Year: 2015


When a Girl Plays With Barbie

Mattel’s latest commercial for Barbie draws on a powerful rhetoric of play (the one I’m always harping on about) and childhood imagination to address parental anxieties about gender stereotypes. In this ad, the ‘scripts’ Barbie invites girls to act out are carefully chosen to reflect a specific and limited kind of female subjectivity where empowerment essentially amounts to one’s future profession as professor, coach of a men’s sport team, veterinarian, and business woman. The ad conveys the message that the ‘right’ kinds of play, with the right toys (ie. Barbie), can lead to the right kind of future you (adult) want for your daughter. Things we might consider in this ad are the ways in which it (and we) take at face-value the correlation between play and normal child development; how the play rhetoric enables the ad to so convincingly foreclose alternative ways of playing; and how the play rhetoric fosters a particular definition of normal and adequate female childhood as well as notions of ‘success’ in the case of this ad.    


In the News: ‘Fresh Air’ Parenting

Timely and interesting  research coming from the University of Toronto linking parental perceptions of child supervision to physical activity in children. Only 36% of parents allow their children to explore their neighborhoods unsupervised, one of the many factors limiting young people’s mobility. The Meitiv’s are a recent example of the minority few who risk investigation by legal authorities by allowing their children some autonomy. One article online calls for ‘fresh air’ vs. the negatively coined ‘free range’ parenting. Can we find a middle ground? An even more pressing question is this: what does it say about the status of and spaces available for children in our society when our instinct is to call 911 when we see children out-and-about? I’ll say more about this later.

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How To: Start Your Research Paper

The Student Learning Commons at Simon Fraser University invited me to propose an independent project related to my work as a writing facilitator. So…I went in search of a way to communicate about academic writing that combined both my interests in teaching and video production. I envisioned three possible applications for the vid 1) an intro to undergraduate writing workshops facilitated by the SLC 2) a tool for instructors or TAs to show or share their students and 3) a stand alone resource on the library’s site for students to access along with the university’s many other excellent research/writing resources. I animated the video using Keynote, Mac’s Presentation Software–a simple program that lets you take the average slideshow to the next level. Feel free to share or adapt (and if you’d like the source file, get in touch)!  


Mapping the Landscapes of Childhood

This week I’ll be sharing my doctoral research at the Mapping the Landscapes of Childhood II conference in Lethbridge, Alberta. One of the conference themes asks whether play is the opposite of work and how the distinction between the two has contributed to how we define healthy, normal or adequate childhood–both of these are important questions underlying my research project. Because play is commonly understood to be the opposite of work and freedom from work is taken to be one of the basic tenants of proper childhood (fostering the view that play is the child’s ‘work’), the child who works is then at best viewed as deprived of a proper childhood and at worst subject to potentially unhelpful forms of intervention that risk further limiting the autonomy of the child. This view of work and play depends on a predominantly western view of childhood as a period of innocence, dependence and vulnerability, a view that scholars have argued is essentialist and dismissive of the globally diverse number of childhood experiences. It isn’t hard to see …


In the News: From Virtual to Reality

Fortune announced today that Backyard Sports, a video game series for children, has launched a new business model for the mobile games market. What makes the model ‘new’? The mobile game is now literally a platform for ‘real’ live sports-play, which is not only a new way of monetizing play, but also has the added benefit of circumventing parental fears of sedentary ‘screen’ play. Read the article here; share your thoughts below: Like Rock Band, new Backyard Sports mobile games let kids play with real equipment – Fortune.


Risk vs. Safety

Last year I pitched a story to a mid-size BC news source that questioned the old adage that ‘you can never be too safe.’ I wanted to show how the overemphasis on safety in an online game for children ages 6-14, while well intended, has lead to types of surveillance that ultimately take away from the value that play provides. The editor rejected the story with a simple question: “How is “less safe” play beneficial to kids?” I emailed back to clarify: no response. Now an article written by the BC Injury Research and Prevention Unit (BCIRPU) asks, “can we go too far when it comes to child injury prevention?” and their answer is “yes”–but as it turns out, my editor wasn’t the only one to reject the idea that safer isn’t always better. Brussoni et al. make a strong case for the problem with over-emphasizing safety on playground surfaces, but the comments section clearly reflects the polarizing effect that the topic of children and risk has on adults. One commenter asserts that “to oppose …


The Great Shop Robbery

On a Sunday afternoon my partner, Dale, and I were doing some camera tests using our jib arm using Dale’s 1969 Jaguar as our text subject. This short film came together completely by accident. From this ‘Movie Sunday’ was born–a promise to dedicating every Sunday to film. As you watch, keep in mind that there were only the two of us, no lighting, no sound, and no script. Just spontaneity.  


Talking ‘Play’ on CBC

In January I had the pleasure of joining radio host Rick Cluff on CBC’s The Early Edition for an interview on the importance of play. The interest in my research was piqued because of a Teen Philosopher’s Cafe I moderated on the topic of ‘play vs. work’ on behalf of Simon Fraser University’s Cafe Series. What interested me most about the interview was that CBC took the time to interview Vancouverites on what they thought play was. The answers, while not necessarily surprising, affirm that play is ambiguous and yet seems to mean similar things to different people–for example that play is the opposite of work. You can listen to the 6 minute interview on The Early Edition at the 1:30:53 mark.


In the News: Steve Jobs Didn’t Let His Kids Use iPads

Here’s Why Steve Jobs Didn’t Let His Kids Use iPads And Why You Shouldn’t Either Yesterday my Facebook newsfeed was flooded with links to this article, which tells me that something about it really resonated with people…even people without kids. Steve Jobs allegedly restricted his kids’s use of tech and apparently that means we should to. Seems like some kind of reverse psychology marketing ploy. I think there’s some merit to this article. For example, I would agree that we need to carefully evaluate our voracious appetite for technology. I’m of the opinion that both adults and young people need to consider the impact an over reliance on all sorts of technology has on our lives, our relationships, and our ability to support ourselves. For example, our current food system in North America is dependent on a number of technologies that, should they be disrupted or no longer viable because of a natural disaster or economic collapse, render us disturbingly vulnerable. Play outside with [your kids] and surround them with nature; they might hate you, …


In Review: The Philosophy of Play

I’m pleased to be able to share this excerpt from my review of The Philosophy of Play, which was recently published in the American Journal Of Play: In April 2011, the inaugural Philosophy at Play conference brought together academics, play-sector workers, policy advocates, and analysts, among others, to make play the subject of philosophical inquiry and practice. The Philosophy of Play, edited by Emily Ryall, Wendy Russell, and Malcolm MacLean, is a collection of essays that arose from that conference. According to the editors, the objective of the collection is “to provide a richer understanding of the concept and nature of play, its relation and value to human life” and to provide “a deeper understanding of philosophical thinking and to open dialogue across these disciplines” (p. 2). Drawing on a range of philosophical traditions including the work of Plato, Wittgenstein, Gadamer, Nietzsche, Sartre, Burke and Deleuze, the collection, like the ubiquitous concept of play itself, is vast in scope, made up of sixteen chapters varying slightly in length and depth. No specific overarching questions or themes dominate …