Permission To Play: Taking Play Seriously; Making Sport Playful (Follow On Fund)

Project: Research

Project Details


"Playfulness is an innate human trait crucial for making sense of the world, creativity, development of social skills and positive emotions. It is a trait which is strongly encouraged in children and young people but increasingly is being squeezed out in adulthood amidst the pressures and technologies of contemporary western society. It is often viewed as 'juvenile' and 'unproductive' use of time. Yet playfulness is celebrated in different forms within some arenas - particularly the creative arts and sport - where the act of play is viewed as offering positive health and well-being benefits, actively encouraged as part of community cohesion agendas and providing spaces for creativity and entrepreneurial thinking.

By engaging actively with these the arenas of creative arts culture and sport, and drawing on the experiences and practices which encourage and celebrate playfulness, the proposed research will seek, firstly to characterise attributes of playfulness and, secondly to identify new research questions concerning ways in which it might be fostered in adults in order to promote flourishing, resilience, creativity and therefore enhance wellbeing for both individuals and communities. It will thus also explore how playfulness can help to reconnect people and communities, assisting to overcome conflict and dissonance but reducing isolation, stress, and alienation."

Key findings

"Research findings

Expressing playfulness

In focussing on play, past research has emphasised the visible, movement-based expression of playfulness involved with such activity. Our live experiments, using the technologies and stimuli developed by the CARIAD research team to reveal playfulness in children with autism, highlighted that only some playful activity was clearly visible (eg through rhythmic movement, interaction with others, expressive facial and body movement). It was also clear that there were times when participants were passive, unmoving but engaged in mind both with the play activity and with the others in the spaces around about, and times of disengagement with the active play, equally associated with immobility. This was also evident in the reading group workshop, when the transcripts revealed not those actively speaking but also how in their 'silences' some (but not all) other participants in the group were engaged with the reading and the group as a whole.

In these respects, play is not constant, and relies on a continuous process of separation and engagement - both emotionally and physically. Play itself can be enriched by such separation (eg the thoughtful but apparently distant participant making an occasional but perceptive comment to the reading group). Interpreting playfulness can thus be challenging when lack of visible 'play' can be subject to multiple interpretations, raising questions about what methods and methodologies from across the humanities and social sciences can used to help capture and interpret non-expressive playfulness? And, do such non-expressive forms of playfulness have wellbeing benefits for individuals and how can they assist in social connectivity?

Playable spaces

In focussing on children's play, there has been an understandable emphasis in public policy in on the creation of safe, attractive physical spaces where play is designated and encouraged through design and planning. Indeed, western societies have to a far greater extent than in the past now regulated the opportunities for play. Significant investment -has been made to generate formalised and designated or designed spaces for the purpose of play (eg football pitch, skating park) or allowed along with other uses and activities (eg urban parks). Beyond these, other play spaces have been encouraged, with conscious interventions to make children welcome, provide more informal and adaptable play infrastructure, and provide a safe environment, although these other spaces within which play can and does take place are often in conflict or contestation with others (eg the street, the back alley, urban parks).

By creating alternative 'playable spaces' where playfulness was temporarily permitted, the project has sought to explore the impact of creating territories of and for play. These included encouraging play within the inherently unsafe and disused spaces of St Peter's seminary, the transformation of a laboratory into a group play space, and the creation of a reading group for playful engagement with text. Our experience in these settings was contrasted with the aim of brining more playful activity into the formalised spaces of museums and sports centres in Glasgow.

Several key insights emerged which raised research questions. First, the creation of physically designated play spaces does not in itself generate playfulness and play. The Glasgow city experience of providing community sports and recreation facilities as play spaces struggled to overcome associations of these spaces more with regulated, physical activity and less about playfulness. Second, playful behaviour can be engendered in routine and (apparently) unplayable spaces where the very notions of safe and managed physical characteristics are absent. The insertion of families into the derelict spaces of St Peter's seminary offered imaginative opportunities for play where the very absence of safety and regulation enhanced the playfulness of the situation.

Third, being playful challenges the existence of bounded territories into which activity can be harnessed and supported. Play itself seeks to extend such boundaries - at times consciously occurring elsewhere and challenging designations (eg football in the street adjacent to the designed football pitch). And fourthly, playable spaces extend beyond physical spaces, occurring in liminal and emotional spaces which people enter into and retreat from at different times and in different ways."
Effective start/end date1/02/1231/10/12


  • AHRC (Arts and Humanities Research Council): £30,290.00


Explore the research topics touched on by this project. These labels are generated based on the underlying awards/grants. Together they form a unique fingerprint.