Play makes the World the World makes Play



Resonance as authentication

When drawing a phenomenological inquiry to a close it is important to reiterate that phenomenology is not concerned with reaching final conclusions or establishing definitives (van Manen 1990; Woodhams 2004; Finlay 2009). Rather phenomenology is concerned with cumulative expansion of what is known and knowable of phenomena, via description of our experience of these (Bachelard 1994; Heidegger 1996). Equally an inquiry concerned with play must recognize that one of play’s inherent qualities seems to be its resistance to or escape from conclusive or categorical definition (Huizinga 1955; Sutton-Smith 1997; Burghardt 2005).

As has been illustrated throughout this study, both phenomenology inquiry and identification of play seem to require communication in ways resonant with experience. The suggestions which will be made in this chapter’s evaluative response to the inquiry’s questions rest on manifestations of resonance as authentication in every part of this research’s subject and process. This reliance on resonance can be illustratively summarized with the following examples, drawn from the different layers of this inquiry. These areas will be further explored in the body of this chapter through the structure offered by the research questions.

  • The data of this inquiry suggests that the residue or atmosphere of play experience perceptible in things and spaces cannot be replicated by inauthentic means. For instance, ‘furruffled’ is meaningless if it is deliberately attempted, and the ‘pebblely’s' dissipation has meaning from the play in which it is happening.
  • The process of research offers ratification and expansion of the proposition by Burghardt (2005) that encountering play allows intuitive identification of its forms and characteristics; a possibility, that he suggests, would be inhibited by preconceived categorical definitions (see also, Bekoff and Allen 1998; Brown 1998). Through the process of gathering data my initial question, and thereby the whole inquiry, was given form, previously unbeknown to me, by the play that I was noticing. Thus, this inquiry confirms Burghardt’s (2005) proposition of our capacity to recognize intuitively characteristics of play that we were not conceptually aware of. However this inquiry goes further, building on this understanding by suggesting that the experience of intuitively noticing qualities of play, which had not been preconceived, seems to sensitize the capacity to perceive different possibilities of play. It was as if my way of being as I researched, which I described as peripheral noticing and drifting, came about through resonance with the children’s way of interacting with the bits and bobs available to them. They seemed to find exactly what they were looking for, even though they did not know it before they found it. Their resonance with the play possibility of things seemed to occur in an atmosphere of merging with that which they were exploring for potential; for example, with the girl and the box of geomag, the way things were found for the magazine, and the girl with the pile of action figures. The emulation in my way of researching was not deliberate; at first I was not conceptually conscious of it happening. However as this way of observing became more familiar and ever more responsively refined, my resonance with, or recognition of, what I was observing increased.
  • Authentication by resonance was also inherent to the data presentation and analysis processes of this inquiry. In the process of my handling of it on the quilt the data seemed to resonate with itself, thereby co-confirming qualities in its different play instances. For instance, the observation of box eating the flowers came to be placed by the dandelion puffs because the box had eaten yellow flowers. Then as I looked at the extract of the story of The Sand Horse (Turnbull and Forman 1989), that I had written out just below where I represented the box on the quilt, I saw the words ‘the sea sucked and pulled” (the sand horse). By a coincidence of positioning on the quilt and my eyes drifting to it, this children’s story could resonate with the flowers being eaten into the box rather than being put in. The sand horse was not simply removed from the beach he was sucked and pulled into the sea and so became one of its white horses. The eating and the sucking and pulling are of the play. The confirming resonance between these instances and others led to my awareness of the aspect in the data, which became called the residue is not the play but is of the play. The other three aspects by which the data was then presented and analysed in this inquiry became known in ways similar to this.
  • Analysing the meanings within the data by applying them to concurrent phenomenological descriptions by others, can be seen as an actualization of the “phenomenological doublet of resonances and reverberations”, proposed by Bachelard (1994, p.xxii). Bachelard identifies the resonance of hearing and the reverberation of speaking the poem. In the context of this inquiry, the resonance that these phenomenological descriptions by others held for me was wrought by the insight regarding what they might mean brought about by this inquiry’s data. In my ‘speaking’ of these descriptions through the meanings offered by the data, the data reverberates out into the world.
  • Finally authentication by resonance is the means via which this inquiry might be encountered, by those who read this text and who come into contact with the quilt. Judgment of the validity of this inquiry will largely rest on whether it rings true, whether it is believed. To some extent this is the situation of phenomenological inquiry (Bachelard 1971; van Manen 1990; Woodhams 2004). However it could be argued that constructing the inquiry from the reality of play as it moved me as a playworker, placed still greater dependence on empathetic recognition by those who encounter this work. While this process of being moved by realities of play can be seen as the backbone of the inquiry, the resulting degree of dependence on the subjectivity of its encounter might also be considered a fundamental weakness. It could be argued that as realities within play are not reliant on verification by external constructs, the content and the resulting responsive structure of this PhD rests on ground that cannot be substantiated. However this inquiry has questioned the applicability of the objectivist epistemological frameworks by which such arguments would be upheld. Furthermore the very necessity for subjective engagement with the presentation and analysis of the data of this inquiry can be suggested to render verification possible in a way which tests the authenticity of the data and its responsively structured presentation and analysis. In the discussion of the relevance of the quilt within the beginning of the data presentation and analysis chapter I refer to Gadamer’s (2004) proposition that things created from play maintain their connection with their genesis and that their realness depends on our experience of this quality when we encounter them. Reliance on resonance for authentication seems therefore to be less open to falsification than the process of deciphering play by pre-established constructs, and so this situation seems ethically in tune with the endeavour of this inquiry.

The parallel in phenomenology and play which this inquiry thus illuminates in the requirement of resonance for authentication can be described like this: Within playing and indentifying of play, as well as within phenomenological inquiry, there must be space for a combining of what is being expressed with what is pulled forth in the encounter. This space is perhaps the arena of authentication by resonance. Experientially this might be described as a sense of something ringing true and catching one up in the wonder of the newly perceptible. As such what will be experienced and comprehended is always going to exceed the bounds of that which is given. Furthermore in both cases this seems a quality that is recognised as inherent. Perhaps it might even be philosophy’s recognised experiential situation as play (Huizinga 1970; Spariosu 1989; Sutton-Smith 1997) that avails phenomenology of this quality. A final chapter for a phenomenological inquiry regarding the played-with-ness of things must reflect this characteristic of exceeding the given in order to become. As such, it must be not conclusive but concluding of this particular study. Rather than presenting definitive findings, this chapter will bring this inquiry to a close.

Though this inquiry’s subject and research frame are resistant to conclusive findings, implicit in this situation is the requirement for meaning to be found and expressed. This inquiry must, in order to have value, provide ground, not a dead end, but a stepping-stone, to be encountered and drawn from. To have found nothing, to be unable to provide such ground, would be to have remained unmoved by the process of this inquiry and the reality of play. In actuality, though this inquiry has presented challenges, these have been not in allowing myself to be moved or the seeking to express this, but rather in flexing the form of this PhD to communicate this authentically. As has been discussed, the structuring of this PhD so as to reflect the development of a way of knowing as well as of the meanings which became understood, was crucial to what it might offer to the playwork sector. For instance the space within the analysis process for the boy’s pole bashing to be re-seen as pertaining to the aspect of love in the phenomena of played-with-ness, was provided by the free flowing juxtaposition of data instances. This textual analysis technique reflected the way that the data was represented and handled on the quilt. The inquiry’s value, as will be proposed in this concluding chapter, rests as much in demonstrating an attempt at a play responsive way of knowing, as in the possibilities of play that this inquiry suggests.


In response to the research questions

The conjunction between practitioner and subject is indicated by the research questions as contextualized by the literature review regarding playwork identity.

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

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

In returning to these questions now, the meanings and meaning making uncovered through the processes of this inquiry can be drawn together. This can also provide the content and structure for the chapter.

  • In response to question one, the possibility of experience of the played-with-ness of things will be described as it seems evidenced by the presented data and through the process of analysis.
  • In response to question two, the implications of the research process for playwork praxis will be explored and explained. The impact of the research process on my way of knowing will be illustrated through three encounters within which my sense of resonance was palpably generated by the content of this inquiry.
  • The quality of atmosphere as perceptive space seemingly implicated in both subject and research process will be explored as the shared ground between questions one and two.
  • This chapter will close with reflexive evaluation of the limits of this inquiry, consideration of its significance to the playwork field, and explorative suggestion of possibilities for further research. Finally words of culmination will be offered in reflection of and on the contextualization of the closing of this inquiry as an opening onto future possibility.


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

The presented data and the data analysis seem to indicate that played-with-ness is something which is perceptible to the playing child and that this is somehow also reflected in our human perception and creation of things. The way that the little paper shapes seemed to hold and transmit an experience of treasure, of ‘it’s mine’, through different play instances, can be seen reflected in Bachelard’s (1994) suggestion of the potentialising of things through enchanting interactions with them. “Objects that are cherished in this way… attain to a higher degree of reality than indifferent objects” (Bachelard 1994, p.68). The quality of something becoming more than it was, through the possibility offered by play, is also apparent in the words “it’s a story” said by the boy as he was bashing the metal pole.

The words of the boy with the Pudsey Bear (Aled Jones 2008), of Grayson Perry’s Alan Measles (Perry 2010) and from the story of The Velveteen Rabbit (Williams and Nicholson 2004), offer expressions of the phenomena of played-with-ness outside the bounds of this inquiry. Identification with the phenomena in question was also apparent in people’s reactions to my explanation of the subject of my study; for instance the kindergarten teacher who expressed her understanding by describing the kindergarten room becoming golden and ensouled by the children’s play; and the mother of my daughter’s friend who responded by explaining how she hugs and reconnects with her daughter’s toy dog after the dog has accompanied her daughter on sleepovers and time away, so as not to embarrass her pre-teen with over attention and inquisition.

What was also sometimes expressed in response to my explanation of the subject of this inquiry was confoundedness as to how and even why to research this. Perhaps in the possibility for such confoundedness also lies the reason why and the motivation for how. The creation of the research quilt seems to respond to both these questions. Although the reaction to the quilt has not in every instance been one of comprehension, when it has been, this has been not via an abstract conceptualisation but rather through being touched and moved by its content and its form. This has been visible in different ways, from playworkers who indicated the involvement of their heart in understanding the observations on the quilt, to one conference delegate responding to a presentation of the quilt by quoting Bachelard to me. The possibility of the quilt’s resonance outside the fields of play and playwork is suggested by a chance meeting on a train with someone coming back from an interview for post doctoral work. When I showed this lady the quilt she was delighted by the shape of the blue cat. She told me how she had had a toy of that shape when she was a child, and then she seemed to be remembering her experienced reality of played-with-ness. Thus the confoundedness as to how and why can be seen to be answered through a medium that held the possibility for people to encounter, remember and resonate with an experienced reality of played-with-ness. In this way the why of this inquiry, the ethic and value, can be illustrated as reaching through adult confoundedness regarding play to the sense of its great might.

This possibility did not however occur simply by suggesting that something like this existed. It occurred through inquiry into whether and what this might be. The inquiry necessitated that its questions be held lightly enough (van Manen 1990) so as to enable me to become aware of what I did not know. In this way the content and form with which others later identified, could come about. It was in noticing what I let myself notice that the means and meanings for others to notice came to light. The later part of this noticing was of the aspects that seemed to be fundamental to the phenomena.

The aspects of love, merging into, the transfer of played particulars through space and time, and the residue is not the play but is of the play, are very intertwined with each other within the data. For instance the placement and re-placement of the toy husky puppy in the willow house can be seen to be representative of the first girl’s love of it, and of the merging of this quality of the puppy into the atmosphere of the willow house. The transfer of played particulars through space and time is evident in the replication in the quality with which the puppy is repositioned each time by a different friend; and the position in which the puppy is placed is an example of the residue (which) is not the play yet of the play. Such meshing of these aspects is evident throughout the data and this brought the first sense of them to my awareness. Yet in teasing them apart and naming them, the means to see the phenomena of played-with-ness more clearly, as well as to demonstrate its significance, seem to have been given. These aspects allowed for description of the data and the drawing out of meaning.

The different aspects seem to feed into each other. Analysing one seems to provide insight towards the next, which then seems to swell with this preceding meaning. However it seems possible that the last aspect explored would also feed into the first, as a circle as well as a cumulative spiral. This is evident in the way in which the residue, which is not the play but of the play, seems to communicate love(d), for instance in the position in which the husky is placed. The starting point of love has clearly affected the form of the analysis process, it is probable that the form of the analysis would have been different had a different aspect been taken as the starting point. It also seems likely, as touched on in the analysis chapter, that there may have been other aspects through which to view this data, which might have brought additional meanings to light.

As it was, the feed of meaning from one aspect of this phenomenon to another can be described thus. Love seems to begin and grow in layers of cogency between the playing child and the thing and spaces, to the extent that these can become an accompanier, and a tone setter for the playing child. This is apparent in the puppy who is just there as the girl plays cards and whose quality seems to become haphazardly extended to the neighbouring plastic bottle. The sense of importance of the metal pole perhaps offers insight as to the experienced moments that might be at the beginning of such accumulation of love in played-with-ness.

The unmitigated acceptance and self evident rightness seemingly implicated in the descriptions of the aspect of love seem also necessary to the perceptible merging between players and that which surrounds them. This is notable in the palpable sense of a playing child’s drifting into things around them as they seem to open themselves up to finding exactly the thing they need, though perhaps could not pre-specify, in what came to hand. That which presents itself and is taken into the play can be seen to be both shaped by the play and to shape the play. It is only through this sensed merging that something played could even possibly be transferred from one thing or space to another or picked up on from something at a different time.

The faculty to sense what might be imparted by the residue of play to the playing child seems implicated in Lord Belmore’s expression of the overflowing attics of Castle Coole as “an Aladdin’s cave, a storehouse of unimagined treasures”; that as a boy “ these things – the odds and ends left by different generations – seemed to capture the story and soul of this family home” (Musson and Prendergast 2010, p.96) - a sense echoed by the photographer who was commissioned to record the attic rooms before they were cleared. Patrick Prendergast took thousands of pictures at Castle Coole. “The attics were just extra-ordinary”, he remembers. “They were heavily layered, like a drawing that has been drawn on over and over again” (ibid.). This trail of meaning into the consciousness of adults seems dependent on the reality of playfully sensing the possibilities of things, and on merging with them, of encountering with love and awe of the moment rather than through pre-determined comprehension. This proposition is reflected in the writings of Bachelard (1994), Abram (1996) and Heidegger (1996).

The significance of what this inquiry into the phenomena of played-with-ness has brought to notice seems to be in the perception, and at once the generating of possibility in and of things. The fulcrum of this seems to be in the experience of ‘minute particulars’ (Bindman and Blake 2000) as they impart and gain meaning. While every encounter with phenomena can be seen to affect their reality through our experience of them, encounters in play or with playfulness seem to offer increased possibility of sensing and creating what something might be. The experience of detail and the alteration of detail, as something becomes affected by play, is tangible in the puppy’s colour and texture, in the description of Henry the Eighth’s cards, and in the rubbing of the furniture by a poet (Bachelard 1994, p.67). The importance of creation and perception of space for things to become enlivened by the might of might in this way, can be seen echoed in Blake’s Jerusalem. Both in the words of the poem and in the created stimulus for expanded meaning to occur in encounters with the illuminated plates (Carr 1980; Bindman and Blake 2000). Here the ‘what this might be?’ of question one can be seen to become fundamental to the answer. The possibility of ‘what might be’, with which play seems to imbue things, and which the player or play-sensitized perceiver senses, seems to be bound with the detail by which we experience and affect the played-with-ness of things

The partiality of my perceptions of these aspects of this phenomenon and of this thread of detail interweaving between them, cannot be discarded, and, as will be explored in relation to question two, this situation can be seen as valuable to, rather than invalidating of this inquiry. However by the application of insight offered by this data to relative phenomenological descriptions by others, the extended relevance of these aspects within this phenomenon can be seen. The possibility for the meanings drawn from this data to expand the meanings within such descriptions offers what it intended, in terms of seeing through a lens formed in response to details of play realities. Furthermore this possibility suggests a verification of these aspects. For, if these aspects were artificially constructed they could surely not reflect expansively into concordant descriptions. Discussing validity in the field of terrapsychology Chalquist and Rankin (2010) recognize the interactional space between who the practitioner/researcher is, and their perception of a place. However they suggest that if the impressions and meanings that are being perceived are the result of projection rather than listening, the relationship to the place normally goes dead. The differentiation between listening and projection was something fundamental to gathering and working with the data of this inquiry. My sense of listening as opposed to pre-deciding seems to have been authenticated in the interaction between this data and phenomenological descriptions by others. The potential for these aspects to offer insight to other phenomenological descriptions, brings to notice a quality which can be seen to permeate every layer of this inquiry—the experienced possibility of something in the moment is shaped to some extent by what is already there, and together these influence what might be. The phenomenon of played-with-ness seems to be accumulative, perhaps through its potentialising of possibility. Integral to this would be the interplay between presented, perceived, and created possibility, and the integrality of that to the things and spaces, which we experience. Experience of detail cannot alter the fabric of things if it is experience of detail per se. For the might of minute particulars to affect, it seems these must be experienced authentically in our world of matter and meaning.


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

“When a researcher allows himself or herself to let go of the work, he or she is making a space that can be a place for playing with the possibilities of the work, that is, with the aspects of the work of which he or she is ignorant” (Romanyshyn 2007, p.8)

These newly encountered words are meaningful to me because of the process of this inquiry and in relation to that process. From this position I am able to appropriate them and propose them as a summary description of a way of researching which holds relevance for the playwork field. The why and how of this conjunction offers a means of explaining my engagement with the second question of this inquiry.

It seems arguable from the explorations of playwork identity within the literature review that the self of the playworker is a formative component of this field of practice. This self seems most clearly evident in the ways in which the playworker expresses their understanding of putting their determinative selves aside, or being moved by the knowledge that arises in a play-reverential state of ignorance (Kilvington 2010) or negative capability (Fisher 2008). The capacity to be moved cannot be conceived of as something at arms length, as a conceptual or practical tool of the trade, rather it speaks of something personally experienced. Therefore perhaps the value of this inquiry to the field is contained in its being in its entirety a testament to being moved by play. Through the data play can be seen to move/alter what things are and what they might be. From the data, and through the process of inquiry, I have been moved to a new understanding of the interplay between our experience of things and their realities. These conjoined areas of movement by play depended on and resulted in an increasingly sensitized way of being in the presence of playing children.

The frame of the profession, my past practice and the literature all enabled the possibility for this inquiry. Without the ethic of play for its own sake, the possibility of being moved by realities of play becomes hard to contextualise. Thereby an interactional space between playwork and my capacity to undertake this research can be seen. Equally, the possibility for this research to have value, requires a field within which it can have relevance.

The recognition of the necessity for a structure to the research that reflected a play instigated and orientated knowing can be seen firstly in the search for an appropriate means of gathering data, and secondly in the discovery of a means to work with and reach comprehensions of the data. Working out how to be as a researching playworker, how to observe, sense, respond, remember, all required a trusting of myself in my sense of authentic practice. Though crass poor practice would have quickly resulted in reaction from children and other playworkers within the play setting, it is possible that the subtleties of my internal position and the palpability of reactions of playing children would be most readily perceptible to me. However this inquiry required not a reliance on feedback of any poor practice, but on practice that could become increasingly sensitized by the process and subject of inquiry. Without such a way of working the playwork ethic of valuing the momentary experiences of play would be contravened and the observational data would be rendered unreliable.

The discovery in phenomenology of a frame that recognizes reality by experience not by theoretical construct was paramount in the engagement with this second question. That this way of understanding had an established field of practice enabled a sense of ease with the form that this inquiry evolved. Had I not come across the praxis of phenomenology, the undertaking of this inquiry may have proved more difficult. The fact that phenomenology is not an approach that can in its practice be taken off the peg, but must rather be tailored to fit as close as possible to the subject of inquiry (van Manen 1990), served in idea and in practice to accentuate its applicability to this inquiry. For this requirement itself necessitates that the researcher is moved to respond to the form and content of the data of their inquiry. Thus in relation to the second question of this inquiry it is possible to see how the methodological frame for this inquiry was found and evaluated by its reflection my playwork practice.

The intermingling of practice, data gathering, and working with the data, can be found reflected in van Manen’s (1990) discussion of the act of phenomenology as one of increasing empathy and tact. This synthesis of process is echoed in examples of phenomenological inquiry, which have offered context to the approach of this inquiry. For example, Silvers (1986) seeks to alter himself and thus to bring children’s meanings to affect adult comprehension; and Woodhams (2004) uses painting and phenomenological reflection to explore the affect that working with people who have Aids has had on her, and through communicating this, offers insight into the experiences of those she worked with.

Perhaps this inquiry offers something further than the development of empathy and tact in praxis with different groups. The process of data gathering offers an example of sensitizing playwork practice by trust in what I was perceiving. However further to this, the problematization of realities at large from the perceived realities of children’s play recontextualizes empathy as an interaction not towards different groups but between realities in the creation and re-creation of what is available to our experience. The intent towards such an outwards ripple of meaning-merging is described by Silvers (1986) as synthetic hermeneutics. However in his short paper his actualization of this approach remains framed within the layers of meaning in the interaction between young and adult, and youngness and adultness as a way of being as a researcher. This inquiry offers something different through conjoining movement within the researcher with perception not of play in childhood, but of play’s potential in our perpetual co-re-creation of our experienced worlds.

As described, my consciousness of the play wrought development of my way of being as a researching playworker, began as an evolving awareness that my ways of noticing seemed to be becoming attuned to what I was noticing. I found myself sensing more and more as I observed by letting my mind drift rather than through deliberate attention. I cumulatively developed the capacity to notice peripherally, as apposed to with the seemingly more intrusive direct attention of every-day inquisitiveness. The internal state of being, which became knowable and re-accessible as this differentiation, is describable as ‘encountering as an act of believing and accepting, rather than of questioning and interrogating’. Through evolving my way of being in the presence of play I could not help but become a more aware playworker. By becoming ever more aware of the subtleties of my internal position towards the play that was happening around me and which I was sometimes invited to join, I found that I became increasingly sensitized to this way of perceiving. Thereby I started to notice happenings that informed the subject of this inquiry in ways I could not have imagined.

The perceptual approach of going with the awareness that arises, extended into the experience of creating the research quilt. As discussed in the beginning of the data presentation and analysis chapter the quilt came about in a conjunction of different inspiring factors. Yet as I started making it I did not know what it would become, or the extent to which it would enable my comprehension of the research data. The way that, whenever I added new data to the quilt, I became aware of more relationships and dimensions between what was already there, was a process that echoed the cumulative perceiving of my data gathering. Even today when I get the quilt out to present or talk about it I am moved to deeper and new understanding. Further to this I am unable to recall conceptually everything that is on the quilt when I am not looking at it or to remain precisely with previous perceptions as I handle it and encounter it again. To attempt to retain stasis seems counter to the movement that the data continues to create in my comprehension. Though the use of creative means as phenomenological inquiry was ratified in the literature, detailed exploration of such work was a subsequent rather than instigating factor in the creation of the quilt. For instance, the relevance of the phenomenological writing of Gadamer (2004) and of the practice of Woodhams (2004), referenced in the analysis chapter, was created in me by the process of this inquiry, rather than being my inspiration.

Within the bounds of this inquiry the final conjunction between the movement wrought in me by the play I observed and my awareness of possible realities is offered in the analysis. “Reverberation” (Bachelard 1994, p.xxii) of the meanings of the data was offered by applying the meanings sensed in the data to other authors’ phenomenological descriptions. However, perhaps the greatest evidence of the integrity of this movement, is in the things that I notice incidentally in daily life, which resonate because of and through the perspective of reality gained by this inquiry. Two recent encounters can be given as illustration.

The first is an article about the miniature work of the artist Rose-Marie Crespin. She expresses her satisfaction in making her tiny, knotted thread birds using the “minimum of resources”. She wanted “a material and a tool that she could carry around, even in her pocket” p94. Later in the article Crespin expresses her practice of concealing the techniques she uses without denying them in order to create “eccentric visions borrowed from reality” (ibid.). This way of working finds reflection for her in her encountering of “videos of people kept in enclosed spaces against their will ... (who) develop strange practices and express themselves with what they find around them: dust, synthetic thread, plant fiber, rubble. The management of their free will ‘curled up tight’ is an act that’s necessary for their mental survival” (ibid.). When I read this I wondered first at the evident strength of the urge to pour oneself creatively into the material world that such expressions suggest. Secondly I feel a resonance with Crespin’s comprehension of these expressions via her creative work. Lastly I am interested by the role of detail and minute particulars of matter, action and experience implicated in this relationship between Crespin’s art and the wider context of human experience and expression.

The second example is an exhibition of the work of Lokesh Ghai that caught my eye as I walked by it when visiting the V & A Museum of Childhood at the end of December 2010. What caught my eye was a blanket made of strips of different coloured and textured material with words in English and Hindi written on and between these. Then I saw lots of little bisque dolls wrapped in long dresses and skirts, made of different reused fabric—some scraps of quilted Indian cloth, some seeming to be cut from other garments with tiny little buttons. Then I started to read what was written about this exhibit, called ‘warm Charlotte’. Ghai had been inspired by a 19th Century ballad about frozen Charlotte, and by the tiny German antique bisque dolls named after her. The ballad of ‘Fair Charlotte’ tells the ‘cautionary tale’ of a beautiful but vain girl who sets out on a sleigh with her true love on a cold night. Her refusal to cover her finery with the warm blanket proffered by her mother proves fatal. The dolls of her namesake were made in different sizes; some were used as charms and baked into cakes and some were large enough for children to sew clothes for. The information about this work explains how Ghai’s “imagination was captured by a Frozen Charlotte doll with a disproportionately large dress” in the V&A’s doll collection. This and the discovered ballad became the starting point for his work.

The blanket which had first drawn my attention is made “with lines of the ballad embroidered on strips of woven kandi (it) refers to the blanket in the story that could have saved Charlotte from her fate. Woven into it are pieces of Lokesh’s childhood, woollen jumpers knitted by his mother, panels of her old saris and a fabric knitted in his ancestral home in the Punjab. Between the lines of the story is printed ‘Please mind the gap’ in Hindi. This was the cautionary announcement that rang in Lokesh’s ears every time he used the London underground” (ibid.). The Indian styled over-garments which Ghai made for Charlotte in proportions inspired by the disproportionately large dress, are beautiful on the outside and described as having the silver lining of warmth.

To come across this blanket, and then to read about its creation, felt like a validating echo of my inquiry. I am convinced that my noticing was caused by having made the quilt. Certainly what I perceived was relational to the data and process of my inquiry. Here I saw the inspiration by the residue of children’s play in the dress and the antique dolls and also a willingness to be deeply affected by the reality of the ballad. Ghai incorporates cloth from his own childhood and mother to warm frozen Charlotte with a blanket in replacement of the one that she would not take from her own mother. He responds to the cautionary tale of her journey by incorporating the cautionary words from his journeys in London. Here just as I did with the quilt, Ghai seems with his blanket to make a literal representation of play reality using played-in evocative materials and incorporating his own literal and metaphorical journey, his own movement. In the example of the playful and empathetic interpretation of silver lining, he seems to me to extend the affect that the oversized dress had on him. It seems that the appeal of that dress is implicated in the play-filled metaphor that he creates; namely a dress for Charlotte which has a silver lining; a dress which will appeal to Charlotte’s liking for finery but bear the silver lining of being warm enough to change her fate.

The purpose in describing these two personal encounters, which happened outside the bounds of my research, towards the end of my PhD, is to demonstrate the extent of the movement that the data and process of inquiry has caused in my capacity to perceive. The purpose is also to demonstrate the overlap of expressions related to the phenomenon of played-with-ness and responsiveness to play generated realities. My comprehension of Crespin’s and Ghai’s expressions is relative to myself and this inquiry. Yet subsequent communication with Ghai about this work confirms substantial overlap between his intent and my comprehension.

In this perceptual ground the second question of this inquiry can be replied to from more directions than those to which it was originally posed. The instigation of this inquiry in subject and approach came from my awareness as a playworker in the presence of children’s play. Yet through this inquiry my playwork generated discoveries have affected my resonance with the world, and I have also created something through which others may encounter their own experiences of played-with-ness. In demonstrating these two facets of the outward ripple of play towards meaning making there can be seen my own attempt to actualize the ethic of playwork’s orientation by play.


Atmosphere as the perceptual space of this inquiry

The subject and the process of this inquiry seem to reside in a shared realm of perception. Furthermore the sharing of this perceptual space seems to be an essential feature of the manifestation of the inquiry. This perceptual space can be described as the experienced atmosphere that seems to exist as the threshold between our lived play and the material substance of the world as we sense it. From the insight gained through this inquiry such atmosphere can be described as a metaphysical medium of creation, re-creation and perception. The existence and definition of the word (The shorter Oxford English dictionary 1980a), as well as the attention given to it by different fields (Conejero and Etxebarria 2007; Thornes 2008) confirms our human experience of atmosphere. Within the proposed phenomenon of played-with-ness atmosphere seems to exist as the arena of permeation and perception between player and things. In this inquiry this experienced atmosphere was also the realm of sensing and thus perceiving available to the playwork/researcher, and then to those who encounter the expression of that research. The intermingling of play and things and spaces, and of data and process of inquiry can, for example, be seen in its detailed complexity within the following happenings in and around the day in the play setting which seemed to be all about wheels.

Intermingling of play, things and spaces through atmosphere

In the description of the day that was all about wheels it is possible to see all the instances of wheels and vehicles within different children’s play. It is possible to see travelling, spinning, and movement from one place to another, the qualities with which the play with wheels is permeated and permeates. It is possible to sense the tone which had developed in the play of the two boys, becoming merged with the surrounding atmosphere of wheels as the younger boy rolls the purple cardboard tube up the older boy’s chest. The sense of travelling and the circularity of movement are qualities that can also be found in the interchange with the long tube. First sounds and words travel up and down it, then pencils and lids. The little pieces of tyre that end up riding down the tubes in the lid invite a question about interface between the ways in which atmosphere and noticing might interact with available matter. The little black foam circle propelled by the wind to jump on and off the precisely, by chance, positioned yogurt pot provides further material for this line of wondering. Might the wind have been carrying the form of the play? Might this be an illustration of the way in which atmosphere blends our internal experience with that which becomes what we experience as external?

Intermingling of subject and research process through atmosphere

The connection between the wheels of the day and the interaction with the long tube was not however immediately apparent to me. I had not initially put the interaction through the tube onto the quilt where I put the entry all about wheels. It was when listening to a concert by the London Philharmonic Orchestra soon after, that I became conscious of the infiltration of the atmosphere of the day into the tube play. It was the music of the concert seeming to pattern the space above the musicians and reaching me, which brought to my awareness the manifestation of the atmosphere of wheels in the travelling sounds of the tube. Further as the trumpets told the stories of the composition by carrying the notes, a metaphoric image came to me of the tube as the teller of the story of the existence of that day’s atmosphere, in its many permutations. Thus it seems that my awareness of the atmosphere of the day all about wheels was heightened retrospectively by the music, because there was a similarity of atmosphere, or of the spread of atmosphere. It seems, dwelling on my experience, that this meshing of understanding was enabled and carried by the atmospheric sonority in my mind of the orchestral music with the sounds that travelled the tube. Yet this understanding was also enabled by the similarity of the sensed atmosphere of the day of wheels and of the space between the musicians and myself; the creation of which my sensing inescapably played a part.

Intermingling of discovery through atmosphere and creation of atmosphere within the silk research quilt

When representing observations on the quilt I became aware of two things. Firstly, that I listened to the memory of the atmosphere of the play as I represented it and that this indicated where to put it, and also cumulatively built the feeling in which I could create the quilt. The most intricate expression of this process has been previously described in the linking, via dandelion puffs, of the willow house to that of the younger boy rolling the purple cardboard tube on the older boy while talking about making him into a skateboard. This experience was also that which made me most completely aware of the presence of atmosphere in all the data. The second thing that I became aware of is that I am used to working as a playworker through this very kind of being sensitive to the tone of what is happening, a kind of listening with more than my ears. With the quilt and with my practice the atmosphere of the play can be understood as that against which intuitive response can be judged, to ascertain its appropriateness. Previously discussed descriptions by other playworkers would suggest that I am not alone in my awareness of, and response to, a sensed atmosphere around play (Webb 2001; Brown 2003a; Fisher 2008). In playworker’s responses, which indicate the involvement of their heart in encountering the quilt it seems possible that the atmosphere—of the children’s’ play with things—of the means of my perception of this play as a playworker/researcher—and in my working with the data within the same sensed atmosphere—are perceptible to others in the atmosphere of their own encounter with the quilt.

Bringing together these components, in the possibilities of atmosphere as a threshold of play and substance

In drawing this inquiry to a close it is appropriate to present a summation of the meanings which might be proposed by these perceptible interactions between play and substance through atmosphere. The experience of atmosphere gained through the data and process of this inquiry might suggest that playing holds the possibility of an intuitive unsought position in relation to sensing traces before and beyond that which has been formed into our more explicitly known world.

It seems that play permeates matter as the experience of the player(s) and via the cumulative residue within the substance that is also perceptible to others. The thickness of atmosphere which play can generate, turning a room to gold, filling the space with the sense of wheels, accumulating around a huge inflatable ball as it moves from one ground of children to another, can be imagined as created by the possibility of what might be. When playing, things and spaces alter in our experience, and it is as if the atmosphere becomes permeated with this dialogic movement and with the tone of the play as it does with the tone of a musical instrument. It seems that in play’s openness to the possibility of what might be, its might to create the world by enlivening it, comes about. Play seems to render things non-static; it ruffs up fur with love; it turns paper into treasure; things that have been permeated by play become more than they were. When we experience things in play or in the openness to play, we seem to be able to experience the possibility with which they have been imbued, but in so doing we are also creating their present and future possibility. Here the implication of atmosphere as the shared ground between question one and two are brought to the fore. The propositions offered here in the closing of this inquiry have only been made possible by my playwork framed belief in the atmosphere that I sensed. Any disbelief or explanation by theoretical perspectives or facts would have disenabled my awareness of the atmosphere between the playing children and the things they played with. Further I would not have become aware of and been able to work from the similar atmosphere within which I interacted with colours, stitches, and little found things on the quilt; thereby perceiving greater and greater possibilities in the data.

The collection of dust from the whispering gallery of St Paul’s and the creation of earplugs with it in an art piece entitled ‘Negative of Whispers’ (Nichols 2011; Parkinson 2011) can be seen as an adult’s play filled experience of the atmospheric possibility, which has here been explored as the shared ground between questions one and two. In Cornelia Parker’s art can be seen the conjunction of the enlivened minute particulars of nature (dust) and those of peoples experience (whispers). In her playful perception Parker seems able to access the possibilities of this merging between people and things. As explored within the theory and practice of this inquiry and proposed by others (Huizinga 1955; Sutton-Smith 1997; Gadamer et al. 2004), the philosopher’s way of knowing seems to overlap with the artist’s in the experiential realm of play. Merleau-Ponty (1968) expresses a philosopher as someone who gives things ‘the hollow, the free space they ask for in return, the resonance they require, who follows their own movements.’ He sees such a position as a ‘question consonant with the porous being which it questions and from which it obtains not an answer, but a confirmation of its astonishment” (pp.101-102). These remarks, and those which follow on perception, seem to be given body by the atmosphere which was sensible in instances of play in this inquiry. ‘It is necessary to comprehend perception as this interrogative thought which lets the perceived world be, rather than posits it, before which the things form and undo themselves in a sort of gliding, beneath the yes and the no.” (p.102). These words could easily be descriptions of the atmosphere that seemed to spread between the girl and the table of bits and bobs, and between the girl and the pile of plastic characters on the floor. In such instances the palpable atmosphere seems to be made of the gliding of things forming and undoing themselves, as their details are embraced and also altered by the experience of what might be. In the relationship of reflection and expansion that the data of this inquiry has been found to have with the meaning making of artists and philosophers, it is possible to see the authenticity and the essentiality of played-with-ness in our co-creation of our reality.

Perhaps play avails us of our sense of malleability of our world in its sensible atmosphere, perhaps play creates this atmosphere, phenomenologically—in our experience—these two possibilities seem to conjoin. There is significance to the perception of and creation of played-with-ness, both in our capacity to find possibility in the world and in the regeneration of meaning and form in the world as we sense and create it. Thus it is possible to see how the reality of play, as the opening playwork orientated ethic of this inquiry, has through the data and processes of this inquiry been shown to have relevance not only in terms of listening and responding to the experiential realm of the child, but also in terms of the human capacity to create our reality.


In its subject, ethic and epistemological frame this inquiry rest on ground which from another perspective could be in its entirety discredited. Within a frame of Realism or Foundationalism the proposition of re-creating reality by playfully experiencing it would lack any credibility. Even when foundations of truth are located not in an external reality but rather in social infrastructure (Guba and Lincoln 2005), the potential of fluidity suggested within this inquiry would be unsubstantiated by the stability of the way things are.

However, critical engagement with different epistemological paradigms led to the situation of this inquiry within a phenomenological frame. This is explained in the chapter Methodology 1. The appropriateness to the research questions of this inquiry, of foundations of truth (Guba and Lincoln 2005) located in experience of and consciousness towards (Stewart and Mickunas 1990; van Manen 1990; Finlay 2009; Salanskis 2010) have been explored at length.

This inquiry falls outside the realm of human phenomena from which (scientific) generalization can be drawn (Guba and Lincoln 2005). However within this situation judgment of validity becomes more ambiguous and challenging (Denzin and Lincoln 2005; Guba and Lincoln 2005). Emerging perspectives of validity suggest that to attempt to do away with the voice of the researcher is a falsifying endeavour (Wolf 1992; Guba and Lincoln 2005; Richardson and St. Pierre 2005). However when the subjectivity of the researcher is recognized, rather than resisted or mitigated, an explanation of the affect or function of their experience becomes a requirement. The phenomenological field views inquiry as a means of sensitization towards human experience. This enables the researcher to point to something which will awaken or confirm awareness in others (van Manen 1990; Finlay 2009). Such a perspective can be seen echoed in Schwandt’s (1996) description of social inquiry as practical philosophy in a bid to say farewell to criteriology. One of the means by which Schwandt suggests validity can be judged is by the extent to which a researcher’s “reports of the inquiry enable the training or calibration of human judgment”(p.69). Such a framework necessitates authentication through resonance, which as discussed above is interwoven throughout this inquiry.

Judgments of success of this inquiry by such an evaluative frame rest on the affective actualization of being moved by the details of play. Through researching in negative capability (Fisher 2008), ignorance (Kilvington 2010) and being moved by the realities of fantasy (Hughes 2006), I have been able to communicate something about play with things which people who have encountered the research quilt have resonated with (Guilbaud 2010a; Guilbaud 2010b). Had a play responsive state not been achieved what I have communicated would arguably not have resonated (Merleau-Ponty 1964; van Manen 1990; Chalquist and Rankin 2010).

However while validity of what is communicated can be suggested through such authentication, a weakness must be recognized in the limits of what I encountered and so was moved to comprehend and communicate. Though it pertains differently than the way it would within a research frame concerned with generalization, the smallness of sample size is nevertheless detractive.

Rather that attempting to isolate the significance of that being investigated from the detailed content of children’s play, this inquiry has fashioned itself in response to those details. Within such a process variance of players and situations were recognized as contributing facets (Richardson and St. Pierre 2005) to ever evolving comprehension.

Over the year of researching and playworking for several hours, two or more times a week, I encountered the affect of many different influences on atmosphere and dynamics. 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 role was held by a number of different individuals. The dynamics of weather and seasons, of use and re-creation of spaces also imparted variety to the research arena.

However, though incidental observations of other children in other situations were used, this inquiry is fundamentally informed by data gathered in one playwork setting. The initial intent was to research within two settings, but after one of these closed down early on, it was decided that finding a replacement would be counter productive to the evolving research content and processes, and thereby to the potential of the inquiry. For as the way of researching unfolded in response to what was being noticed, splitting time between two settings was recognized as possibly limiting to the depth of what might be comprehended.

On the one hand this decision is vindicated by the observational data that led to the identification of the aspect of the transfer of played particulars through space and time. Splitting observational time between more than one setting would arguably have decreased the likelihood of gathering such data. It also seems likely that the cumulative attunement of my noticing, which enabled the perception of ever-greater subtleties within the play that I was observing, may have developed less if my time and attention had been split. Within the inquiry a sense of data saturation (Morse 1995; Brady 2005) did not occur until I had been going into the setting for nearly a year.

On the other hand researching across different settings would have provided details of more widely different play with things in different spaces. Such differences might, by the ethic and responsive nature of this inquiry’s process, have had far reaching implications. In their discussion of reflexivity Guba and Lincoln (2005) discuss the necessity of recognizing the alteration of the researcher’s self by the research process. Their identification of fluidity of self reflects my experience of becoming cumulatively sensitized in my noticing by what I was noticing. This was a process of ever evolving openness to what might be. The affect of this research process can be seen in the structure of the inquiry. Within this inquiry the details of the children’s play that was observed affected the research process and the form of the PhD. Therefore it seems likely that fundamental differences would have been brought about by different details in play.

In the juxtaposition of what was with what might have been, there is an ethical dichotomy; this being the balance of authentic representation of all that could be comprehended from one situation (van Manen 1990) interfaced with what might have been comprehended differently through different situations. The ethical repercussions relate not only to representation but also towards sensitization of playwork and research practice. Perhaps my sense that what was achieved would have been diminished by other research configurations, coupled with a recognition of the potential for greater facets of understanding which such different situations would offer, situates this inquiry as a beginning, with potential for re-creation. The potential for further research is explored below as is the potential for this inquiry, by its construction, to act as a stimulus for other forms of responsive research within the field of playwork.


Subject: What relevance and importance does the phenomenon of played-with-ness have to the praxis of playwork? It indicates the need to be sensitive to the environment of children’s play, to the life of the things and spaces, to the detailed creation of the space by intersecting layers of play. As such this inquiry builds on what is offered by the theories of loose parts (Nicholson 1971) and compound flexibility (Brown 1989; Brown 2003a), which can be seen incorporated into playwork awareness. What this inquiry adds is a sensitization to the what of children’s play with things and in spaces, not with any diagnostic remit with regard to setting or child, but rather as a process of noticing and going with the reality which is being created in play—this impacting on the detail of internal and practical responsiveness. The data of this inquiry would suggest that it is not simply loose parts to play with, or flexibility of environment per se which might be relevant to playwork, but also what the loose parts, the bits and bobs are and become, and the layers of meaning which create and recreate the environment. In the process of being moved by what he or she notices, not by intrusive seeking, but by space for the possible realities of play, the playworker may make space for the child’s expressions and meanings to govern their play environment and furthermore to ripple outwards into the world of experience. A sense of wonder towards what is being created in children’s play with things and spaces, as well as an attempt to vocalize it, is apparent in the contemporary playwork field. For example, a round table discussion at The National Playwork Conference in 2011 came to revolve around a doll which had been positioned in the wire of the gate of an adventure playground and which was noticed to become the focus of complex play beyond what the playworkers could fully comprehend. Leichter-Saxby’s (2009) article  The Secret Lives of Objects: Building Transformative Places for Play, published during the time space of this inquiry, can be seen as a further attempt to communicate such awareness.

Such examples suggest this inquiry’s relevance to the playwork field but also bring to question its significance. Perhaps through awareness indicated by Leichter-Saxby’s article, what this inquiry offers in terms of playwork practice might otherwise have been vocalized and supported. As such this inquiry does not contribute something other, but rather something relational. This fulfils the remit of phenomenological inquiry in pointing to and expanding a sensitization within praxis (van Manen 1990; Woodhams 2004; Titon 2008). In its responsive methodological structure this inquiry can also be seen to offer something not only in subject, but in process, to the evolution of reference points of truth through dialogic negotiation within the field (Schwandt 1996; Abma 2001; Guba and Lincoln 2005). What is offered is first and foremost towards the practice of playwork. This inquiry does not as other playworker writers (Hughes 1996b; Brown 2003a; Else and Sturrock 2006) have frequently done, draw from the perspectives of other sector’s interests in the play of children. Neither does this inquiry overtly situate itself in relation to perspectives of childhood, either in opposition to or assimilation of these. Though the process of being moved by the reality of play can be seen as inherently reflective of the playwork ethic towards the playing child, this inquiry does not directly offer the field an immediately applicable means of advocating this ethic. What the inquiry offers within and beyond the playwork sector, particularly through encounters with the quilt, is the possibility for individual resonance with play experiences. Any purchase, which such encounters or such a way of communicating might, for example, have against the current climate of cuts to play provision, would rest in people’s responsive thinking and action. There is nothing extractible within this inquiry, which would speak categorically of play’s vitality to existence, even though this position is evident in the subject, the resulting approach to inquiry, and the suggestions made in this closing chapter. The constantly raised dilemma of getting our message across is offered little or even perhaps less than nothing by this inquiry in relation to externally conceived conceptual frameworks or areas of concern. The significance of this inquiry’s process can only be engaged with. It cannot be otherwise abstracted and applied.

However, perhaps to seek a means of validating the interests of playwork in a way which might have immediate impact, is a non sequitur. Perhaps such impact would today still necessitate recourse to an objectivist epistemological framework, which as explored within the literature review and methodology chapters can be seen in its definitiveness to be at odds with a way of knowing in response to play. Perhaps what this inquiry can contribute is the reflection of its subject into its process, and thus a contribution towards the gradual recreation of our foundations of truth, through practical philosophy (Schwandt 1996).

The process of this inquiry can offer the playwork field an example of the possibility of working from play created meanings and the resonance that these might then find outside the sector. That there is an inclination towards such an approach in the playwork orientation towards play is evident across the literature relating to play and to practice. This has been discussed at length within the literature review and revisited in numerous ways throughout the inquiry. Throughout the playwork literature, at conferences and in conversations playworkers use stories of play and of practice to communicate. The relevance of this medium of sharing to the field can be seen recognized in Brown’s (in press) forthcoming publication structured around over fifty stories contributed by playworkers. However, in the playwork literature, stories are often given their meaning by concepts which they have been deployed to illustrate or by which they are interpreted. Palmer et al (2007) use stories to illustrate the Playwork Principles, and Hughes (1996b) uses stories supplied by Conway and Chilton to illustrate his proposed play types. Using an interpretive frame created from a meshing of perspectives from outside the field Lester (2007) interprets various internal and external dialogues which he identifies as illustrative of the tales playworkers tell themselves and others as part of their practice. In this chapter he both interprets examples of such stories and our means, and potential means, of interpreting and using such stories. His chapter does not, itself, directly draw its way of meaning-making from play, as perceived by playworkers; rather it recognises the theoretical frameworks from which we make meanings as part of a body of playwork. Nevertheless Lester seems to be suggesting that our story telling allows and illustrates a dialogic process between the self of the playworker and the playing child, whereby the playworker is moved in their comprehension and means of comprehension.

While Lester’s evaluation may have been representational at the time of its publication, it seems there may be a beginning of movement within playwork towards a new way of using our stories; a way to which this inquiry might contribute. That way can be described as an experiential sharing of noticing and of the process of noticing. In a recent IPA presentation Hughes (2011) relegated discussion of scientific findings and theoretical constructs by which he has previously conceptualized play. Instead he used video footage of children playing, which he replayed a number of times each time pointing out greater subtleties. As I did, Hughes found housing for such a way of working within the frame of phenomenological inquiry. That the playwork field may be turning towards such philosophical frameworks, is also suggested by the event this year (2011) of the first Philosophy at Play conference, organized and hosted by the Playwork department at the University of Gloucester. This inquiry illustrates the potential of such experience-orientated noticing and of working within a philosophical framework. Thereby it might offer inspiration and support to this perceptible movement within the playwork sector.

Such potential can be understood in terms of providing (as intended) a stepping-stone towards future practice and future research within the field of playwork. Three suggestions as pathways to step into from the position of this inquiry will now be explored. These possibilities relate to: communicating and collaboratively evolving the meanings of this inquiry within the playwork field through the research quilt; juxtapositioning extensions of inquiry into the phenomenon of played-with-ness; and providing inspiration towards other play responsive means of researching as a playworker.


1. Extension of this inquiry--in showing the quilt to people, both informally and as part of conference presentations its potential became apparent as a medium for collaborative insights into the data of the inquiry and other areas of experience, as well as into such an approach to noticing. No framework for such an endeavour was attempted within the bounds of this inquiry. However such a frame if created might have qualities of form and function — as the dual process of discovery and empathetic sensitization of practice reflected in constructs of action research (Lewin 1946; McIntosh 2010) and phenomenology (Silvers 1986; van Manen 1990). By such a collaborative endeavour further facets to this inquiry’s questions might become apparent adding strength through descriptive thickness (Denzin and Lincoln 2005; Stewart 2005).

2. Further possibilities of the phenomena of played-with-ness — what this inquiry might have discovered and how therefrom it might have been shaped, if it had been undertaken within another cultural situation, would almost certainly have had subtle or fundamental differences. Brown’s (in press) research into the play of Romanian children identifies a lack of ownership in their interactions with things and spaces which is conceivably related to their social/cultural situation. The impact that such relational differences might have on the presence or detail of aspects, such as merging into and love would be interesting to investigate. Equally Fraser Brown’s story of a Zimbabwean child’s experience of having to give her much loved doll to her younger sibling and finding a replacement for that relationship in a piece of wood in a forest (personal communication with Brown, F. 2011), might offer further insight as to the transfer of played particulars through space and time. While the focus of this inquiry was neither ethnographic nor centred around individual life worlds (van Manen 1990), such divergent data would arguably enable more facets of this subject’s inquiry to become apparent. The concern would be how to retain the flexibility in the perceptive realm. To begin such additional inquiry with a preformed concept of played-with-ness against which to juxtapose new findings, could easily render a counter-productive stasis, contrary both to the subject and to the resulting approach of this inquiry.

3. The potential of an expansive conception of research — perhaps the most significant continuation from this inquiry might lie not in its subject, or its process, but in the possibilities for researching that it might demonstrate to the playwork field. The value of demonstrating different situated approaches to research is evident in the literature through which components of this inquiry were contextualized. That this inquiry may have the potential to similarly serve others beyond the field of playwork could be suggested by Jones’ invitation to contribute interview footage with the quilt for his keynote speech Futures of Research at the British Association of Dramatherapists National Conference (Jones 2011). However the evaluative concern of this inquiry is orientated primarily to the playwork sector. If nothing else this process has shown the process of being moved by my practice and of thereby actualizing a playwork position into research. While phenomenology seems to hold great potential for research within this field, what holds greater potential is to trust and develop insight offered by our experienced practice. What this inquiry might essentially offer is its indication of the potential of being moved towards comprehension by the reality of play. That there would be different questions and different means of working with those questions is implicit in the recognition that there must be a responsive self in order to be moved. A playworker practices by the minutiae of their perception and responses. That these should expand their meaning into our means of research, rather than be interpreted by importing categorizing constructs, seems critical in upholding and communicating playwork’s play orientation.


In this closing chapter the evaluation of the inquiry through the frame offered by its two questions has resulted in identification of spaces, created from the data and the process, and also by lack of capacity. The possibility which such spaces offer may be expressed through the lyrics of Leonard Cohen’s song Anthem “there is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in”. It is hoped that this inquiry is something enough to have cracks that invite the light of possibility, as things have herein been witnessed and experienced to invite permeation by play.

Through the quilt as an actualization of played-with-ness and a demonstration of playwork orientated research I am also offering a literal image of accepted and potentialised incompleteness. The quilt seemed finished in terms of not entering any further data upon it, while still having large spaces and an unconnected seam. When, sometime after, I came across the Amish practice of deliberately creating an imperfect patch within their quilts, the significance of this experience with my quilt as it interacts with the possibility of play and of research was reflected. The sentiment around this practice of imperfection in Amish quilting is symbolic of an intent not to attempt to rival God’s perfection (Detrixhe 2004, p.25). Through this juxtaposition I found the means of expressing my experience of finishing my quilt unfinished. The sense that I was now inspired to describe was of the continuity of possibility, and the space for such furnished by play in things and also by phenomenological inquiry. Leaving the quilt with a sense of incompleteness was an experience of the power of play’s might as enlivening and so offering experienced continuance, which has been discussed numerous times within this inquiry and which is perhaps inherent to its subject and processes as spurred and evaluated by its two questions.

My hope in bringing this inquiry to a close is that its content in words, and through the material of the quilt, is able to communicate fluidity of possibility. For it seems that it is only in this way that its detail may have meaning. In exploration of Form Substance and Difference, Bateson discusses death and the continuance of the individual into the larger mind through ideas. He writes “The ideas which seemed to be me can also become immanent in you. May they survive – if true” (Bateson 2000, p.471). This essay of Bateson’s explores the interplay between experienced mind and matter, which is the realm in which this inquiry is situated. It seems that any truth in this inquiry will only be encountered and thus survive, like the lost cat, if in what it offers, the might of play can be experienced.