chapter  14
11 Pages

Towards a spatial theory of playwork: what can Lefebvre offer as a response to playwork’s inherent contradictions?


In the UK, playworkers work in a range of settings with children across the 4 to 16 years age range. These settings include adventure playgrounds, play centres, out-of-school care schemes, play buses, holiday play schemes, play ranger projects (streets, parks and open spaces), schools, hospitals, refuges and prisons (Russell 2010). The official articulation of the role of the playworker within the Playwork Principles (PPSG 2005) is ‘to support all children and young people in the creation of a space in which they can play’. Such a definition has the potential to open the way for a spatial turn in playwork theorising, offering an alternative to the dominant temporal focus on professional interventions in the lives of children in order to help children develop into productive future citizens. This chapter draws on the work of French Marxist philosopher Henri Lefebvre (1991), and in particular his triadic conceptualisation of the social production of space (perceived, conceived and lived spaces), to develop an analysis that acknowledges the contradictions which playworkers navigate in their day-to-day experiences of working with children at play. The conceptual, theoretical design of designated ‘play spaces’, with named zones, material content and daily routines, is based on the assumption that this will give rise to particular practices (play forms) leading to particular instrumental outcomes (the development of specific skills). From this position in the triad, playwork may be seen as a form of labour that produces the next generation of producers and consumers. Children’s own bodily and emotional engagement with spaces gives rise to a wide range of playful disturbances of adult order; when conditions allow, children appropriate their own ‘lived’ space which incorporates the real and the imagined, often in ways that adults deem unsafe or offensive. Playworkers can find themselves promoting some forms of playing over others (through their spatial practices) while espousing notions of children’s agency and freedom to play (ideals belonging to conceived spaces). Lefebvre’s threefold dialectical formulation of the production of space offers the possibility of seeing beyond the dualisms of order and chaos, certainty and uncertainty, repetition and difference, structure and agency. These binaries emerge from the dialectic between abstract, theoretical space and the material spatial practices; Lefebvre maintains

that there is always a third. For playworkers, this is the ‘lived’ space of children’s playfulness and also of their own moments of playfulness and imagination.