Session III

Public Play

Chairs: Henric Benesch & Annelies Vaneycken (HDK – Academy of Design and Crafts, University of Gothenburg)

This session aims to explore and problematise play as a methodological framework for involving children and young adults in participatory design projects, opening up new and critical perspectives on contemporary issues in/on public space.

Since the Situationist International, and their practice of “play” as a mode for artistic urban exploration, play and various game forms have become common components in contemporary participative design processes – and not only those involving children and young adults. This “playification” and “game-ification” of urban development processes require critical evaluation. Following Huizinga’s description of play as an activity that exists only for its own sake, “no material interest, and no profit can be gained by it” (Huizinga, 2014), working with play within the goal-oriented framework of participatory design is a contradiction in terms.

Seeing play as a continuum between rule-bound “ludus” and spontaneous, uncontrolled “paidia” (Caillois, 2001) may help us to unpack the ambiguous values of participatory design processes based on the notion of play. How can both tendencies – the structured and the unstructured, the controlling and de-controlling – work together and inform design processes? What are the consequences of participatory design processes that unilaterally control and if so what type of “play” can take place? Are young participants genuinely participating or are they rather lured by playful strategies in undergoing a predefined path that only affirms established values and entrenched power structures? How much de-controlling do we need to disrupt conventions and enable agonistic spaces (Mouffe, 2007) which enable multiple, critical and disruptive interpretations and voices? And more specifically, what circumstances empower children and young adults to apply their “expertise” in play to the production and development of public space?

We are interested in a wide range of proposals that include but are not limited to the following themes:

–        Play as a generative and even transformative process (ambiguity, disruptive, non-consensual, structured and un-structured,etc.)

–        Issues of power in the context of play, children and public space (role of institutions/designers/parents, agency, instrumentalization of play, etc.)

–        The performativity of play in the context of children and public space

–        Play as situated and temporal activity

–        Ethical concerns when working with children, e.g. intersectional aspects


Caillois, R. (2001). Man, play and games. Urbana, Ill.: University of Illinois Press.
Huizinga, J. (2014[1950]). Homo ludens: a study of the play-element in culture. Mansfield Centre: Martino Fine Books.
Mouffe, C. (2007). Artistic Activism and Agonistic Spaces. Art & Research Vol.1, No.2