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Towards Day 10 (Th, 10/2): Playing in industrial ruins

Anne Dalke's picture

Anne's class to meet in the circle of chairs, outside in front of English House
I. coursekeeping

questions re: Friday's paper?
By 5 p.m. Mon, 10/6: sixth short posting reflecting on the limits of play.
by classtime Tuesday, read  two essays on this topic:
Deborah Bird Rose, Stuart Cooke and Thom Van Dooren. "Ravens at Play." Cultural Studies Review 17, 2 (September 2011), 326-43.
Teju Cole, The White-Savior Industrial Complex. The Atlantic. March 21, 2012.

II. public talks
next event in Created Equal series:
an abridged screening of the film "Slavery by another Name," and talk by
Ruth Wilson Gilmore on "Mass Incarceration Today,"
next Tuesday @ 4:30 in Carpenter 21

who attended the talk given by Robin Bernstein this Tuesday,
on "Resistance: Not Psychological Damage:
Re-Evaluating the Clark Doll Tests"
what did you hear/think about what you heard?
Robin challenged a study, designed by two black psychologists in 1939,
(and the basis of educational policy for 68 years) that read black children's
preference for white dolls as an index to pathology/low self-esteem--

she did this by reviewing the history of a century of play w/ black dolls,
in scenarios that involved lots of violence and rough handling--and then arguing that,
in rejecting the black dolls, the black children were rejecting those practices of play
(and presumptions about blacks not feeling pain, which those practices figured)
they weren't rejecting an identification w/ black dolls,
but rather the common practice of violent play w/ black dolls

I was very interested in this project, not in the least because it intersected with
the discussions we're having now about childhood play, and its relationship to adult roles...
but I found myself very resistent to Robin's claims--there are so many variables here,
which a good social scientist, attending to more meticulous data collection,
would have to acknowledge (
one colleague asked, for instance, about "defamiliarization"--
a much higher percentage of the commercial dolls were white ones, so black children, like herself,
found the black dolls strange, freak-ish--in Tuesday's language--because infrequent)
in the terms we've been using to talk about your papers--
making a non-obvious claim: she did it! she had a very compelling idea!
but! backing it up with good data? I don't think she did...

III. let's take some of the questions to a consideration of today's text:
Edensor et. al. on "playing in industrial landscapes"--
which asks us think some more about the relation between play and risk.

What does the introduction promise?
What's surprising, non-obvious about this game plan?
(Something to think about for your own papers: sticking your neck out, trying out a new idea....)

The next section reviews the key attributes of ruins; what are they?
And then the authors identify an "array of playful activities."
What are the 4 types of play?
1) destructive, 2) hedonistic, 3) artistic, 4) adventurous/expressive--
From each group: let's hear the key point
(= definition of this type), and one example illustrating it.

All this is warm-up; only now do the authors "theorize play."
Let's work through the remainder of the essay:
What do they say play is?
And then: what do they say are the dangers of play,
as they have conceptualized it?
What are their conclusions...?

Step by step, we've walked our way through how the argument is constructed
(which will help you think about organizing your own papers...).

Only now: what do we think? Where do we grab hold, what do we question or resist?
How does this account jive with or differ from your own accounts of play, posted over the weekend?
How does it jive with or differ from the accounts we read/heard on Tuesday, by Henig and Brown,
on "taking play seriously"?

Reading Notes
Edensor, et al: about ruins as exemplary realms for a critical perspective
highlighting both the limitations and potentialities for play in urban spaces
key attributes of ruins:
1) lack of overt regulation—a space outside the strictures of ‘health and safety,’ systematic surveillance and material maintenance; missing the ordinary control of human/non-human; instant alterity—blurs distinctions between wild and tame, urban and rural, allowing wide scope of activities/actors prohibited/frowned upon elsewhere
2) material affordance within unfamiliar, unkempt env’ts that foster a multitude of opportunities for playful interaction with space and matter, confounding familiar forms of comfort and mundane sensual experience; usual conventions of property, commodity, value don’t pertain [if not valued, can be played with!]
types of play:
1) “destructive” (joyriding, burning, smashing): challenges notions of  what’s “acceptable”--transgressive delight in contravening restrictions, letting go of conventions, blurring distinction between productive/improving and destructive, willful, undisciplined, mindless
2) hedonistic (drinking, drug-taking, partying and sex):blurs line between pleasure and necessity—provides safe space for forbidden practices
3) artistic (graffiti and other interventions)
4) adventurous and expressive (action sports, urban exploration)
theorizing play in ruins:
dominant notions of play foreground its relationship with childhood, relying on its temporal/spatial separation from work, adulthood, production, ‘real life’;
such notions rooted in neo-liberal ideals about productive responsible citizenship
defining play as 'other' to work becomes problematic
ruins similarly defined as marginal, purposeless, wasteful, but are well-used sites of pleasure, leisure, spaces for productive/generative practices
ruins are entangled in a paradoxical geography of play space as both risky and ideally-suited to children’s play;
associations between childhood playfulness/innocence and vulnerability produce contradictory understandings of playing in wild spaces;
denial of access to wildscapes has a detrimental impact on children’s long-term development
but danger of romanticizing ruins, neglecting issues of danger, power (not accessible to differently abled bodies;
others w/ no where else to go); playing can reinforce existing spatio-temporal relations and sediment existing power relations
over-emphasizing playful virtues of industrial ruins sets up dualism with smooth, regulated urban spaces
Conclusion: thinking about industrial ruins in relation to play challenges the dominant distinctions that
position play as other to work, adulthood, smooth urban space, power and regulation
proliferation of playful activities in industrial ruins can divert us to recognize potential wildness, playfulness within managed spaces
play can make smooth spaces wild, disorder the street
relative freedom from direct retribution ess’l to playfulness in ruins:
foregrounds affective, embodied, sensual qualities of play--
always potentially transformative/subversive of power/
‘ready to be sprung as revolutionary consciousness,’ ‘becoming other,’ with potential to shift actuality of moment
thinking non-teleologically about play....