Play as research

27Oct06

Lorenz at Antropologi has a very interesting link to play as research method – how do we best get data from children? Using insights gained from observing children at play, getting them to produce stories and drawings can be much more productive than merely getting verbal data from them. It keeps their interest levels high and more importantly, it makes sure that the researcher or the ethnographer does not lose what can be otherwise valuable data simply because it not conventionally seen as “data”. It allows the researcher to not just note the actions and reactions of individual children but see them at play in a group – the dynamics, the interactions, the fights and the freindships.

However, the incorporation of these incredibly rich sources into standard academic accounts has presented Atkinson with a challenge. (…) In particular the children’s drawings, she contends, are not mere illustrations of the writing, but should be seen as more akin to quotes. However, she admits that this new status of the pictorial will require a major change in the conventions of how ethnographic writing is received.

Do read the other articles that the post links to… In one of them titled “How dancing, singing and playing shape the ethnographer: research with children in a Balinese dance studio”, the author Jonathan McIntosh says…

When chronicling his experiences among the Warlpiri of the Tanami Desert in Central Australia, Jackson (1995:21) writes,

…fieldwork cannot be willed into happening. Inevitably, it proceeds by fits and starts. Anxieties and doubts beset you… (no matter how good your language skills, how thorough your background reading, how extensive your ethnographic experience in other cultures).

And this, to me, is at the crux of using play as research rather than a mere and temporary relief from research. Fieldwork with children cannot be willed to happen.

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