The privilege of being playful in academia – Miguel Sicart

1. What is the first things that comes to mind when reading the sentence ‘The Playful Voices of Academia’?

The first thing that comes to mind is a set of people whose work pledges not to take their own discipline too seriously, so that they can dare to think about the boundaries of their fields in creative ways. For example, Richard Feynman was a playful voice in physics. Or more recently, Ben Kirman is a playful interaction designer. Katta Spiel would be another design person whose voice is playful, with a very different tone than the previous two. Or, more systematically serious, Tess Tannenbaum or Katherine Isbister would qualify too. Their voices downplay the authority of academia, and by doing so they create new possiblities.


2. What can playfulness in your opinion contribute to in relation to academia? Why is it important?

Well, playfulness is a way of not taking disciplinary traditions seriously, so that new combinations and configurations can be explored. To be playful is to dare to break what is done, and to move forward. Interestingly, this is a definition that requires privilege (to break the boundaries in academia, like in all formal, hyerarchical systems, you need to have the privilege to be able to break those boundaries – for example, it’s easier for me to be playful because I am a tenured, straight cis white man in academia), so it should be taken with care.


3. How can we create room for playfulness in the academic life (teaching, researching, studying, working)?

In teaching, the idea is to empower the student to create their own ways of learning, with the teacher being a part of the learning process, rather than a leader or a recepient of knowledge (like Paulo Freire would put it). In researching, the goal of playfulness is not to take the traditions and the disciplines too seriusly. Playfulness leads to imagination and to daring to propose new ways of thinking and acting.

In working, the process would be the same: playfulness is a way of downplaying authority and empowering an attitude of appropriation.


4. Is there specific domains or areas of academic life where playfulness is of particular relevance? And is there perhaps also domains or areas where playfulness has no role to play?

I think teaching should be playful, and researching too. But not in all fields: I don’t want my doctors to be playful. So I guess that playfulness is appropriate in academia when the results of the knowledge are negotiable (like, the meaning of a novel, or how to convey data between two systems). When the result is non-negotiable, like in medicine or in law (you can die, or you can be convicted!), then I think playfulness should have no role, or a smaller one.


5. What would YOU like to ask or read more about (hear someone voice) in relation to play, playfulness & academia (max 280 characters including spaces)?

I’d like to know more about how non-privileged people see playfulness in academia (from minorities to the precariat of postdocs and adjunct professors).




I’m a play scholar with an interest in the ways we can play with computers, from videogames to playable experiences and ridiculous uses of software.







You can follow Miguels work at:


…Or keep the playful conversation going with him on Twitter: 


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