Having positioned this research within a phenomenological philosophical frame I will now use this chapter to explain my selection/creation of a research methodology. The first section of this chapter will discuss different methods available within the phenomenological frame and critique these in terms of their appropriateness to playwork theory and practice, and in relation to perspectives on researching children’s experiences in the qualitative field at large. As part of this process the ethical stance of the inquiry will become grounded in practicable research methods. The second section of the chapter will then consider the position of this inquiry in relation to recognised principles of research ethics.
For the purpose of orientating the content of this chapter, a synopsis of where and how I undertook my research is given here. The methodological considerations, which contextualise the research, will then be explored within the delineated areas of the chapter.
The research of this inquiry took place in an afterschool and holiday play setting staffed by playworkers and run by a playwork organisation. Over the space of a year I went into the setting as a playworker/researcher for sessions of several hours, an average of two times a weak. Those who attended the provision were aged between 4 and 13. Different numbers of participants of different social demographics came on different days (including in the summer, children holidaying from abroad). Some started coming during the period of the research, some stopped. Some young people moved from ‘attending’ to ‘volunteering’. There were different playworkers working different days, some left and some joined the team. The supervisory playworker role was held by a number of different individuals.
The setting had an indoor space with several rooms including a small kitchen where the children and playworkers cooked snacks. The inside space had areas for sitting, there were empty tables and tables with lots of different things and bits and bobs for the children to make use of. A small room often ended up having cloths in it and these were used to make dens with the chairs and also for sewing. The outdoor space included steps and slopes made of pavement slabs just outside the building, and a tarmac area. There was a playing field with a small obstacle course at one side, and a clump of trees a long way from the building, in which hammocks were often made. On another area of grass there was a fire pit and a willow planting that included a little house. The shed with the equipment was also there, open for things to be taken out at will. The children choose what they do there. The playworkers were asked to help, to join in, or occasionally for inspiration. The dynamic of the setting was affected by the children who were there and what they were playing. The seasons and the weather also affected the feel of the day and what might happen, as did the playworkers who were there. However these influences were not found to be predictable, rather they were dependent on the children’s engagement with such human and environmental elements.
My way of being as I researched was directed by my way of being as a playworker. Detailed exploration of that way of being forms the body of this chapter. However, the practical aspects of my presence in the setting can be described thus. When I arrived I signed in and let my presence be known to the playworker in charge. Sometimes children said hello to me, sometimes they wanted my help or involvement in something before I had even reached the door, and sometimes I was ignored for most of the time I was there. Sometimes it was appropriate to stand outside at the corner of the building and watch for a while, sometimes to help clear something up. The sense of how to be and what to do came about in response to the play that was happening. As will be discussed I took notes both discretely during the time I was at the setting and directly afterwards.
The methodological considerations by which the practice of my research was framed will now be explored. This frame was achieved through the conjunction between a phenomenological approach to inquiry and a playwork ethic towards the playing child.
A phenomenological approach does not of itself provide a definitive methodology. The method(s) of inquiry must sit close to the experience of the phenomena in question (Lévi-Strauss 1966; van Manen 1990; Abram 1996; Titon 2008). While all choice of data collection method can be seen to be directed by the process of data analysis, or the form in which data is to be understood (Pellegrini 1996; Creswell 2003), a phenomenological approach must link subject, data gathering method and analysis process by a sympathetic thread (van Manen 1990; Danaher and Briod 2005). That sympathetic thread may be as specific as Bachelard’s (1994) phenomenological inquiry ‘The poetics of space’, wherein poetry is the subject but also tangibly the method of communication and the message of that communication. Or that thread may be the less nameable willingness to find the best way of being within oneself so as to be moved by the data, as described by Silvers (1986) and van Manen (1990; 1996).
The experiential aspect of phenomenology seems necessarily to impact on the use of methods in phenomenological enquiry. Crotty (1998, p.15) suggests that quantitative studies can be undertaken within subjective frameworks. However within the phenomenological frame when quantitative methods are employed to deal with human experiences the quality of those human experiences to be transmitted through the researcher to the reader seems to become diminished. Thomas and Chambers (1989) inquiry entitled ‘Phenomenology of Life Satisfaction Among Elderly Men: Quantitative and Qualitative Views’ is illustrative of this occurrence. Open-ended interviews of both Indian and British elderly men are undertaken and analysed using the hermeneutic circle - wherein each part of the interview is understood in relation to the whole interview. The authors note that “Even a superficial reading of the English and Indian protocols casts doubt on any interpretation that suggests that their experience of subjective well-being is the same” (Thomas and Chambers 1989, p.287). However, once the interview responses are coded and responses given quantitative values, the differences seem to disappear, to be replaced with consensus between the groups. These quantitative results also correlate with similar larger studies.
It seems arguable that when a study concerns itself with understanding an experience not related to quantity in the individual case, but in the experience itself; the question as to how often such experience occurs as a means of understanding is relevant only in terms of external classifying questions presupposed by our understanding of frequency; i.e. frequent behaviour means - habit, attachment, evidence of a developmental stage. If the experience of the subject is not related to quantity, a focus on quantity arguably places the researcher in a fundamentally different frame of phenomenological experience than the subject of the study. Undertaken within an ecological rather than a phenomenological frame, the Trudge and Hogan (2005) inquiry nevertheless expresses an intent to understand the meaning of the children’s experiences. They “argue that there needs to be a clear and consistent connection between the basic world-view being used, the theory that constitutes the study’s foundation, the methods that are employed and the analytical tools that are used to make sense of the data.” (ibid p.103). Yet their system of coding activities results in communication of data largely removed of empathetically tangible experience. By this I mean that their presentation of data does not touch me in a way that enables me to use my senses to identify with it and understand it in a living way. The communication of experience through their study stands in contrast to that imparted by the descriptions within the phenomenological inquiry of Todres and Galvin (2008 ). In this case the authors poetically draw forwards their sense of the experience of those caring for a partner who has Alzheimer’s, often ‘re-presenting’ using new words or emphasis, in a quest to ‘touch both head and heart’ of the reader.
The critique of the above studies suggests the necessity of close fit between research subject and method in phenomenological inquiry to be implicit in phenomenology’s concern with lived experience. This seems to be due to the recognition that whatever is gathered as data for a research study is already a retelling or expression of that lived experience (van Manen 1990, p.53); yet at the same time encountering the data is itself a lived experience, which is linked by its phenomena of inquiry to the experience of which it is an expression. This process can be understood in terms of the interplay between the experience and creation of phenomena through meaning making (Heidegger 1962; Merleau-Ponty et al. 1968; Abram 1996).
The expression of lived experience can be seen in myriad forms all admissible within a phenomenological inquiry. These include; Interview (Thomas and Chambers 1989; Kvale 1996), reflective account (van Manen 1990; Holman Jones 2005), fictional and non-fictional story (Goldman 1998; Norris nd), poetry (Bachelard 1971; Chawla 1994; Todres and Galvin 2008 ), art (Silvers 1986; Rafferty 1991; Woodhams 2004), film (Brough 2009), observation (Langeveld 1984; van Manen and Levering 1996), music (Titon 2008; Wong 2008) dance (Bateson and Bateson 1987; Vezina 2006). Each form of expression is affected both by its qualities and by the context of its relationship to the study. The expression of experience in sculpture will bear the qualities of sculpture as well as the experience it interprets. A story about love is different and the same as a painting about love. An interview undertaken by a researcher by the unstructured phenomenological method in relation to the question of their enquiry has a different relationship to the study than an interview on the radio that was recognised by the researcher as being relevant to the subject of their enquiry.
Silvers’ (1986) selection of children’s paintings that spoke ‘pre-consciously’ to him as part of his hermeneutic inquiry into how the communications of children are encountered and given meaning by the adult, has a different context to Bachelard’s (1994) use of poems in his phenomenological enquiry into the qualities of spaces. By the peculiarity of the researcher each phenomenological enquiry will have its own relationship to the particular forms of data it admits. What is notable in terms of creating a research methodology is that by their expression of phenomena each form of data is equally admissible to phenomenological enquiry. This can result in studies which use a number of methods and forms of data in a way which is in the field of qualitative research given the metaphor of quilting (Denzin and Lincoln 2005). Alongside this understanding of the researcher who uses mixed methods as a maker of quilts comes the suggestion of the researcher as ‘bricoleur’ (ibid.). Lévi-Strauss (1966) who originated the description of ‘bricolage’ referenced in qualitative research (Crotty 1998; Denzin and Lincoln 2005), explores the multiple interplays of representing and interpreting something through something. He discusses the affect of the nature of the wood on what can be sculpted from it and on the finished sculpture. He discusses all that Clouet’s painting of the lace collar in his portrait of a woman is made of, “The painter is always mid-way between design and anecdote, and his genius consists in uniting internal and external knowledge, a ‘being’ and a ‘becoming’, in producing with his brush an object which does not exist as such and which he is nevertheless able to create on his canvas” (Lévi-Strauss 1966, p.25). In research terms Lévi-Strauss’ discussion of ‘bricolage’ is descriptive of the relevance of the medium of inquiry and representation and the researcher’s ease with such mediums, to the possibility of bringing subtle qualities to light.
Due to the partiality of the data to a study, it is impossible to give comprehensive exploration of the forms of data available or the nature of each form of data within a phenomenological inquiry. However when methods are employed within a phenomenological frame they are contextualised. These contextualizing aspects, which render methods usable within a phenomenological frame will be noted here in relation to those methods frequently employed in phenomenological inquiry (van Manen 1990; Moustakas 1994; Finlay 2009).
The phenomenological interview
The unstructured phenomenological interview takes as starting point an open-ended question concerned with experience of something. For example “tell me about a time you played outside”. The structure of the interview should then be in the form of conversation with the aim of gaining what Kvale terms “empirical knowledge of the everyday world” (Kvale 1996, p.21). Further questions by the interviewer are spontaneously conceived as necessary in order to clarify and expand the information (Ryba 2007). For example “how did you feel when you took your shoes off?”
The observational anecdote
Observation must be of naturally occurring situations in order to pertain to phenomenology. Van Manen describes the observing researcher in such ways as fit with other’s descriptions of participant observation (Pellegrini 1996; Creswell 2003) and relate to the practitioner researcher model of inquiry (Danaher and Briod 2005). However within a phenomenological inquiry the researcher must allow themselves to be moved by what they observe, as part of the development of empathetic knowing (the following discuss and illustrate this perspective Bachelard 1971; Langeveld 1984; van Manen 1990; Abram 1996; van Manen and Levering 1996; Jennings 1999; Woodhams 2004).
The metaphoric use of quilting and bricolage by the qualitative research field (Denzin and Lincoln 2005) can also serve to illuminate the nature of the actual use of artistic interpretation in phenomenological studies. The intricate interplay of the experience of the material of formation, the creator and those who then encounter the artistic expression are all understood to be relevant when such data is used in a phenomenological study (Lévi-Strauss 1966; Rafferty 1991). Bachelard (1971; 1994) discusses the uncritical awe of the resonance of a poem - it is this meeting place between the content of the poem, the form of the poem, the poet and the reader, that is phenomenologically relevant.
Phenomenological inquiry cannot be removed from the reflective process (Merleau-Ponty et al. 1968; Stewart and Mickunas 1990; van Manen 1990; Bachelard 1994; Chawla 1994; Woodhams 2004; Finlay 2009). While reflective practice may be crucial to many forms of qualitative research, to do phenomenology is to reflect. As discussed above the mediums of that reflection are many. However, the involvement of words with our conception of meaning make the use of words in phenomenological inquiry demanding of particular focus. The written word affords the phenomenological researcher the possibility to delve deep into the layers of meaning, and it allows for the pealing back of those layers (Merleau-Ponty 2002). This is clearly apparent when reading classic phenomenological texts (Husserl 1980; Merleau-Ponty 2002; Sartre 2003).
The necessity that phenomenological writing should reflect the way of these texts is self-evident. It is therefore necessary that phenomenological writing remains true to the spirit of phenomenology, in describing rather than explaining (Stewart and Mickunas 1990; Giorgi 1992; Finlay 2009). Van Manen discusses the desire to make meaning as being the motivational factor in phenomenological inquiry. He states “Originally the term ‘desire’ meant ‘to expect from the stars’” (van Manen 1990, p.79). His discussion of this word’s ontology reflects the desire to let the meaning come out of the phenomena itself, to be given; rather than as from a pre-constructed theory, to be imposed. In practice this has resulted in the development of understanding within the field as to the method of phenomenological writing (Stewart and Mickunas 1990; van Manen 1990; Gadamer et al. 2004; Nielsen 2004; Danaher and Briod 2005).
In ‘Researching lived experience: human science for an action sensitive pedagogy’, van Manen (1990), provides succinct and accessible descriptions of methods, while also communicating the often subtle qualities of phenomenology’s contextualising atmosphere. Perhaps for this reason this text is much cited by phenomenological researchers, (the number of citations for this text is given as 4299 on a Google search, March 2011). He provides useful descriptions of two fundamental forms of phenomenological writing, which can be found employed in different permutations within inquiries; description of personal experience (see for example, Titon 2008; Robb nd) , and gathering other’s descriptions of experience (for example, Chawla 1994; Kirova and Emme 2009).
On writing a description of personal experience, van Manen says: “To conduct a personal description of lived experience, I try to describe my experience as much as possible in experiential terms, focusing on a particular situation or event. I try, as Merleau-Ponty says, to give a direct description of my experience as it is, without offering causal explanations or interpretive generalisations of my experience (1962 p.vii)” (van Manen 1990, p.54)
When discussing asking others to write about their experiences, van Manen suggests that the process of attempting personal description of lived experience will enable the researcher to be better equipped to ask others to give a description of their lived experience. He suggests that when using this method to gain access to other’s experience in the area we want to study we ask “Please write a direct account of a personal experience as you lived through it” (ibid p.65).
Writing is further used in phenomenological inquiry when finding meaning in data; this process has been described as re-writing, or working the text (James 1997; Gadamer et al. 2004; Danaher and Briod 2005). Though structures differ, it is fundamentally a process of revisiting the data over and over to find meaning (van Manen 1990), this process of unveiling can be applied to data whether it is written specifically by within a phenomenological context or not – It can also be applied to other mediums (Woodhams 2004; Prendergast 2006). This process will be further discussed within the data analysis chapter.
The above provides a short overview of common research methods used within a phenomenological frame. Through these short descriptions it was intended to give a sense of the affective quality with which phenomenology contextualises methods of inquiry, which are also used within other paradigms. Following on from this overview, different forms of phenomenological data, and the different methods of data collection and generation within a phenomenological frame, will now be critiqued. This exploration will draw both on phenomenological studies and on general discourse as to the strengths and weaknesses of different research methods in gathering data about the experiences of children. The critical framework will be one of best fit for the playworker researcher, best fit for the child playing in a playwork setting, and best fit for the phenomena in question.
It is a current cornerstone of good practice that when children are involved in research, they are researched with rather than researched on (Fraser 2004; Greig et al. 2007; Freeman and Mathison 2008). The resulting impact on choice of method can be seen to be: the generation of data for or as part of the research, co-creation of methodology between child and adult, and data that concerns the child’s reflection on experience or opinion (Hennesy and Heary 2005; Veale 2005; Tisdall et al. 2009). The impetus of this research attitude is comprehensible in terms of a cultural moral reactive shift against the previous attitude that aligned with the experimental ‘research on’ attitude to finding out about children (James and Prout 1997; James et al. 1998; Hill 2005). This shift is ratified by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC)’s Article 12 which levies a responsibility to “assure to the child who is capable of forming his or her own views the right to express those views freely in all matters affecting the child, the views of the child being given due weight in accordance with the age and maturity of the child” (UNCRC 1989). Ratification of Article 12 is itself cited in the rationale for the consultative approach to research with children (Alderson 1995; Hill 2005).
There is however an emerging disillusionment with this consultative approach to researching with children that questions whether it is in practice fit for the purpose of ratifying the ideal which it upholds (Tisdall et al. 2009). A research study such as this, concerned with children’s experiences cannot help but be affected by the manifestation of these shifting attitudes in the way research method is conceived. The following discussion of method thereby reflects this awareness in relation to playwork theory and practice. Consideration of the overarching ethical issues will be drawn out of the discussion of different research methods, communicating the development of, and thereby substantiating, the position discussed in the closing comments of this section of the chapter.
Interview allows the researcher to gain access to the meaning which participants’ experience has for them (van Manen 1990; Kvale 1996; Creswell 2003; Thompson 2010). It allows for the gathering of ideas and thoughts and opinion. In his exploration of children’s affiliation with nature Kahn Jr. (2002) draws on five sets of interviews undertaken by himself and colleagues with children and young people in diverse geographical locations. Placed together the interview transcripts strongly communicate themes of commonality in children’s orientation towards nature. The focus of the study, around the development of children’s perception, understandings and moral relationship with nature seems well served by the reflective quality of interview. Ryba’s (2007) use of interview to gain insight into the aspect of enjoyment in the ice skating experience of children who skate competitively, also illustrates the relevance of interview. In this study Ryba uses a conversational open-ended structure, which she identifies as phenomenological interview. The excerpts from the interviews show a keen awareness in the participants in response to the opening question of, ‘telling about a time when you skated that was enjoyable’. In these extracts we can identify what may have had the quality of a conversational journey of phenomenological discovery in which the interviewee directs the content within the subject (van Manen 1990). There may have been the vital factor noted by Westcott and Littleton of “co-construction of meaning between interviewer and child” (Westcott and Littleton 2005, p.147). Certainly Ryba’s identification of the pain of landing a jump being incorporated in the enjoyment is one that would arguably not have been available through other data gathering methods. Both Kahn Jr.’s and Ryba’s studies comment on awareness, in the former in terms of developmental stages, in the latter in terms of the skaters’ bodily awareness, the embodiment of experience. In the included transcript extract both studies communicate an affective impression of the children and young people’s awareness of self and of themselves in their environment.
The studies discussed above are reflective of the way in which interview has the potential to uncover awareness that is present to children’s articulation, but what of awareness that is not so present? Hoffman (1992) recounts how he initially tried to interview children to gain more knowledge about childhood spirituality. However he found that while children could express their experiences around formalised religious activity or beliefs, they were unable to relate the subtleties and moments of transcendence which Hoffman was interested in, in a way which was meaningful to him. He thereafter gathered his data from adult’s memories of those experiences. Here we see that an experience can be living in a child, to the strength that it is remembered in adulthood yet in such a way that the awareness differs or is not expressible in the same way (see also, Cobb 1993; Chawla 1994). Such a situation is highly relevant for the subject of this study within the frame of play, for the conceptual describing of play is an adult initiated process. The vulnerability of the child interviewee to have their awareness affected by the interview process is held in the evidence that when a question is repeated in exactly the same way, the child will often change their answer, supposedly because of feeling they got the answer wrong (Greene and Hill 2005; Westcott and Littleton 2005). In their study ‘Interviewing children using an interpretive poetics’ Rogers et al. (2005), revisit with children things these children have expressed in different sequential interviews within a subject frame of speaking things that were hard to speak or even unspeakable. This study shows how faced with an awareness developed by the adult in relation to something the child had expressed, about which awareness seems difficult for the child, there is a tendency for the child to recant. While this study may have had therapeutic intent, the resistance to awareness or the difference in awareness of the child to the interviewer is palpable. Bateson suggests that communication of certain types of information between aspects of oneself is “undesirable, not because of fear, but because communication would somehow alter the nature of the ideas.” (Bateson and Bateson 1987, p.80). In considering the transmutative quality of the subject matter of this study the aspects and facets of awareness required and generated by interview were considered too great a potential risk, at once morally and in terms of data validity.
When evaluating the use of interview in researching children’s experience Trudge and Hogan (2005) consider the following both in terms of their own personal and professional skill level and in terms of appropriateness. “most of us (and here we mean ‘us’ not simply as researchers but as people) do not spend our time interviewing children as a way to find out what they are thinking and feeling. We talk to them, listen to them, watch them, engage with them, listen to them talking to other people. As people, we make sense of those around us by attention to both verbal and nonverbal cues, and if our interpretations are incorrect we are likely to get clear feedback when we act on those interpretations” (Trudge and Hogan 2005, p.161). The fact that interview is not part of the playworker’s remit, that deliberate questioning related to the playworker’s interests is not something that we do, perhaps contains the reasons for interview’s inappropriateness to this study – for the playworker the play belongs to the children and is conceived by them, we try only to hold the frame of their creation, attempting to maintain the position of negative capability even in situations where we are involved in the playing (Sturrock and Else 1998; Davy 2007; Lester 2007; Fisher 2008).
The non-fit of interview to the playworker’s attitude to the playing child can perhaps be illustrated in Fisher’s (2008) recounting of her position of negative capability and the visible way she is guided by the playing children to her role in their play reality.
“It is snack time, and picking up on the relaxed
atmosphere, I lie on the floor in the middle of the children while they have
Gerry: “Look Katherine has fallen asleep!”
I open one eye and look at Gerry
He laughs and runs back to his seat.
Martin: “That's not Katherine - it's a troll”
I then start to snore: zzzzzzz....
The children laugh and start to get excited.
Two children come over with their apples and put them on my tummy.
As I move to get the apples the children run back to their seats.
I pretend to eat the apples but sit up and start to sniff
“I think there must be children moving around!
I can smell children when they move close to me!
They all scream and run back to their seats.
Lisa creeps into the home corner.
“Let’s get some pretend food for the troll”
She puts the food on a plate and pushes it towards me.
I sniff again …… "Oh yuck that’s not my food.”
Then Jodie gets a teddy from the cuddly toy box.
She creeps up to me with the toy and puts it by my head.
“Here you go Mr Troll, I got you a teddy”
She sits back.
I slowly start to stroke the teddy.
I start to smile and cuddle the teddy bear.
I sit up slowly and cuddling the teddy I walk out of the classroom.
I come back in as Katherine.
“Hello everyone I just saw a really funny troll holding a teddy, did you?”
The children start to tell me about their adventure with the troll and how he could smell them and wanted to eat them if they moved! Not one single child said that the troll was me.”
(Fisher, In, Brown 2009c, p.220)
This example can be seen to illustrate a quality of children’s play consciousness, which here is arguably critical to their absorption and creation of their play. In the context of creating a methodology appropriate to myself as researching playworker, Fisher’s account begs the question as to the possible consequences had these children been subsequently interviewed about this play experience. Might it not be possible that their experienced play reality would be impinged on by the adult’s questions and overt interest? Might they not recant their experience? Furthermore how, bearing Bateson’s (1987) suggestion in mind, might the different analytical frames brought by articulation of thoughts about their play in relation to adult perceptions, affect their relationship to that play instance, and or others? The ethical repercussions of such possibilities in this illustrative example, underline the position reached above through critical exploration, namely that interview is untenable as a research method for this inquiry.
The process of considering and rejecting interview as a research method for this inquiry, focuses attention on the dual safety and danger held within the practitioner researcher situation. Researching within the frame of being a playworker offers the protection of avoiding that which does not fit with my professional practice and thereby offers a moral framework. It also levies a responsibility to be thorough in reflection and critique, with attention to the way in which such evaluative processes come more reflexively regarding methods unfamiliar in daily practice. This concern will be kept in mind in the following appraisal.
As a playworker I gain my understanding of the play of the children I am working with, in the ways described by Trudge and Hogan (2005) cited above. These ways of finding out are included in what van Manen (1990) describes, in the context of phenomenological research, as the ‘observational anecdote’. However that description is true in its breadth and applicability across many disciplines and situations, and must be moved from the generic to the specific in order to create a rationale for a research methodology. It is not enough to say I observe as a playworker and I can use that skill and situation to undertake my research, the how of it all must be explored and explained and evaluated by the boundaries of this study.
Creswell uses material taken from Merriam (1998), Bogdan and Biklen (1992), and Creswell (2002) in a table that categorises observational research into four frameworks for what could be seen as relational awareness between the observer and the observed.
·“Complete participant: researcher conceals role
·Observer as participant: role of researcher is known
·Participant as observer: observation role secondary to participant role
·Complete observer: researcher observes without participating”
(Creswell 2003, pp.186-187)
A chosen position has implication for the ethics of appropriate research. However the ethical stance must come from considering how I will most appropriately be if observing as a means of data collection for this inquiry.
As a playworker I observe while doing—picking things up, putting things away, setting something up, playing when invited to by the children; and I observe while being available should my involvement in what the children are doing be required. Hughes describes this fundamental way of being in playwork as “a low adult to child approach ration” (Hughes 1996a, p.51), where the child’s agenda is the starting point of interaction between the child and the playworker. My position is similar to that of Corsaro (2005) in that I wait to be invited. Yet, while Webb and Brown (2003, p161), as will be discussed, seem to propose Corsaro’s approach to reflect that of playwork, I sense a subtle difference in that as a playworker I do not await being invited or anticipate becoming the focus of the play, this being tangible Corsaro’s attitude.
As a playworker my opportunity to see and hear the detail of the children’s experiences is mediated minute by minute by their positioning of themselves and their subtle and less subtle signs of not wanting me around.
The fact that I observe as a playworker is implicit in the way I am in the playwork setting, I would not be a playworker if I did not have awareness of at least a portion of what is happening minute to minute. As such, within the job I am perhaps a participant as observer, yet also a complete participant, in that my observations are imbedded into my playwork practice and into natural ways of knowing each other as noted by Trudge and Hogan (2005) as cited above.
The reading into what it means to be a participant observer or a complete participant is varied, there is a lot of scope for interpretation of position in relation to those terms. Webb and Brown (2003) who reference the same divisions that Creswell makes, to Steckler (1999), provide a taste of the interpretations of participant observation in relation to the playworker entering a setting as a playworker/researcher, thereby being both naturally and in an auxiliary capacity reflective. As with all the terminology of research, the benefit of recognising oneself within or ascribing oneself to a catchment area seems not so much in being able to gain absolutes of either position or methods but in adding richness to ones questioning and understanding by layering and juxtaposing similar and different interpretations. Such a process is fundamental to phenomenological philosophy and phenomenological research and the reading of Webb and Brown’s exploration of aspects and issues was particularly relevant.
With regard to the use of observation as a researching playworker for this study, consideration revolved around the differences between this role and everyday playwork. The consideration was underpinned by the fundamental matter of ethics related to the consciousness of play. That will be further discussed in relation to relevant literature within the section regarding ethics, below. Here the focus is on the intuitive understanding and on the practical. In this light the questions below arose to be addressed.
·How would my consciousness of the children’s play be affected? It might be differently focused.
·How would the way I was, and what I did, be affected? I would need to write things down and my positioning of watching might be more related to my interests.
·How could the children’s consciousness of me, me in relation to their play and thereby their play be affected? The proposition that the subtle changes within my attitude might have an impact either conscious or unconsciously could not be ignored, the possibility for confusion caused by such an impact had to be considered.
Much reflection and discussion took place in relation to this interplay, with regard to the disclosure of my position of researching playworker. It was only in the creation of an approach that had the potential to ratify these issues in their detail that observation could be accepted as a method of data gathering for this study. The following express the fundamental aspects by which these issues were resolved.
·After much heart searching and contemplation it was decided that the children be told that I was undertaking research, in a language they could understand and in a manner that they could take on board or ignore, it was not repeatedly intrusive, and the individuality of response to information was given space.
·My way of watching was centred around remaining a playworker. I made sure that the children could remove themselves or me from the situation of their play, this being an ethnographically recognised means of responding to children’s giving and withdrawal of consent on a minute by minute basis which has the play-relevant component of being under constant renegotiation rather than a once and for all (Goldman 1998; Edmond 2005).
·Intuitively but deliberately, I held my research question lightly enough for the focus not to be tangible or inhibitive of my being, a factor also crucial to observation in phenomenology (Merleau-Ponty et al. 1968; Bachelard 1971; van Manen 1990; Bachelard 1994; van Manen and Levering 1996; Merleau-Ponty 2002). This was vital for the research findings, letting the happenings in the children’s play tell me about how things were. It also reflected the intent of negative capability (Bate 1979; Keats and Forman 2004; Fisher 2008). The use of techniques of behaviour classification either pre-derived from theoretical framework or the research of others’ or by pilot within this study, was deemed contradictory to this intent. The practicality of such techniques would be difficult while being a playworker. Webb and Brown (2003) took turns being a playworker or a non-participant observer in order to gain the kind of data required by the developmental assessment questions they were using. Yet they used a reflective diary, written at the end of their days, in a way that allowed them to extend their knowledge of what was happening. They quote Graue and Walsh in relation to the use of the reflective diary “The researcher who hangs in there during the first period of seeing the obvious and carefully records what she sees eventually begins to notice other things, things that have been there all along but were not so obvious” (Graue and Walsh 1998, p.94; in Webb and Brown 2003, p.163). Brown and Webb’s use of this quote and way that their diary seems to transmit the meaning of and relationship to their observational data suggests its open ended quality to be more relevant to their natural way of being and knowing as playworkers than the structured coding system. This perceptible situation in Webb and Brown’s research process can be seen to reflect the fit of participant observation to the way of knowing as a playworker. For this study the contradiction to using anything but participant observation seemed bound up with the way that a different observational technique would be impracticable while being a playworker. Inherent to its impracticability would be the potential alteration of the open-ended way of seeing as a playworker that in my practice allows me to be affected and so to respond appropriately.
·The practicality of writing things down did however have to be considered. It was decided that I would find ways to write shortly after the event, either by going into a different space, if my involvement was not required, or at the end of my time in the setting. The validity of such data was confirmed by three points. The reliability of memory is admissible in a court of law (Denzin and Lincoln 2005). That our reflective practice as professional playworkers, in which we recall observations, happens continuously but also in hindsight when writing or discussing, yet we and many other professions working with people trust this method. Within this second point there being the third point, namely the possibility that in the way of being of the playworker, in the very role of the playworker, a different kind of open perception is possible to that of the removed observer. Sturrock (2003b) touches on this quality in terms of the playworker’s involvement in the ‘playframe’, it is reflected in Brown’s (2003a) discussion of compound flexibility, and in the field of phenomenology van Manen’s (1990) discussion of closeness seems to reflect this same kind of openness. This way of being is not forced, it is not a searching for, it is more a kind of letting go. This way of being and knowing would not be served by any of the other observational stances.
Through the detailed exploration of the above components the use of observation as a research method was transformed from the generics of terms and techniques to the specifics of a way of being and doing observation as a playworker/researcher. Examining and resolving the fundamental aspects described above necessitated a certain critical perspective. However it must be recognised that at the core of this process of examination was a testing for resonance of authenticity by what felt right. Thereby the process could be described more as one of bringing out and appraising what was close to the heart of my practice rather than evaluating something external.Within a phenomenological frame this situation is accepted as unavoidable and also understood as valuable (Silvers 1986; van Manen 1990; Woodhams 2004). In reflecting on my playwork practice this very quality of knowing by my sensing as well as my thinking, that can be seen to be at the centre of the process evaluating observation, seems crucial to my practice. Thereby in order to give as full a description as possible it is important to attempt to express the nucleus, which addressing the aspects above brought to fuller consciousness. In reflection it seems that this essential reference point came to light by being a sensed gage of authenticity in this evaluative process.
In the planning of my observational stance the most critical aspect seemed to me the way of being in my mind and in my intention when with the playing child. This is something that I have been aware off many times and something that I kept coming back to when trying to figure out my research methodology. It is however hard to describe. When I am with a playing child I must let my mind drift, skim, be open. If I try to focus in a way of trying to grasp or understand I usually miss the point, such a point comes to mind later. This way of being is not inattention it is more a form of ‘reverie’ (Bachelard 1971; 1994) of ‘flow’ (Csikszentmihalyi 2002). It could be seen as an aspect of actualising what Cobb (1993) talks about when she describes the adult finding out about the child’s communion with their environment as a layer of knowing that has the same quality. For me such a way of being is essential to standing a chance of perceiving the experience of the playing child. In terms of the children the most striking illustration I have is that when I’m cooking dinner and my children are playing if I try to listen too strongly to their play, they consistently tell me to go away. The explanation of this contextualising core can be understood in terms of the facet of practitioner research concerned with the development of the researcher’s professional practice by the processes of their research (Cobb 1993; Hughes 2001; McIntosh 2010). Van Manen discusses this as an increase in sensitivity or tact towards those and the subject of the study—in this case the process of harmonising observation as a research tool with observation as a playworker, can be seen as creating space for this research to occur through, and so increase, empathetic tact towards the playing child and the things encircled by that play. With this came the realisation that had concordance not been attainable, observation would not have been ethically defensible as a research method for this inquiry.
Creative forms of data
The parameters honed by the evaluation of interview and observation can now be applied to other potential research methods available within a phenomenological approach. The creative mediums of art, making things, story, music, film, have potential relevance to this study in that they offer added perspective, both in what their form may potentially illuminate, and in the way in which their use comes about (Lévi-Strauss 1966; Finley 2005). In this inquiry creative means seemed to cross my path or evolve rather than being decisively sought. Furthermore these qualities, of things coming to hand (Heidegger 1962; Dreyfus 2005) or/and growing, seem to be integral to the creative mediums and processes that were come across and developed (see Lévi-Strauss 1966). These qualities can also be identified as reflective of aspects of the research subject itself, namely experienced interplay between child and played-with things.
As discussed previously phenomenology recognises as impactful the medium by which something is communicated, alongside that which is communicated. In such a way a stone carving of a playing child would communicate differently than a wooden carving or a painting or description. The material gives form from its nature and from the way it can be made use of, from its selection by the person who wants to communicate through it, and from its relationship to that which it is communicating (see Lévi-Strauss 1966; Silvers 1986; Woodhams 2004; Finley 2005). In this study coming across and using creative mediums in working with the research data seemed to merge these layers of subject, researcher, method, process and medium into one another. A metaphor of the satisfaction and sense of rightness, which such cogency creates, was illustrated to me when a girl showed me, how little dishes float in the washing up water. She then went on to tell me that she and her granny had found it out and, with a look of smiling seriousness, that at granny’s house the dishes with boats painted on them float. Here we see the meaning of the painted boats being actualised by the playful washing up process and thus the fact that the painted boats were there seems to have a sense of magic, of aliveness and of perfection. Before the discovery of floating, the boats’ created presence on the dishes would not have had the same meaning, yet had the boats not been there perhaps the experience of the dishes would have been different. This example illustrates the two directional creation of meaning, and thence of things, through experience. It was in this same way that creative mediums offered the inquiry several intertwined qualities, as each other’s enveloping blanket of shadow; the shadow that follows at the same time as being the warm blanket of germination.
Certain aspects of this refractive situation can be described, in order to illustrate. In the description below, the two way arrows ⇔ are used to represent the interplay of after-effect and germination.
⇔In the very possibility for creative mediums to come about and evolve rather than be pre-decided and pre-chosen, lies a realisation of the sought phenomenological attitude of openness. ⇔I was guided and inspired by qualities in the data and the research process as it evolved.⇔ As such the creative mediums and methods that became incorporated into the inquiry offer at once richness to the study and insight to myself as a playworker, and as a researcher in relation to the subject matter.⇔The creative representation of data allowed me and later other playworkers to encounter the data playfully. ⇔ This possibility for playful encountering may have been both the enabling factor for, and the result of, the data’s representation within its own creative context. ⇔
Within the very possibilities that creative means and processes offered the study, can also be seen that by the parameters drawn out in the critique of interview and of observational techniques, creative media cannot be used in this inquiry to deliberately generate data with children. The stance of the playworker towards the playing child is brought to light in the literature review and explored further in the previous parts of the methodology chapters. The playworker’s willingness to be guided by, rather than guide, the play can be seen as implicit in the refractive process described above. Hughes specific comments on the playworker’s position in relation to the child’s creative play express the non-directional position.
“Creative play can be a solitary venture or a dynamic social experiment; children can be alone or in groups when they are so engaged. However, for this play type to successfully play through each child, and be visible to the playworker, one criterion has to be satisfied, more than any other. That criterion is that the child must be in control.
For, however else creativity is facilitated, control of what, how and why something is created in the first place must be initiated by the child or the children involved. That even means that children should not be told to interact with creative materials in the fist place” (Hughes 2006, p.39)
The words ‘and be visible to the playworker’ in this expression by Hughes reflect the intertwining between playwork practice and the playwork way of knowing. The significance of this interdependence has been explored first in the evaluation of interview as a method of inquiry and then further through the questioning of observation. However perhaps due to the lien between play and creating (Huizinga 1970) this medium of expression and knowing brings to light yet greater subtleties in the merging between being and knowing as it pertains to this inquiry’s context of play and playwork. The possibility that will be explored below concerns the potential insight that discovery through creative means might offer this inquiry.
As a researcher exploring appropriate ways for children to become engaged in research about themselves Veale (2005) discusses the benefits and difficulties in using creative mediums in research with children. Consideration of the broader questions around ethics and usefulness of such mediums in research with children is, however, not the remit of this inquiry. It must be made clear that it is the use per se, and not the challenges of such use, that is set aside by the proposed fundamental misfit of appropriating children’s creative expression as a method when researching as a playworker. Simply put, to ask the children to create something related to the subject matter would bear the same contradictions as interview; or worse, perhaps be at even greater odds with this study because it would contravene the usual way of being creative with matter within a play centred setting; and thereby also trample on the very ground of the study’s subject.
The misfit of involving children in using creative mediums as a research technique for this study seemed to become more articulate through my own creative investigation of the observational data. Through this creatively born understanding, academic discussion also then became differently related to. The critique by Gallacher and Gallagher (2008), of researching with children, provided a useful mirror to the intuitive objections that my own creative process had made more corporeal. Gallacher and Gallagher reference a wealth of studies wherein researchers work with children in conceivably child centred, often child created ways to generate information about children. They recognise the honourable intent in such approaches as a counter to the objectivism of children. Their questioning of such methods however goes deeper than the surface idealism, raising issues that revolve around the essential power dynamic in the situation of children being involved in research, which is fundamentally an adult concern.
That which made this commentary particularly pertinent to playwork, to this study and to this section of this study was the proposal that researchers working with children ‘could benefit from methodological immaturity’. Their use of this term holds similar quality to that of negative capability. Without such underpinning attitude comments such as those above by Hughes, ‘and be visible to the playworker’ do not have their full meaning. It was this attitude that was to become actualised in the use of creative medium in this study, not by the children to generate data, but by myself to generate understanding of the data, in a way that was akin in quality to the data.
Exploring the issue of how playworkers know, develop knowledge and express knowledge, Kilvington (2010) echoes my experience of my research ethic being initially more sensed than theorised by myself in relation to my practice. Her article also offers a rationale for the articulation of intuition made available to me via my creative investigating. A university lecturer in Playwork, Kilvington brings to our attention her observation that “Perfectly capable playwork students, whose practice is good, often respond to oral questioning about their practice with looks of incomprehension or they gabble away, assumedly hoping that something will come to mind.” (Kilvington 2010, p.15). She goes on the question the usefulness of what can be understood as conventional means of research or finding out. She proposed the value of ignorance, which in the way she writes of it, can be understood within the same frame as negative capability or methodological immaturity.
“This led me to wonder whether one can grow ignorance during or through play or indeed through playwork. Is ignorance lack of knowledge or is it lack of commonly accepted knowledge?” then seemingly juxtaposing with the more common usage of the term ignorance Kilvington asks “Or is it acceptance of knowledge that is commonly considered to be fact, when it is indeed just somebody else’s ignorance!” Perhaps she also means such facts were once created through the creative ignorance of play.
She continues “When we as playworkers, reflect on our own experiences of play, do we revert to the ‘blissful ignorance’ of childhood, do we tap into that wonderful other form of knowledge where we used to come to our own conclusions, where we made sense of the world using our imaginations, where nonsense was as important as sense, where words were not needed to describe what was known.” (ibid. p16)
The literature review and the methodological preparation for this inquiry have repeatedly brought to light obstacles that striving to understand an aspect of play from outside the context of play seem to present to being able to access meanings enveloped in play experiences.
It was the suggestion by my supervisor Phil Jones to use creative forms of reflection that permitted me to explore a way of knowing which feels at one with the quality of playing. This at-one-ness seemed to encompass the possibility of forming new truths, a possibility which was essentially at the very heart of the awareness that led to this study in the first place. Starting to use creative forms of understanding within this study brought attention to my familiarity with this way of finding out.
The manifestation of creative methods in this study is detailed in the section about data presentation. However, a sense of the quality of acceptant gratitude that the creative process radiated, may be communicated here by the following three vignettes.
Vignette 1b - beginnings
The definable beginning of using creative mediums in this inquiry comes as I walk to the beach. The words ‘Tasting slices of sky’ come to my mind and grow playfully into their metaphoric potential. When I return home I put these words on to a large piece of paper, where they start merging with reflective thoughts. When freed by and in creative contexts, words and other symbols of expressions find their place and space on a created surface, framed by and stretching the frame of creative mediums. Then by their form, colour, sound, shape, alternative meanings, intuitively give ever-richer meaning. Months later the inspiration comes to make a literal transparent silk quilt of my research, turning the metaphor of qualitative research quilt making (Denzin and Lincoln 2005) into reality and thereby creating a new living metaphor for the positioning of play experience within this study. One day the quilt slips to the floor and a butterfly sticker left over from something gets stuck onto a silk thread, then suggesting chaos theory and the use of a piece of cloth printed with leaves, butterflies and dandelion puffs, the latter bringing to my attention an atmospheric link between one observation and another.
Vignette 2b - reflections
When writing up this section about creative methods I come across an article by Simon Lewty written in 2007, published in ‘Art of England’ April 2008. I came across the article at my mother’s house, in the magazine that she had rescued from the recycling bin at the dump. In this article Lewty talks about his creative process of covering large expanses with words.
“A large sheet of paper covers the end wall of the snowbound studio – white outside the window and white inside the room. Pencilled words partially cover the surface – hundreds of words. My eye moves over them, and into the blank spaces between them, the emptiness of the text that shapes them and is shaped by them. The whole surface seems to be moving, a flux, in which there seems to be few constants, apart from the faint horizontal lines of the text which repeat, without repeating….But I sense there is a connection, a rhyme almost, between this field of writing and what is happening outside the window.” (Lewty 2008, p.19)
Later in the article he writes
“Another piece of paper, another wall, another room, another season. This time the window looks out over the sea, an immense, glittering space of light, reflecting into the room and across the surfaces of the paper. I am working to the sound of the sea through the sound of the sea through the open window. The waves break upon the shore below, their endless surge and reflux one of the most ancient sound- lines. I am using a kind of translucent tissue, almost weightless, and the writing is in coloured pencil. Its soft, waxy tip marks the surface in quite a different way to a lead pencil, and I’m having to go much more slowly and deliberately, otherwise the thin paper would tear. As I work, I can feel the pencil responding to the slight unevenness of the wall underneath, and passing it on to the micro-structures of the text, as though I were picking up the ‘voice’ of the wall, like an old-fashioned gramophone needle.” (ibid, p.20)
Finding this article gave the relief of recognition, in that it reflects so much of my creative process of discovery, and further of the subject matter of this study in the merging of the particular material environment with that which is being created and with the experience of the creator. This can be seen as integral to children’s playing with things and to my creative discovery of the data.
At the end of the article Lewty writes:
“There are times when it’s not doing the work itself that is difficult, so much as being aware of what you’ve done, and accepting it. Trusting yourself. The transforming experience can’t be sought. It can only be ‘found’ when the time is right, as these texts and drawings were, and welcomed – as a gift.” (ibid, p.23)
Vignette 3b – what comes to hand
The way of uncovering discussed in this section about creative methods reminds me of when I used to run my hands along the shelves in the Leeds Met Library when I was doing my Playwork degree, taking out random books on impulse, which when opened held the very thing that I was looking for. Some years later Bob Hughes shared his similar experience when undertaking his MA, of running his finger along the shelves until a book talked to him. This way which books have of reflecting what is in our consciousness and perhaps in our unconsciousness is also discernable in the way story books that reflected the subject of the PhD found there way to me. For example I came across the story ‘Sophie’s masterpiece’ (Spinelli and Dyer 2004) – in which a spider spins her heart into the corner of a baby blanket, her last work, her masterpiece, when I had just started making my quilt. Later my older daughter found in the library and started reading, ‘Apricots at Midnight’ (Geras and Caldwell 1994), in which a great aunt tells the stories of all the patches of cloth that were part of childhood experience and are now sewn into a patchwork quilt.
3 Vignettes - Reflective comments
Together and separately these vignettes embody, in their content and occurrence, a reflection of the way in which creative processes and materials enabled the subject of inquiry to permeate right through the PhD. Further they add illustration to the necessity of this as discussed above. These vignettes show a way of knowing that is only possible through receiving, without the determination of searching, but with a trust in the possibility of what comes to hand. This merging with things and letting them communicate with you, is crucial to the PhD’s frame of played-with-ness.
Responsively creating the inquiry’s structure
As stated the manifestation of the creative process in this inquiry and the way that a data analysis method grew out of that is detailed in the data presentation and analysis chapter. As will be explained within that chapter the repercussions of this process are that the structure of data presentation and the forms and techniques by which data analysis occurred grew from the data itself rather than being premeditated or having a pre-constructed rationale. Therefore these methodological components are explored in the chronological order in which they occurred within that chapter rather than, as would be more conventional, within the methodology chapter.
The decision to reflect the methodological development that occurred in the process of inquiry, within the structure of the written PhD was not taken lightly. While the risk presented by an unconventional approach was recognised, the approach taken was considered essential to communicating the way that the data and the data gathering process moved me as the researcher to create the means to understand it. This was understood as essential to both the subject and to the authenticity of this phenomenological inquiry.
While the detailed repercussions of this responsive way of working with the data must wait until their sequential places, their genesis should be noted in the closing of this section. It seems possible that the materialisation of this way of working in and through creative mediums may be a sensible extrapolation of the conjunction between a phenomenological approach that fits with this inquiry and with the playwork stance. As discussed above, the articulation that using creative methods gave me concerning the appropriate ethic with which to conduct this study, included a consciousness of the seeming congruence between my use of creative means and the subject of the inquiry. Encompassed in this was an awareness that aspects of a playwork perspective might be reflective in this inquiry in more specific detail than I was previously conscious of.
To express the questioning that arises from this, that it might be taken forward into the next sections of the chapter I would like to quote from an article that draws on Nicolson’s theory of Loose parts (Nicholson 1971). As noted in the literature review this is a theory that has been incorporated into the playwork agenda and practice. In “The secret lives of objects: building transformative places for play” Leichter-Saxby (2009) quotes Nicholson and continues her discussion of ‘fallen objects’ rejected from their original purpose “they require us to provide the meaning they have lost in their fall and in so doing offer play cues of their own. When children play with them they both acquire surface marks such as dirt, scrapes and bruising. For some, these play scars serve as medals of honour and recollect particular moments in shared history (at this point The Velveteen Rabbit is referenced). Objects can also offer up the ghosts of their pasts and hint at other times, other places, other lives.” (Leichter-Saxby 2009, p.iii). This article written a year and nine months after I began my PhD sits close to the subject of my investigation. This article suggests that my noticing of the played-with-ness of things is not unique. It also makes me wonder about the possible relationship between the role of adventure playgrounds and the use of junk and the evolution of the playwork psyche. But further, with pertinence to the way of knowing of the playworker, the fact that Leichter-Saxby writes of these things may indicate that that which is noticed both depends on, and creates the form of noticing. In other words there might have been a playful sensitization created or brought to play by the things that Leichter-Saxby noticed in order to make that noticing possible. In seeing the things with their scars as badges of honour Leichter-Saxby can be demonstrating the same negative capability (Fisher 2008), ignorance (Kilvington 2010) or methodological immaturity (Gallacher and Gallagher 2008) which would allow her to be as a playworker relation to the playing child.
This willingness to see the created qualities of something and the possibility of meaning therein, can be seen reflected in a creative attitude towards representing and working with data. Might the use of creative methods and using materials creatively, have a similar tonal quality to the listening and openness visible as integral to playwork? If so, do creative means create a logic, a validity, a language for this profession’s intuitive way of knowing, because such methods depend on deciphering and expressing through that faculty. Further, what repercussions might working through creative methods framed by a professional stance akin to the openness of creativity, regarding a subject of play, have on the materials, be they the words making poems, the scraps in a collage, the wood being whittled? The answers to these questions are not known but the phrasing of the questions may well affect what can be discovered and expressed in subsequent sections and chapters.
Generation data with children - concluding remarks
A questioning of the practice of involving children in research of which their actions and experiences form the data, was present at the very beginning of this study’s methodological considerations. Academically this was an unavoidable situation, yet more than that, this consideration was meshed on an intuitive level with the very substance of my playwork practice. As retold above, the process of creating a research methodology was one that cumulatively clarified the positioning of this research in relation to the question of involving children in generating data about themselves.
In considering the appropriateness of interview the concern of altering the child’s approach to their play was brought to the fore. In his juxtaposition of Article 12 with Article 31 Hughes provides what could be seen as a succinct capturing of the fundamental issue, which my consideration of interview unpacked for me. He writes of the conscious making of play in consultative approaches to play space design and asks “having been exposed to this process, whether children can ever again completely lose themselves in fantasy?” (Hughes 2010a). This question is one which aligns with Bateson’s (1987) previously cited proposal of the importance of lack of communication between different areas of knowing; and also with the memory I have of when the immerging of my teenage analytical mind started preventing me from the total immersion in play which had previously been ‘second’, or perhaps first ‘nature’.
The assessment of observation as a method further clarified the issues raised in relation to interview and the delicacy of being as a researching playworker. The fundamental qualitative alternative to any form of asking children about their experiences is one of observing. However, in order to fulfil the terms that contraindicate asking, the observing must have a certain quality. That quality is visible as integral to the practice of playwork. It can be explained as a combination of not intruding, of being open to, or impressionable, and of trusting our intuitive understanding.
While assessment of observation as a fitting methodology enabled me to unpack these issues in relation to my role as a researching playworker, it was the exploration of the use of creative methods that provided the final lived understanding of the discrepancy between knowing in playing and knowing in thinking about playing, which is at the fulcrum of this issue for playwork. The criteria, which were developed through the consideration of interview and observation, were applied to the evaluation of the appropriateness of employing creative means to undertake research with children. By the same reasoning that rejected interview and that guided observational approach, the involvement of children in creative methods was deemed inappropriate. However as discussed above the use of creative methods, as a researcher seeking to understand play and particularly the playful experience of matter, proved to be the very embodiment of the openness of negative capability (Fisher 2008) and the echo of means of discovery to the subject. I found that creative exploration enabled an understanding of my observations unencumbered by conceptualisation. This experience could perhaps be seen as the ignorance that Kilvington (2010) explores, as discussed above. In my process of discovery, an example of which I describe below, there seems also to be a refraction of this study’s methodological frame.
I was entering an observation onto the quilt in which a child said, “In the land of love furruffled means love”. The observation was of a child talking about how one of her toy bunnies didn’t have as ruffled fur as the other two, but expressing her understanding that although having ruffled fur “means love” simply ruffling the fur didn’t work to give the bunny the same quality as the other two which had been more loved and which transmitted more love. I then wrote about how I had been tempted to ask her more, and the awareness that had grown in me that words given in any response to my questioning of her, though they may consist of the same ones, would be experienced in a different way by her. In the observed instance the words had come out of her almost as a musing while she was hugging and ruffling the bunny, within the atmosphere of play. Had I questioned her, her thinking would have been involved and her speaking turned outwards towards me and my understanding, the words would have been a communication to me, for me not for her. I realised that this would have had a similar quality to the simple ruffling of the bunny’s fur, which she had identified as not having the same quality as the fur becoming furruffled. As I entered this onto the quilt I experienced the way in which such an action of questioning her would be akin to simply entering things on the quilt by a pre-decided process, though the words may look the same or similar, their way of unfolding meaning and understanding in me could not happen, the authenticity and thereby the very relevance of the quilt would not exist.
Though the thinking around the question of involving children in generating research data, had been present in relation to theory and practice, the experience of the understanding through my own creative playing with the data and the methodology availed me of a different form of perception, one which was tangible and had immediacy, one which is more than the words that I can find to explain it. This quality of perception could then be taken forward from pertaining to the use of creative means of researching with children, to the question of involving children in research that could affect their consciousness about their creativity in play. This understanding may well be similar to that from which I started my methodological exploration, for that original instinctively sensed discord between my playwork practice and the consultative approach to researching with children, may well have been founded in my life’s experience of playing, how else does one know of play than by playing?
It is from this place of understanding that a resolution to the contretemps between article 12 and article 31 discussed by Hughes (2010a) can perhaps be proffered. In the very word ‘involve’ which seems unavoidable in discussing the generating of data by children at the instigation of adults, there is perhaps a clue to the inherent discord of such a process, in relation to play. The very deliberate process of being involved by someone directs to some extent the nature of the action. However should we as adults choose to set aside the ideology of children’s right to be heard as it relates to being asked and instead understand its essential principle, as it fits with being listened to, we may perhaps find that upholding article 12 becomes one and the same as upholding article 31. In the forward to Jennings’ book Introduction to Developmental Playtherapy, Professor Lahad writes “I would like to emphasise only one thing and that is for me the first rule of working with children: believe in what they communicate, be attentive to their stories, and learn their language. A language that for many of us got lost when the doors of the secret garden were closed behind us. Or as Sue puts it ‘the tide comes in and washes it away. Things appear and then disappear’. Good luck in re-finding what was yours anyway.” (Lahad, in, Jennings 1999, p.10). Silvers’ (1986) description of his dreamy un-layering of the meaning he experienced in children’s painting, as a means of bringing the communication of children to the adult sphere of consciousness, could well be considered an attempt within such an approach. It is interesting to read Gallacher and Gallagher’s (2008) dissection of the process of consultation with children alongside Hughes (2010a); there seems to be a reflection of the issues of contraindication to consultation in general with that which makes such a process objectionable to the playwork sensibility to asking children about their play. It is perhaps of no particular surprise that overarching objections should be echoed by those particular to an aspect of childhood. However, when we then look at these in relation to playwork theory related to adulteration and intervention (Sturrock and Else 1998; Macintyre 2007), and see once more the correlations, we can perhaps start to see play as the communication of childhood, our attitude towards which, might affect the child’s right to self expression, and representation.
To hear the child’s self created experience of the world there can perhaps be no better place to start than to listen in ignorance, in unknowing, to listen with more than our ears, to listen with all our senses, and to understand not by our pre-decided criteria or logic but by the logic inherent to the particular instance we are observing, of which each playing child is the phenomenological expert. To listen in wonder, to be changed by what we hear is not itself unnatural; its pattern must exist in all those who have played. Yet to believe in what we hear and to respond to it, to trust in the transformation of our understanding, as differently discussed by Silvers (1986), Lewty (2008) and Kilvington (2010), must be our challenge. And to stay out when we are not wanted, to realise that really it is our need both intellectual and moral, to understand, not the child’s need to have their play dissected which spurs our research, this must govern a playworker’s research ethics.
The following details of ethical consideration and resulting methodological application are taken and expanded from the material submitted for the ethical approval and confirmation of registration of this research PhD (see Appendix 1). The aim here is to summarise the process of consideration that was undertaken in relation to creating an ethically sound research process for this study.
In establishing a reference point to work from and against, it was necessary to overview research guidelines available through different professional bodies within the field of social science. In undertaking this recognisance particular attention was given to areas related to research with children and also to areas related to flexibility and interpretation of the guidelines. Alderson (1995) provides a list of considerations related to the particulars of research with children. The National Children’s Bureau's (NCB) Guidelines for Research (2003) have also been considered (the NCB subscribe to the British Sociological Association (BSA 2002) guidelines). Attention has been given to the underpinnings of ethical conduct laid out in the Principles of Playwork (Conway 2008; PPSG 2005). The fundamentals of ethical research are similar across sectors (British Educational Research Association (BERA) 1992; British Sociological Association (BSA) 2002; Royal College of Nursing (RCN) 2004; British Psychological Society (BPS) 2006), underpinned by the recommendations of the Helsinki declaration (World Medical Organization 1996; Hill 2005).
The ethical framework for this study's research has required careful consideration in order to meet the obligations of ethical research (Social Research Association (SRA) 2003; Leeds Metropitan University 2006), within the context of the Playwork sector’s guiding principles (PPSG 2005). The British Psychological Society states “moral principles and the codes which spell out their applications can only be guidelines for thinking about the decisions individuals need to make in specific cases” (BPS 2006, p.6)
The critical ethical consideration for this inquiry was the potential affect which thinking about someone studying their play could have on the child’s ability to enter fully into the play. This consideration was particularly relevant because of the aspect of play to be researched. A child probably knows that they sometimes run as part of their play, but the subtleties of interrelationship between themselves and the objects and places of their play, is more likely to fall within the unconscious and outside the realm of the child's analytical thought.
Jung discusses at length his research into the religious culture of the Pueblo Indians. How direct questioning was fruitless and how his discoveries were made with patience and sensitive watchfulness. He describes his perception that the survival of the Pueblo culture depended on their guarded secrecy, that it was vital to survival that “their mysteries were not desecrated” (Jung 1995, p.278)
His following understanding of the Pueblo’s relationship to their religion, (religion being a form of play by Huizinga’s (1970), Sutton-Smith’s (1997) and Campbell’s (1991) explanations), further validates this study’s concern with not altering the child’s experience of the immediacy and truth of their play experience by forcing awareness that it is something to be abstractly thought about. Jung’s understanding of the nature of the Pueblo’s relationship to their religion echoes the aspects of belief raised by Bateson and Bateson (1987); Jung writes “Their religious conceptions are not theories to them..., but fact, as important and moving as the corresponding external realities” (Jung 1995, p.279).
The perspective of this study stands contrary to the historical developmentalist perspective, which has been critiqued by many (for example, James and Prout 1997; Corsaro 2005), in that this inquiry holds the child’s present life experience to be as important as their future developmental wellbeing. Thereby the ethical requirement not to cause harm through the processes of research (BERA 1992; Alderson 1995; BSA 2002; SRA 2003; Hill 2005; BPS 2006) must be interpreted in terms of not harming the child’s ability to play as they would otherwise do.
Balancing the demands of establishment criteria against best practice as perceived by the researcher in relation to their individual situation, is discussed at length by Christians (2005) and Lincoln (2005). The dichotomy of established perspectives of best practice in relation to individual perception of the best way of working in relation to an actual research situation, is one which is not only affected by the history, responsibilities and interests of funding or qualifying organizations, but also by cultural time. In relation to this study, the question of awakening the child’s consciousness to their play by adults, as discussed above was something which had to be held against the ideology of child competency, incorporated into guidance for good practice (Alderson 1995; Hill 2005). The recognition of children as competent can be understood as a laudable backlash against the preceding attitude of objectification of children (Christensen and Prout 2005; Hogan 2005), yet its protective value to adults and establishment in avoiding accusation of bad practice might also be noted in relation to its enforcement. It is visible as an ideal of doubly emotive persuasion firstly it is resonant in that it feels right, second it allows us to feel we are doing right, a feeling which has not outlived its cultural currency despite more recent contestation of validity in its actual application by researchers (Campbell 2008; Gallacher and Gallagher 2008).
The moral obligation not to alter the child’s experience or perception of their play, which was identified as fundamental to playwork practice and was to underpin the entire construction of this study’s research methodology, as discussed, consequently affected the minutiae of every aspect of ethical practice, as described by the various guidelines consulted, and detailed by the ethical approval forms. Continuing from the perspectives developed in the methodology sections above, this section will detail the way in which working as a researching playworker may provide its own answers to the challenges it presents.
Interacting with the requirement to do no harm, the fundamentals of ethical research seem to be in having permission from those who you are researching and being truthful in your representation. These criteria are at the foundations of informed consent, authenticity and validity. These two aspects are accepted to be sometimes at odds with each other, particularly when researching those who would be considered ‘vulnerable’ people – do you reveal how things really are, when something being known might not be in the best interest of the subject? However as was identified in relation to this inquiry, requirements towards permission and authenticity also have the potential to be met in practice as one and the same thing.
The cultural position of the adult in relation to the child is one that epitomised all the challenges which power dynamics present to the conscientious researcher (Denzin and Lincoln 2005; Gallacher and Gallagher 2008; Tisdall et al. 2009; Jones and Welch 2010). It is understandable that with the act of research, of making the lives of children known, there should also come an urge to alter the cultural position of children towards greater equality with adults (Christensen and Prout 2005). However the possibility of moving outside the context of adult child interactions can be seen to be fraught with difficulties and contradictions, if indeed such a possibility exists.
Such contradictions and difficulties were strongly brought home to me by the experience retold below. One evening I found myself in this situation, not as a researcher, or as a playworker, but as a person, un-removed from those sensibilities, yet without their frame of context to inform my actions or the young people’s perception of them.
A friend and I decided it would be great to take our children camping on the beach. We were unclear as to whether this was strictly permitted but I knew someone who had done it so we decided it would be ok. We threw some pop up tents up on the stones, built a fire with driftwood, toasted marshmallows and watched the stars come out. At which point a large group of young people came down onto the beach, and settled about 100 yards away from us. As we were getting the children ready to sleep a few of the girls from the group came over and asked us how we had gone about making a fire, we told them where there was some driftwood, and told them we had brought fire-starting stuff with us. About an hour later we noticed that they had a huge fire burning in a metal bin. ‘Wow they must have found a lot of wood,’ we said to ourselves, maybe they raided the skip at the top of the cliffs I thought. After a while we heard a great thud, and realised that a wooden picnic table with benches had just been dropped over the cliff. ‘Ah so that’s what they were burning!’ We counted a total of 4 come over the cliffs at intervals to replenish the fire. They were clearly having a great time, the boys all had their shirts off, and were jumping on the wooden bench/tables to break them both before and after they put them to the fire, the girls were intermittently screaming. My friend seemed more disturbed by the destruction than I was, but reasoned that we couldn’t really involve the police because we weren’t exactly meant to be there ourselves. I responded that I would be un-inclined to get police involved, on the basis that no-one was in serious danger and this was just as much their private place to do as they liked as ours, and not my place to get them criminalised. Eventually however the sparks from the fire were so high that they were flying up high above the sheltering cliffs, so I went along the beach and suggested to the group that sooner or later this was going to draw attention to all of our presence, I suggested jokingly that they save some for next time. The young people told me they had been going anyway and I realised when I looked around that they had been gathering up their stuff. They told me they were going to put the fire out. However despite my intent, there were still comments such as ‘yeah yeah, tut tut, slap slap’. It was clear that my intervention had been interpreted as criticism and had curtailed their play, and even if it had already been ending, curtailed their closing of their play.
The young people left a little while later. About an hour after that we saw flood lights and tables being set up at the fire sight and a lot of business by a couple of people, and then after a significant amount of time the fire being relit and left.
The next day a person from the organisation that takes care of the beach came along, and asked us if we had been on the beach the night before and if there had been a group of young people there making fires. We said yes and I said that it didn’t feel wise to intervene. The man said ‘yeah they burnt 6 of our picnic tables, they come here sometimes’. He went on to tell us how it’s the nails that are the problem and how it had been them down on the beach with the floodlights, ‘clearing up the nails’. What struck me was the complete lack of any perceptible resentment or animosity in what he said or in his tone, and not a word of complaint at having to come down in the middle of the night to clear up. The sense I got was simply an acceptance, they come and burn our tables to make their fires sometimes, and we clear up.
Outside the context of a defined setting and role, what to do in such situations is very much a moral dilemma. My approach was that of trying to remember how I would have liked to be treated, but someone else’s might have veered towards that of upholding culturally acceptable behaviour either through personal intervention or by bringing a third party to enforce the law. The acceptance in the attitude of the beach carer was to my perception the most supportive of the young people’s play needs, yet someone else may have perceived this differently.
Had there been danger of someone being hurt would my involvement (Caputo 2003) have been different and would recriminations for any non-involvement have been different? Corsaro (2005) attempts to take the research stance of equality through availability for use by the playing child, yet what would he have done if faced with disclosure of abuse? Gladwin (2005) researching risk taking by children within adventure playgrounds cannot escape his adult responsibility to the children’s well being, yet within the context of the adventure playground and the understood position of adults within that setting in relation to the children’s play, children and young people had the implicit possibility to choose what he saw, what he researched and what he did not.
Thus we can see the way in which the context of a playwork setting offers the possibility of providing a solution to the dilemma presented by adult intrusion onto the ground of children’s play. Its context can allow for the researcher working within the playwork frame to retell in their research that which they have been permitted to see while knowing that there is a goodly portion from which they have been excluded. Furthermore recognizing that this intersection between what an adult can be party to and not party to, is itself fundamental to what we should know about children’s play.
Brown argues that the playworker’s role is in fact “particularly appropriate with regard to participant observation”. He explains how one of the playwork professions guiding principles is, “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” (Brown and Webb 2008, p.276). The Playwork Principles (PPSG 2005) require the playworker to adopt a position that correlates with the “reactive strategy” employed by Corsaro (Corsaro 2005) in his research into children’s peer culture. Corsaro would enter the play environment (playgrounds) and wait for children to approach him as they chose. As discussed by Brown, Corsaro saw this “reactive strategy” as a means of avoiding “the adult’s tendency to take control of the child’s world” (which) “often has a detrimental affect on research outcomes” (Brown 2008). Brown also identifies the research approach naturally available to playworkers as being similar to that of the classic Tavistock Model. Thus Brown shows us that the ideals and methods of the research approach embedded within the role of a playworker are mirrored by those striven for in other professions, and how for a playworker this position of privilege and responsibility is inextricable from everyday good practice. Though I question the alignment of Corsaro’s approach with playwork, (see ‘observation’ section above) the point about playwork that Brown uses his interpretation to make remains valid in that it is a statement by a playworker (Brown) of what playwork contains within its daily practice with regard to research ethics.
Pragmatically to observe children at play and to trust our observations as a valid basis for understanding the child’s experience requires a deeply seated personal integrity and sensitivity. The observing adult is at times very much wanted by the playing child, at times insignificant and comfortably ignored, and at times in the way, unwanted or resented. It is the observer’s responsibility to be aware of how their presence is being experienced moment by moment. This awareness is no more unavailable than the ability to perceive any other human situation by which we make judgements and act all the time. Furthermore by the issues of interactional dynamics, which Gallacher and Gallagher (2008) highlight within situations where the child is given responsibility for governing the adults involvement or their involvement in the adult’s process, such subtle awareness as when you are not wanted seems more likely to be clear when occurring within situations which maintain the usual context rather than attempting to alter it.
While refuting the blanket approach to informed consent inherited from the medical sector, Angrosino warns social researchers to be wary of assuming that by taking on a participant role they rid themselves of the possibility of causing harm through their research. He explains “interactive, membership-orientated researchers are by definition intrusive - not in the negative sense to be sure, but they are still deeply involved in the lives and activities of the community members they study, a stance fraught with all sorts of possibilities for ‘harm’” (Angrosino 2005, p.736). Researching the subject matter of this study within the context of being a researching playworker, was deemed to offer the greatest possible protection from harm for the children and young people who were playing, for myself in terms of a moral position in relation to them, and to the integrity of the research subject and process itself. It was deemed to offer the greatest actualization of a thorough consideration of the essence of ethical attitude that Graue and Walsh express thus, “ethical behaviour is really about attitude – the attitude that one brings into the field and that one brings to one’s interpretation. Entering other people’s lives is intrusive. It requires permission, permission that goes beyond the kind that comes from consent forms. It is the permission that permeates any respectful relationship between people.” (Graue and Walsh 1998, p.56).
In reflection of the above, this study must tread a careful line of not enforcing the abstract concept of thinking about play on the child, while recognising that it is right that they have information about the agenda of those in their play setting. As well as being objectively justifiable in relation to critical evaluation of theory and practice, the question raised within a supervision meeting as to what the playing child might sense of a deliberate attempt by the researching playworker to withhold the nature of their presence, could not be dismissed out of hand. It was intuitively arguable that any lack of authenticity on the part of the researcher might hold the potential to disrupt the atmosphere around them, and thereby the metaphysical sphere of the playing children.
It was decided to let the responsibility for signing consent forms rest with the parents and carers so as to allow children not to have to consider the research any more than they chose to. It was decided that children would be given their rightful information - namely that the researcher was researching as well as being an ordinary playworker, allowing the children then to govern the amount of information they wanted about the research, and also govern, based on informed choice, the researcher’s involvement in and around their play.
Within the play setting context, through the culture that is developed in reflection of the Principles of Playwork (PPSG 2005), the children know that they are free to:
·question the playworkers
·tell or otherwise indicate to a playworker to go away
·move away from a playworker
·tell another playworker that someone is making them feel uncomfortable.
Furthermore, as a playworker, the researcher will be sensitive to any indication that their presence is unwanted or causing discomfort or altered behaviour, as will playwork colleagues within the setting. The SRA Guidance in relation to observation studies states that researchers “should interpret behaviour patterns that appear deliberately to make observation difficult as a tacit refusal of permission to be observed” (SRA 2003, p.31).
The combination of the given information and the play setting context allows for the meeting of the ethical requirements of informed consent and the right to withdraw (SRA 2003).
The framework of this inquiry does not conflict with the requirement of maintaining the anonymity of the children, staff and setting. No names or other information that would pose a risk of identification are recorded. An experiential focus on the things that are played with and the content of the play instances, rather than a developmental, diagnostic or ethnographic view point, means that description of the children’s personal characteristics or circumstances is unnecessary.
Finally, the value of the research versus its possible harm has been carefully weighed; “the advancement of knowledge and the pursuit of Information” (being) “not themselves sufficient justifications for overriding other social and cultural values” (SRA 2003, p.26). It is considered essential that the research method does no harm to the children’s play, because this study’s research value is inextricable from creating a research methodology that is in tune with the playwork field, as well as providing an illustration of the way in which an aspect of a child’s play experience can be brought to the adult arena through the understanding of the playworker, without the child having to change their experience.
The benefit of undertaking phenomenological research to the pedagogic practice of the researcher, and to that of reader by their resonance with the descriptions, is recognized and explained by Silvers (1986) van Manen (1990), Cobb (1993), Chawla (1994) and Danaher and Briod (2005). The relevance of providing playworkers with descriptive accounts of aspects of play was illustrated to me in a recent conversation with my Director of Studies, Dr Fraser Brown. He told me how with certain playwork texts he finds that some people will tune in to the academic perspectives and others will understand the essence through the included stories of the playing and the playworking. There is a perceivable benefit to a study which by its processes will provide a ‘way of’ researching attuned both to the subject matter (play) and to those for whom play is the fulcrum (playworkers). Such a method would be one that does not try to stand back from the play to theorize about its value or purpose but necessarily must create understanding by illuminating the experience as it is, perhaps stepping closer to ludocentricity (Russell 2007) by affording the possibility of capturing play as it exists in its present; as expressed by Crowe (1983) when she recalled childhood days either filled with ‘playing’ or ‘nothing’.