerns and objectives of that profession’s practice. This situation can be seen illustrated in two ways by the above critique of three playwork theories. Firstly in the described dichotomy of knowing and unknowing as play and of play perception, visible across the three theories and their assimilation into the field. Second by the motivation stated by each author for the creation of their theoretical frame, that of providing a representation of play in tune with playworkers’ sense of play and further with the proposed playwork ethic towards the playing child. Though its practice may arguably have been affected by these theoretical frames, playwork existed before their authorship, being itself their motivational factor. Therefore the task of the following section will be to draw backwards from the identified representation of play and the discernable motivation behind those theories, with a bid to investigate the conceptual framework of playwork.


In an exploration of playwork identity through the focus of professionalization, learning and qualification, Handscomb and Virdy (2007) discuss the centrality of ‘not doing’ to playwork theory and practice. This ‘not doing’ is stated as visible in playwork’s recognition that ‘play is intrinsically motivated’ as contained in the Playwork Assumptions (SkillsActive 2002), and identified by Handscomb and Virdy in the work of Hughes and Sturrock. This ‘not doing’ might be viewed as a response to the not knowing identified above in the playwork understanding of play. In their exploration Handscomb and Virdy seem to juxtapose the need for training and qualification that reflects occupational competence with the need for training and qualification to describe occupational competence. Within this they touch on the question of whether someone can be trained to do playwork or whether such training cannot replicate, and may even impinge on an intuitive disposition to playwork (for further discussion of intuition and playwork see also, Hughes 2001; Palmer 2003; Melville 2007; Stobart 2008). This discussion questions the romanticism with which playwork of the past is referred to today. To this end the authors provide a quote from Cunningham’s (Cunningham and Morpurgo 2006) ‘The invention of childhood’, which accompanied a BBC programme of the same name. At the one end of this quote adventure playgrounds are referred to in the context of everything being ‘tidied up’ at the other the play anthropologists Opie and Opie’s disparaging comments about adventure playgrounds are quoted “nothing extinguishes self-organised play more effectively than does action to promote it” (Opie and Opie 1969 in Cunnigham 2006, in Hanscomb and Virdi 2007, p.181). About the Opie’s pronouncement, Hanscomb and Virdy say “This statement is as relevant and challenging today as it was then” (Hanscomb and Virdi 2007, p.181). This quote it not explored further in this text. However to understand their comments in relation to the self identity of the sector (as is their concern and the concern of this inquiry), it is important to recognise the visible celebration of adventure playgrounds as the epitome of playwork, the foundations and embodiment of what playwork stands for (Hughes 1996a; Hughes 2001; Chilton 2003; Cranwell 2007; Hanscomb and Virdi 2007; Melville 2007; Else 2009). This belief seems thrown into sharp relief by the Opie statement, which is both utterly reflected in playwork’s theoretical frames, and speaks against the very construct which playwork hold up as embodying the possibility for self organized play. This part of Hanscomb and Virdy’s discussion seems to encapsulate a replication of the suggested dichotomy of knowing and not knowing in playworkers’ representation of play, within a position of not doing yet doing, arguably present in the sector’s development and identity. It could be suggested the very becoming and being of playwork, centres around the challenge reflected in the Opie statement. Not that this statement is a cited contributor to what and how playwork has become, but that it seems aptly to reflect what playwork endeavours to do, and struggles not to do by its doing.

A chronological tracing of the becoming of playwork offers the possibility of highlighting salient aspects of playwork’s sense of self as visible in its literature and of describing the sectors recognition of the influences of individuals, cultural environment, and particular occurrences, on its development. Furthermore this approach offers depth to a representation of the sector’s conceptual framework by illustrating the nature of the literature from which it represents and conceptualizes its chronological development. There is not room within this study to undertake a comprehensive history of playwork. Such an undertaking would require proficiency with the aims and constraints of historical inquiry (Jenkins and Munslow 2003), and would be disproportionate in terms of space and time and directed focus to the aims of this inquiry. However the recognition of the subjective nature of historical representation (Burke 1984; Portales 1987; Jenkins and Munslow 2003) arguably presents its value to the attempt of this literature review. Though eclectic in its external reference points and sources of inspiration, the playwork sector has a relatively limited cache of literature published by those who could be deemed playwork authors.

Playwork’s limited academic arena can be seen illustrated by ‘Play for a Change’ (Russell and Lester 2008), a published review of contemporary (post 2001) perspectives of play. This collation of research, commissioned by Play England, was undertaken by Lester and Russell, who are playwork authors / university lecturers. The introduction by Adrian Voce, Director of Play England (pp.7-9) and the scope (p.11) of the review states a remit of building on an earlier report both in continued timeline and in the objective of ‘making the case for play’(Cole-Hamilton and Gill 2002). Despite the commission of two playwork professionals by an organization concerned with the playwork field this publication is notably light on research undertaken by those within the playwork sector. Though stemming largely from the same pool of contributors as those texts previously sited here, the potential of the work of this relatively narrow band of playwork authors can be seen to have been thoroughly exploited by Lester and Russell—for instance six publications which Sturrock authored or co authored are listed in the bibliography (Russell and Lester 2008, p.265). Equally this publication can be judged to be significantly referenced to the work of authors with which the playwork sector identifies, seven pieces of work by Sutton-Smith are listed (ibid.) and he is cited repeatedly throughout the different areas of the review. As well as illustrating the limited volume of published work by playwork theorists and researchers, the Play for a Change publication demonstrates the consistency that this situation gives the field’s reference to its own recognized authors and texts.

Whereas an internet search for the history of social work, returns many results of varied international and ideological orientation (for example, Ehrenreich 1985; Hering and Waaldijk 2003; Shaw et al. 2009), within the playwork literature one writer is recognizable and recognized as the authority on its history. Cranwell’s doctoral thesis is ‘Play organizations and the out-of-school child in London (1860-1914)’. He has published consistently on this early history of play provision (Cranwell 2001b; Cranwell 2001a; Cranwell 2003b; Cranwell 2009b); as well as the later establishment of adventure playgrounds in the UK (Cranwell 2003a; Cranwell 2007; Cranwell 2009b; Cranwell 2009a), which can, as noted previously, be recognized as foundational ground to the playwork ethic of today. This historical span is represented in chapters in two of the three published collections of Playwork writing (Cranwell 2003b; Cranwell 2007), with the contributor notes in both (Brown ed. 2003, p. x, Russell et al eds. 2007 p. x) indicating Cranwell’s focused interest in this area. Others have contributed personal reflections, which offer contextual depth to the experience of adventure playground playwork (Hughes 1975; Hughes 1996a; Hughes 1996b; Hughes 2001; Chilton 2003; Brown 2007; Hanscomb and Virdi 2007; Melville 2007; Palmer et al. 2007; Taylor 2008b). However Cranwell seems to provide a referential frame for the sectors understanding of its chronological development. Writing her reflection on aspects of the adventure playground tradition Taylor acknowledges Cranwell’s continued work to document the history of adventure playgrounds “does much to formalize and bring coherence to the origins of the work” (Taylor 2008b, p.131). This position is also evident in Armitage’s (2011) reference of Cranwell in his reflective exploration of collectivism as a quality of playwork identity. Cranwell makes two contributions to the recently published Encyclopedia of Play in today’s society ‘Adventure Playgrounds’ (Cranwell 2009a) and ‘United Kingdom’ (Cranwell 2009b). These provide historical and contemporary description of play experience and provision. In reflection of Cranwell’s position in the Playwork literature it seems relevant to use his writing to carry this review’s investigation of the chronological development of playwork’s conceptual framework. Such an approach seems pertinent to the previously stated scope of—highlighting salient aspects of playwork’s sense of self as visible in its literature and of describing the sector’s recognition of the influences of individuals, cultural environment and particular occurrences, on its development. With a concern for representation through playwork’s own literature, there is also perceptible merit to drawing where possible from the Cranwell’s two chapters in the collated playwork publications, particularly as Cranwell tends to cross reference much of his work and notably cites these two chapters in his entries in the Encyclopedia of Play in today’s society (Cranwell 2009a; Cranwell 2009b).

The structure provided by Cranwell’s historical perspective will be further integrated with the interests of this inquiry through writing from other playwork authors and from those cited by Cranwell in his work. In the concluding remarks of his chapter Towards Playwork, Cranwell (2003a) proposes the necessity of recognising the different influences on play provision and the changing and non changing cultural perspectives on play, in order better to understand playwork and the oft proposed difficulties it has faced in self identity and in arguing its case (Hughes 2001; Davy 2007; Hanscomb and Virdi 2007; Melville 2007; Russell 2007). These influences can, from the writings of Cranwell (2003a; 2003b; 2007) and others (Hughes and Williams 1982; Sturrock and Else 1998; Rennie 2003; Hanscomb and Virdi 2007), be broadly summarized as—on the one hand a concern with delinquency and getting the children off the streets and giving them something worthwhile to occupy them, compensating for lack of space and opportunities in the home; and on the other hand, giving space and opportunity for children’s choice, fun, freedom, agency, and everything that might sometimes be considered delinquency. As will be shown, these elements seem to be present within playwork provision and in the interaction between play providers and other agencies, and cultural perceptions and statute bills regarding children. Within this interactive ground such dichotomy can be seen to create a narrative thread for the development of playwork’s conceptual framework.

Cranwell suggests the establishment of the Children’s Happy Evenings Association (CHEA) in 1889 by school governors was the earliest regular out of school play provision (Cranwell 2003b). This service that ran for 27 years gave children access to toys, donated by the upper classes, which were considered a luxury above educational requirement. Cranwell writes “Ada Heather-Biggs, a founder member of CHEA, saw the work as more than just a support for schools and parents. Her promotion of the CHEA stressed that play created happiness, which was an important factor in the development of children’s physical and mental health” (ibid. p.36). Cranwell sees the reflection of playwork values, particularly regarding play as freely chosen in the writings of Heather-Biggs. Yet being allowed to attend happy evenings was dependent on good attendance at school. Thus, the School Board for London education authority, who supported the provision, which at it height in 1906 provided for 32,000 London Children, gained “a sense of continuing influence in the community as well as an improved school attendance” (ibid. p.37). While the CHEA saw its work as providing amusement and respite from impoverished conditions for children, with volunteers viewing “their work as a means to bring the classes together in an increasingly socially divided society” (ibid.).

This description of the Children’s Happy Evening Association and its work, contains elements noted above which would arguably, by today’s playwork consciousness, be considered at odds with each other (Hughes 2001; Brown and Cheesman 2003; Newstead 2004; Macintyre 2007). While some would suggest that play provision in school settings today retains the same contradiction between freely chosen and school affiliation (Hughes 1975; 1996a; 2001; Cole-Hamilton 2008), the issuing of Happy Evening tickets based on 8 out of 10 school attendances (Cranwell 2003b) would arguably be seen today as discordant with the Principles of Playwork (Conway 2008; Playwork Principles Scrutiny Group 2005). However, though the content and sequence of this section by Cranwell (2003b) may stimulate such consciousness in the playwork reader today, he does not here propose any discrepancy. While such value judgments would arguably not have been in keeping with the historical tracing, the possibility must also be seen that the perspective of contradiction between the freedom in play and serving the interests of establishments regarding children and society, were not as juxtaposed as they are sometimes shown to be today. Certainly the tone of Cranwell’s conclusion to this chapter suggests a contextualization by the cultural situation of the time (Cranwell 2003b).

The two elements of the interests of the child and the interests of authorities concerned with the child seem to remain close, by Cranwell’s descriptions (2001a; 2003b), in Mary Ward’s work with London Settlements championing holiday and out of school provision. Such cogency can also be seen in the motivational factors regarding the provision and promotion of outdoor play space in the early work of the National Playing Fields Association and other agencies (ibid.). However the juxtaposition of these interests starts to become visible in Cranwell’s accounts of the conflicts between voluntary play providers and those involved in education, be they individual schools inspectors, London County Council or bills of parliament. Within this frame Cranwell discusses the 1906 Education Bill, with its ‘Mary Ward Clause’, which, instigated by Ward’s persuasiveness (see also Kozlovsky 2008), was to give local authorities power to support her work. Cranwell draws attention to the CHEA as the main objectors to this clause, which was thence limited in the 1907 Education (Administrative Provisions) Act, to powers to ‘encourage and assist the continuance or establishment of Voluntary Agencies’. He suggests “the origins of the voluntary-statutory dichotomy in play can be identified most clearly in this debate between the CHEA and the Evening Play Centres, which highlighted the split in play agencies between support for play as primarily voluntary, and the view of provision as part of a statutory education welfare service” (Cranwell 2003b, p.40). This dichotomy is highlighted repeatedly in the content of the history that Cranwell provides. He tells of disputes in the 1930s between schools and Evening Play Centres, which were run in their buildings; thereby illustrating the hand which overall belief in the importance of such provisions by welfare authorities played in the resolution of practical repercussions or different ways of working. Through this history Cranwell can be seen to develop the perspective, expressed further in this text’s conclusion, that play has been most supported when it was seen as beneficial to the concerns of social welfare. He suggests that ‘the failure of playwork advocates to develop a coherent theoretical grounding for practice, equal to social work or education, allowed the discussion of the role of play to be separated from its social context of protecting working-class children” (ibid. p.46)

Could it be that the ground for this identified separation already began to be laid in the CHEA’s (perhaps self serving) resistance to the Mary Ward clause in 1906; or was it something that evolved with the view of child and play in society? Was such separation deliberate of accidental? Did it stem from within the profession or from the influencing culture? Such questions are perhaps, bearing in mind the interplay of factors, beyond conclusive answers, and certainly beyond the space and scope of this literature review. Yet it seems relevant to explore the proposed separation through the differing possibilities of such questions. For such possibilities seem to offer different ways of understanding the sense of dichotomy, which as a condition, appears to be still present in the theoretical frames discussed above.

Today what Cranwell identifies as a separation between play and social context of protecting working-class children, would perhaps be contextualized by rhetorics of biophilia (Kahn Jr 2002; Verbeek and de Wall 2002; Else 2009), of the construct of childhood (James et al. 1998; Kilvington and Wood 2010) and of the cost effectiveness of play (Russell and Lester 2008). That there is a today and there was a different ‘then’, suggests the primacy of society’s view of children and play in forming and re-forming the playwork approach. However that would be perhaps to belittle the affect of those working for children’s play. Issues that might support Cranwell’s suggestion of separation were and are arguably issues for playworkers because playwork developed. Within the possibilities offered by viewing history through the different frames indicated by such unanswerable questions as those above, the later part of the history of playwork described by Cranwell can be seen to divulge subtle nuances to the dichotomy of its identity. Did the separation that Cranwell suggests, feature in playwork’s development in a decisive manner, or is it possible rather to see indecision and divergence between the internal perception of position and the communication of play’s value?

In Cranwell’s (2007) comments about the introduction of Adventure Playgrounds in 1948 through the work of Lady Allen of Hurtwood, it is possible to sense a different emphasis between the internal motivation and ethic of the play provision, and the benefits as sold to those with power to support the provision. Cranwell explains that Lady Allen’s concept of Adventure Playgrounds was inspired by her observation of the Danish junk playground in Emdrup. By her quoting from their correspondence Lady Allen (1968) imparts the impact of the Danish architect Sorensen, who is also recognised by playwork authors as the inspiration for Adventure Playgrounds (Chilton 2003; Baxter 2008; Brown 2008). Citing the action research of Spencer (1964) who discusses Lady Allen’s work, Cranwell describes the intent of adventure playgrounds as to provide “a permissive and ‘protected’ space on the child’s home patch where s/he might access a range of activities that included den building, campfires and ‘risky play’ often viewed as anti-social behaviour” (Cranwell 2007, p.67). He also sites an article written by Lady Allen to The Times in 1952 in response to an article on juvenile delinquency. Lady Allen is quoted as saying that Adventure Playgrounds are the only organization that can “begin to solve the problem for a child between the age of nine and fifteen” (Lady Allen in The Times as cited by Benjamin 1961 in Cranwell 2007, p.67)

There is no indication within Lady Allen’s memoirs (Allen and Nicholson 1975) of a perception of children as a problem to be solved for society. She describes the development of useful skills alongside playfulness; for instance, the older children having the idea to build a sandpit for the little ones which was “beautifully designed and constructed” (ibid. p. 241), alongside her delight that these ‘young men’ couldn’t resist playing for a few weeks. Her writing would suggest that her value base was to solve the problem for the children, not of delinquency for society. However, though battles were fought to uphold the rights of the children to their playground against the prejudiced perspectives of the ‘eye-sore’ of such playgrounds, there is no great evidence of dichotomy in the adventure playground being for the children and thence of benefit to society’s wish for crime reduction. The quoted passage from her letter to The Times that appears in her memoirs can be seen to illustrate a sense of children’s needs and societies’ needs being two sides of the same coin.

“… Municipal playgrounds are often as bleak as barrack squares and just as boring. You are not allowed to build a fire, you would head straight for the juvenile court if you started to dig the expensive asphalt to make a carve, there are no bricks of planks to build a house, no workshop for carpentry, mechanical work, painting or modelling, and of course no trees to climb…” (ibid. p.232)

However in the stand of the first play leaders whose adventure playground work Lady Allen acclaims (Allen and Nicholson 1975), a separation between the perceived interests of the state and those of the children who attended the playground seems perceptible. Cranwell (2007) references the perception of role expressed by these pioneer play leaders, Joe Benjamin (Benjamin 1961) and Pat Turner (1961). “These men highlighted the importance of being free of rules and regulations other than those they negotiated with the children” (Cranwell 2007, p.68). He tells of Turner’s unwillingness to discuss the playground children more than informally with authorities such as teachers, police, or social workers for fear of “compromising his relationship” (ibid.) with them.

In his Notes for Adventure Playground Workers Hughes (1975) also echoes this stance of Turner’s, yet seems to see such an attitude as counter to the early adventure playground position as a solution to juvenile delinquency. This booklet of information, advice and palpable rallying cry to fellow and would be ‘adventure playworkers’, first published in 1975, opens with references to the work of Kellmer Pringle (1972), in a portrayal of the inevitability of violence and vandalism if children’s basic needs are not met. These are listed as the need “for love and security; for new experiences; for praise and recognition; and for responsibility” (Hughes 1975, p.1). Yet in later writing Hughes (2001) recalls a growing dissatisfaction in the consciousness of those who worked on the playgrounds with what he differentiates as the ‘play leadership’ approach, and identifies this discomfort as the genesis of playwork’s becoming. It seems that the ill ease that Lady Allen (1975) describes with the term play leader when she came up with it, the term seeming to her synonymous with “power rather than influence” (p.238), became augmented in the playground workers to a position of ill ease with influence as power as represented in their experience of the play leader’s job role.

The very name ‘playworker’ is understood to have originated as an expression of the philosophy of those who were uneasy with what the term play leader encapsulated for them. The term is suggested to have its foundations in the name of the Adventure Playground Workers Association (APWA) in the 1960s (personal communication with Chilton 2011). The term workers seems to have been representational both of the practical element of the work and of a Marxist ethic regarding the positioning of the playworker in relation to the children and their play (personal communications with Hughes, Wragg, Battram, Chilton 2011). Chilton remembers the term playworker taking time to become widely used as it was too radical for Local Authorities who funded play provision. Hughes remembers the term playworker as a name coming about when he was working for The Children and Youth Action Group (a subsidiary of Make Children Happy), in 1975. He (personal communication 2011) suggests that the name first appeared in text in April 1975 in ‘It's Child's Play’ in a column he used to write, with the second appearance in text being in the title of ‘Notes for Adventure Playworkers’ (Hughes 1975).

The evolution in consciousness that this self-naming by playworkers seems to have represented can be understood in terms of cultural influences on the perception of play. Cranwell cites the anarchic view of play as a way of living, a way by which “it was possible for young people to create an alternative do-it-yourself culture” (Cranwell 2007, p.68). In this understanding of ideas of adventure playwork of the 1960s “being in tune with the ‘spirit of the times’” (ibid. p.69), Cranwell refers to Richard Neville, Herbert Marcuse and Colin Ward as instigators of a political (Hughes 1975; Cranwell 2007) aesthetic of play. Cranwell is not alone in noting the meshing of the philosophy of adventure playworkers with that of the anarchic valuing of play abounding in the 1960’s and 1970’s (Kozlovsky 2008; Taylor 2008b). Furthermore this valuing of play is understood to have affected education, perhaps most notably in the work of Neill (Neill 1968) which is referred to by Lady Allen (1975) and Hughes (1975). However it would be arguable by logic and by evidence in the literature that the form of this meshing with regard to the identity of playworkers was affected by their experience in the playground as much as the prevalent cultural geist. It is after-all the reflection of their experience of play as playworkers that Brown (1989; 2003a) , Hughes (1996b; 2006). and Sturrock and Else (1998) identify as motivational in their creation of an apt theoretical frame. Hughes (1975; 1996b; 2001; 2006) and Brown (2007) in particular describe the play of the children on the adventure playgrounds where they worked as an inspiration and a contextual reference point. This time in playwork’s history seems from the literature to have been one of concordant interplay between the aspirations of those working on the playgrounds and a valuing of play in the spirit and writings of the times.

Cranwell (2007) opens his chapter ‘Adventure Playgrounds and the Community in London (1948-70)’ with a lengthy quote of Hughes and Williams, in which the loss of the hope and the burying of the philosophical drive that inspired the play movement of the 1960’s is lamented. The 1982 article from which this quote originates and which also opens with a call to action, offers insight to the transition of playwork identity between then and now. This article was one of five written by Hughes and Williams in Play Times, in which the stagnation of playwork is lamented and a desire and need to “take up our philosophy of the 60’s, drag it, squealing, into the 80’s and make it durable”, is given as the motivational perspective (Hughes and Williams 1982, p.8). Both in the highlighted insert from Nick Balmforth, Director of NPFA Children and Youth department that appears on the first page, and by the content of the articles, the necessity of a theoretical valuing and justification of play in line with playwork understanding is portrayed as the crucial way forward. Within these articles, perhaps unsurprisingly, the foundations of Hughes (1996b, 2001, 2006) work on play’s necessity for evolution can be seen. However the theoretical frames proposed also seem to reflect and foreshadow the fundamental aspects of Compound Flexibility (Brown 1989; 2003a) and the Play Cycle (Sturrock and Else 1998).

Though Brown is not referenced, the last article states “To be able to play in the full meaning of our definition IS TO BE FREE TO DEVELOP FLEXIBILITY. TO BE FLEXIBLE IS TO BE FREE TO DEVELOP HEALTHILY” (Hughes and Williams 1982, p.22, original emphasis). Furthermore these articles in their cruder representation of aspects of the later fundamental playwork theories bring to notice constituent parts that are less obvious in the phrasing and context of their later manifestations. The tone of these articles (ibid.) and thereby the contextualizing of these conceptions of play as evolution engendering, vital for flexible development, and having a cyclic interaction with healing potential, can be seen to carry the ethic of play’s crucial unpredictability, and the duty of playwork practice to honour that. However these articles are also strung through with the proposition of play’s role in avoiding anti-social behaviour. The very affiliation with a role of countering delinquency that Hughes (2001) says he objected to as a playground worker, are overt in these articles’ valuing of play. Through the dichotomy visible in these articles it is, however, possible to note a subtle differential between what play naturally avoids and engenders and the manipulation of play to avoid and engender; a process that arguably removes the essence of play from actions (Hughes and Williams 19982). It could not be insisted that such differentiation was absent from the awareness of previous workers and writers. Yet these articles seem to delineate the bridge between an intuitive way of working (Allen and Nicholson 1975; Sturrock and Else 1998; Hughes 2001; Davy 2007; Melville 2007) and a motivation to uphold play in a way that reflects playwork experience and perception (Brown 1989; Hughes 1996b; Sturrock and Else 1998; Brown 2003a; Hughes 2006). Within the subtle differential of intent between a playworker’s recognition of the benefit of play and what a playworker does, perceptible in these articles, (Hughes and Williams 19982) it is perhaps possible to locate the genesis of the dichotomy suggested above through critique of play theories. This dichotomy, as it manifests in the stance of the playworker towards the playing child as they struggle with the challenge of avoiding the catch 22 which the Opies (1969) proposition suggests to be inevitable, seems critical to the understood essence of being a playworker (Hughes 2001; Hanscomb and Virdi 2007; Macintyre 2007; Brown 2008; Else 2008; Playwork Principles Scrutiny Group 2005).


A conjunction

The above investigations into the playwork understanding of play, and the historical becoming of playwork, as portrayed in the literature, can be seen to have gone some way towards the identified requirement of contextualizing this PhD with a representation of playwork and symbiotically with a relevantly orientated understanding of play. However by what has been described an area of inferences can be perceived, a gap between what is explained in the structures explored above and how the meaning of these is internalized. Throughout the literature of the playwork theories of play and that regarding how playwork came about, there is repeated reference to both overt and inferred ways of being of a playworker. As described above, Brown (1989, 2003), Hughes (1996b, 2006) and Sturrock and Else (1998) all express the motivation to create a theory reflective of playwork’s understanding of play. Equally the texts exploring the historical development of the sector seem thick with the differentiation of the playworker’s attitude towards the playing child (Hughes 1975; 2001; Cranwell 2003b; 2007; Melville 2007; Brown 2008; Taylor 2008b). In his discussion of the consultation for and content of the Playwork Principles which today underpin the occupational standards and provide foundation for policy, training and practice, Conway states the intent was for the “Principles to be a fundamental professional and ethical framework describing the unique playwork perspective” (Conway 2008, p.119). However the Principles do not in themselves seem to express the internal way of being of a practicing playworker, which is what can be perceived as fundamental to enabling this PhD to come about. Rather they describe an external structure in which this way of being can be housed. Neither is this way of being explained in the body of the fundamental playwork theories critiqued previously, nor in much of the descriptions that trace playwork’s history; though in both areas there are certainly expressions of this internal state (for instance, Brown 2003a, p.63; Sturrock 2003b, p.10; Hughes 2006, p.30; Cranwell 2007, p.62). While such expressions as to the way of being of the practicing playworker form only small pockets of text in the available playwork literature, they are arguably that which contextualises the rest. Thereby these are perhaps the vocalization of the process of ‘as read’ explored previously as a possible aspect of the field’s assimilation of fun freedom and flexibility present in Brown’s (1989, 2003) theoretical construct. The occurrence of such expressions arguably indicates the bridge between the dichotomous construct of unknowingness and respect towards play evident in the theories and the historical development, and the ground within which the way of perceiving of this inquiry came to be.

The perceived requirement of documenting and exploring this aspect of the

literature can be seen not only in terms of its pertinence to this inquiry but also in terms of an opportunity to seek out the nub of the playwork stance towards play which is arguably at the centre of its professional identity. Here the directional purpose of this literature review and the attempt of its focus seem to merge. The possibility of identifying that alone the theoretical frames and the story of its chronological development do not say what being a playworker is indicates an intrinsic aspect, an indication that is borne out by the identifiable presence of this aspect in the literature. That it is common sense to assume an experiential bridge between the theoretical constructs and the practice of any profession does not make the exploration of the details of such a quality less relevant here. For it is perhaps in the descriptions of this experienced playwork stance that the “unique playwork perspective” (Conway 2008, p.119) might find its most tangible expression.

The attempts, to which I refer, by playworkers to communicate the consciousness they have when in the presence of the playing child, are not words such as ‘respect’ ‘empathy’ ‘the child as expert’, they are the vocalizations that seem to give such words discrete meaning. Such an expression is, for example, visible in Hughes’ description of playworkers’ conceptual expectations that stem from what he terms “the world beyond the wire”. He describes this world as “where children shock the adult observer in many ways” including “the mysterious way in which they interface with one another and the play space itself” (Hughes 2006, p.30). Hughes continues with “the playworker is also immersed in this ‘reality of fantasy’” (ibid.). In this description Hughes communicates the possibility to be shocked or moved availed by the openness of immersion in the reality of fantasy. Sturrock’s (2003b, p.10) use of the poem by Rainer Marie Rilke in conclusion of his explanation of the playwork way of knowing, as cited previously, perhaps goes even further. While this poem, as it is used by Sturrock, cannot be said to have a greater breadth of encompassment than Hughes’ expression, it perhaps describes and thereby calls for deeper awareness of what the experience of this stance might be.

“And by your light and by lamplight
these big pages will become familiar;
if understanding tires you a bit,
simply hold them to the light
to gild them at its pleasure.
These big pages love to be quiet:
so much silence has collaborated here”
(Rainer Marie Rilke in Sturrock 2003a p.10)

The same tone can be found in Fisher’s (2008) appropriation of Keats’ description of ‘Negative Capability’ (Bate 1979; Strachan 2003; Keats and Forman 2004) to express what she understands “the heart of playwork to be” (p.178). She expresses this Negative Capability as describing “the paradox, that by sometimes appearing to do nothing, we enable ourselves to do most” and the need “to watch the play carefully with this attitude of negative capability so that we really ‘know’ what is happening” (ibid. original emphasis). Here can be seen an echo of what Hughes’s expresses as immersion in ‘reality of fantasy’ (2006), or the approach to the play or children indicated by Sturrock’s (2003b) use of Rilke’s words.

Brown (2008) cites Fisher’s expression of Negative Capability in his proposal of the fundamentals of playwork. This citation can be seen to illustrate both the resonance which Fisher’s description held for Brown and also the process by which such expressions can become abstracted into structure—for already in its situation within the format of Brown’s chapter, his description of Fisher’s identification seems to communicate a little less her original. Another example can also be seen to illustrate this process. In exploring the validity of his own theoretical frame of compound flexibility, Brown (2003 p. 63) references the writing of Portchmouth as ‘captur(ing) beautifully’ the playwork approach to the ‘adult-child relationship’. Brown quotes Portchmouth “I don’t remember how it started. There was me, and sand, and somehow there was a wooden spade: I don’t even remember asking how to do it; the need was big enough, and the way was there… it helps if someone, no matter how lightly, puts in our way the means of making use of what we find.” (ibid.). Here Brown uses a considerable passage and couches it in terms of an appreciated means of capturing something that is difficult to pinpoint. This meaning making by Brown can be seen reflected both in Portchmouth’s subject and his own self searching expression. Five years later in the chapter about fundamentals of playwork, Brown (2008, p.9) uses a shortened extract from the Portchmouth passage and flanks it with other theoretical frames. In this later chapter Brown refers to the ‘Portchmouth Principle’ seeming to present and treat it more as an accepted referential. Through this process there can be seen to be a diminishment in the elements that might relate its appropriating to that of what it is being used to express—namely a way of being.

These examples, though not exhaustive, suffice to demonstrate the presence of a narrative of the internalised and experienced way of being of a playworker. They show that this narrative is visible in the literature, described by different words, in different forms. These words and forms seem to share both meaning and the impulse to search for the means of expressing the quality of the unknown via the experience of unknowing. The interplay between this quality and the sense of playwork identity, which is perceptible in the structures critiqued in the body of this literature review, seems to exist within the impulse to vocalize the internal state of being. The experience of this urge to express can be seen echoed in the motivation for the creations of playwork orientated theories of play (Brown 1989; Hughes 1996b; Sturrock and Else 1998; Brown 2003a; Hughes 2006). While the content of expressed internal states seems echoed in the dichotomy of knowing and not knowing visible within the theoretical constructs and the discussion of these in explorations of playwork identity (Davy 2007; Hanscomb and Virdi 2007; Melville 2007; Else 2008; Taylor 2008b).

A further dimension of this can be seen brought to light by the possibility of abstraction. For that process arguably leaves open the possibility for meanings to be read into seemingly abstracted parts of concepts (as would be the case in the previously discussed possibility of ‘as read’ in the assimilation of playwork theoretical frames into the field). In juxtaposition the very sense of not quite which abstraction creates might go some way towards an explanation of playwork’s struggle with identity and its own conceptual frame, as noted within the reviewed literature.

The interest here is not to list but to illustrate, and in so doing to communicate the symbiotic interplay between literature and practice, and the importance of literature that speaks of and to the practice (Palmer 2003; Richardson and St. Pierre 2005). The occurrence of these expressions and the different aspects that they bring to light seems to suggest a connection in playwork between what we perceive play to be, the internal state by which we perceive it, the act of searching for a means of expressing this, and the quality of the words chosen to express playwork in practice. The possibility for a playwork researcher reviewing playwork literature to identify a narrative in these expressions and to identify with this narrative is evidenced here, and also in Browns citation of negative capability, alongside the Portchmouth principle in his proposition of the fundamentals of playwork. That the urge to communicate the sense of unknowing exists outside playwork is evident in the very texts appropriated in these expressions by playworkers, while the act of appropriation seems to extend meaning by transposition of context.

A reflective personal anecdote given by Jennings (1999) writing within the sister profession of Playtherapy can provide further perspective on the act of letting go of knowing as a means of perceptive practice. Writing in Introduction to Developmental Playtherapy Jennings uses her diary notes quoted in an earlier drama therapy publication (Jennings 1990, pp.79,80). These notes begin with a description of heaviness, both physically and in her awareness, Jennings tells of a sense of not being aware of something she “OUGHT” to have awareness of (Jennings 1999, p. 146, original emphasis). She then describes the decision to take a couple of hours off and a walk in the cold wind on Hampstead Heath. There by chance she comes across children by a pool containing a sunken log monster. A sense of unease is communicated in Jennings’ description of the little girl’s response to her brother’s description of the ‘monster’, and by that of the “frozen faced” woman, who calls the children sharply to her (ibid. p148). Jennings writes “I start to walk away—then the image hammers onto my brain—The Turn of the Screw—Henry James—that’s the image that has eluded me from the group—the children—frozen—a sense of evil—” (ibid). Jennings then quotes a section from the novel and writes “I walk home with a lighter step—I don’t address the image—this is my two hour break so I put in on the back-burner for future attention” (ibid. p.149).

This example seems to demonstrate the essentiality of being able to discover by ceasing trying to find out, in the context of the practice within a different play related field. While exploration of this means of gaining insight in further ranging disciplines (Jung 1995; Miller 1995; Brady 2005) seems beyond the scope of this literature review, this example from a play orientated practitioner seems to bring focus to two aspects of the interplay between internal meaning and external frameworks in the understanding of identity—which has been the focus of this literature review. This example demonstrates both a similarity to the playwork approach of letting oneself be moved by the reality of fantasy and a difference in established structure that such reality gives meaning to.

Thus clearer visibility is afforded to a symbiosis between each element of identity explored within this review and the role of a field’s literature, and its contributors, in the communication of these. Through this closing part of the literature review the conjunction between the search for what playwork is and the contextualizing of this PhD’s inquiry by the field’s literature can be seen. Without the external structure there is nothing to give meaning to, and an external structure that is absolute may well itself be a non sequitur to the very subject of this profession and to its very attitude towards play. Furthermore perhaps just as a player draws things that ring true into their play and creates things that ring true to others, the meaning making aptitude of play centred workers enables appropriation from diverse areas. This perhaps offers potential to the communication of its position, ever more eclectically to itself but also potentially to others, a potential which might be considered by its authors in their bid to create a means of communication.

This literature review was not generative in the more traditional term (Boote and Beile 2005; Blaxter et al. 2006; Bowman 2007), though such an approach has been successfully employed within the playwork sector (Brown 2003b; Smith 2010). Furthermore the interest and the stance which enabled this PhD is not conclusively explained or even fundamentally integrated in the literature. However the review itself suggests an unconstrained nature of playwork’s psyche that might be seen to situate through a loose holding rather than a specific indication. The interest of this inquiry regarding the experiential played-with-ness of things did not come about by for example identifying a gap in the theory of play types (Hughes 1996b; 2006) or focusing in on the flexible interplay between player and environment (Brown 1989; Brown 2003a), or proposing a greater exploration of the role of objects and spaces in shared meaning making within the play cycle (Else and Sturrock 2006). Had it come about in this way it might already have been to an extent framed and thus perhaps even constrained (Maxwell 2006). The interest came about through observing children playing, and being moved to wonder about the realities that I was seeing. Yet this review can be seen to offer a context and thereby relevance and validity (Maxwell 2006; Locke et al. 2009; Rocco and Plakhotnik 2009) to this interest by framing the possibility for it to occur. As such the playwork literature can be seen to indicate more than the sum of its parts. The possibility for and of this quality can be seen as the very context that the reviewed literature offers the inquiry. However by deduction, in order for this context to hold, that quality must be carried through to the methodology of the inquiry, a process that arguably commences with the creation of the research questions.

The research questions begin this endeavour, in that they were created in response to the access that personally experienced wonder seems to give to the possibility of being moved by the reality of fantasy as a practicing playworker.

1.     Might there be a perceptible experience of the played-with-ness of things, and if so what might that be?

2.     How does my practice as a playworker interact with the perception, method and communication of my research?