anthropology · children · play

Review: The Association for the Study of Play Conference

I am currently sitting in the airport on my way home from the 34th annual conference for The Association for the Study of Play (TASP), held in sunny Tempe, AZ.
I gave a presentation about how parkour is a form of grown-up freeform play, as opposed to soccer or working out at the gym. Freeform or “unstructured” play is something you see kids do all the time, but grown-ups generally stop doing it all together. Parkour does not, and instead encourages grown-ups to keep that kid spirit of finding play in every aspect of your environment, and seeing play as important as work or leisure.
But enough about me, onto the conference. Most of the conference was dominated by early childhood development researchers (0-5 years old), and how play is beneficial to them. Which is great, I’m all for it. However, that sort of meant that left the rest of us anthropologists, sociologists, pirmatologists, psychologists, older kid play specialists, and other researchers out on our own. We were heard, for sure, but the conference was truly dominated by them; there were only seven sessions out of 21 that didn’t feature early childhood studies (this count includes workshops and panels).
But all moaning aside, it was a great conference, for one thing because you didn’t have to explain why you were studying play, or why it was important/beneficial/worth studying/etc. I reluctantly stayed through Saturday for the session on the use of digital photography in play studies, and it was the best session of the whole event. Two of the women were doing exactly what I’d like to do as a study and research focus (namely giving people (kids) cameras as learning and research tools and see what they come up with). Unfortunately, neither of them good answer exactly what they were going to do with their research once it was done. Dr. Laurelle Phillips had expanded the use of cameras at her school to other classrooms, but the school was located on her university so they could afford to buy three cameras per classroom. Doctoral candidate Carol Borran wasn’t sure what she was going to do with her work other than get her thesis. I spent the majority of Saturday talking with her and Dr. Pat Broadhead, and they were wonderful, both encouraging me to take time off from my research studies but also pursue a doctoral degree in my area of study. Dr. Broadhead said I could be Professor of Playful Spaces, which I must admit does sound cool. Usually the whole reason to go to conferences is to network, and while I regret I really didn’t get into it until the very last day, I got to see some amazing research and speaking with those two women was wonderful; just to hear their attitude about things, to get an outsider’s view of American attitudes to policy and pushing back against “the man.”
There was a paper I wished I’d seen but was canceled, which was a study of portrayal of masculinity through MMA fighting.
I got some good sun, good experience presenting (I think this was the first time ever I wasn’t really nervous going up and presenting in front of a group. I almost wondered what was wrong with me), and some good brain stimulation. So all in all good stuff.
For now I will leave you with a meditative question from the chair of the conference, Dr. David Kuschner: “If there is a toy in the woods and there is no one to play with it, is it really a toy?”

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