Play and the social production of space in Gozo

In March I was a participant of the field course ‘Go Go Gozo’, which combined interdisciplinary methodology and practice in Gozo, Malta. It was an Erasmus+ collaboration with participants from Manchester and Warwick (UK), Malta, Utrecht (The Netherlands) and Olomouc (Czech Republic)  Combining critical geography, island studies, media studies and play methodology, students teamed up to explore the social space of the island on the basis of a theme.

Inspired by Situationist International and their conceptualised strategies of resistance, our activities ranged from smelling as a playful method of exploring the island, to a dérive, where other teams designed an exploration for you in order to let you drift on the island in a different manner.

Our group consisted of three students, and we picked the theme “drinks in Gozo”. The programme was packed with lectures on theories of space, island, identity, play, methodologies and with practice-based research activities, which were intentionally set up from the perspective of play. At the end of our field work, we combined, theory, experience, and play into a playful presentation that resembled our experience. Here I want to zoom into the product of our field trip, where we realised a presentation and a game that incorporated some of our critical questions.

Henri Lefebvre’s argument in The Production of Space (1974) is that space is a social product, or a complex social construction (based on values, and the social production of meanings) that affects spatial practices and perceptions. This argument implies the shift of the research perspective from space to processes of its production. Lefebvre argued that every society, and in this case particular activity, produces a certain space.

In the case of our theme, we noticed drinking can be a gendered experience. Some local bars, such as the Glory of Engeland bar, did not have bathroom facilities, while other, more tourist-friendly locations such as the vineyard, had clean bathroom facilities. This is but one small example of how spaces of drinking cannot be understood without understanding the particular spatial practice and its specific history.

Reflecting on our own experiences, me and my teammates had several discussions early on about the possibilities and limitations of using play as an academic methodology. Some of the questions we had:

  1. How is theme-based play presumed to hold problematic assumptions about space & the island of Gozo?
  2. What are the effects of technology on academic spiel?
  3. What are the effects of playful methodology on academic research?
  4. In what was is the researcher free to adapt or subvert the rules of the game?

Specifically zooming into the last question brings to the attention the ethical boundaries of play in an academic context. Because it fitted our theme perfectly, we subverted the ‘rules’ of a presentation by each opening a CISK beer and drinking this during the presentation. For me, it raises the question of when an academic is playful in his take on a protocol (such as a presentation), or when he or she is venturing into dark play.

Besides being extremely fun, I also learned a lot about field work and interdisciplinary collaborations. I would strongly recommend this to anyone interested in using play as a methodology to try it at least once.

No Comments Yet.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *