The courage to play in academia – Helle Marie Skovbjerg

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

To me, The Playful Voice is a way of being. This means that the voice does not belong to academia alone, but has to be viewed as a fundamental mode, where we strive to create good conditions for our lives.  

Obviously, academia has a strong tradition for certain practices of forming, and thereby teaching, which in many ways counteract some of the central qualities of play. First and foremost the loud, noisy, expressive body, that explores together with others. The ways of practicing the playful are thus a contrast to academia.  

The biggest challenge is to break down the notions of what the “real” production of knowledge is, and to show that it is not a contrast to the playful ways of practicing. Quite the contrary, the perception of play opens up for ways of learning, that are relevant and interesting, for academia as well. 


2. In your opinion, what can having the courage to play contribute with in relation to academia? Why is it important?

Play is fundamentally a perception, i.e. a way in which I can explore who I am, who you are, what the world is, what I can do with things. This means that play also contains potentials for academic practices, as it offers a way of accessing and circumvent and produce knowledge, that definitely has the potential for academic research.  

From my point of view, the most important qualities regarding play for the academic practices, is the courage to stand in the open, i.e. being exploratory in areas where we do not know what we will find. This is materialized in the fundamental “what if” question, and is followed by reaching out to others, that can participate in asking questions and join the journey towards possible answers. The importance of polyphony is moreover an important quality, i.e. the play makes it possible  for multiple voices on a matter to be present simultaneously, without us seeking consensus or try to destroy the conflicting thoughts.


3. How can we create room for a playful attitudes in the academic life (teaching, researching, studying, working) according to you? And what might academic play mood look like?

The most important part is to start. In every single class, the qualities of play must be considered, in our lives as researchers play must be considered etc. To me, the quality of play can both be considered in the way bodies interact – preferably in multiple ways, with the diversity of choices of spaces and places, in movement, in noise level, in material choices. 

In my work I operate with 4 play moods, arch moods, and  to me all four moods are relevant to the academic play mood. Sometimes full of contemplation and devotion, with quiet bodies and focused faces, other times we throw with paint midst manic laughter or a heated dispute. so many ways in which moods can be expressed.


4. Is there specific domains or areas of academic life where the courage to play might be of particular relevance? And is there perhaps also domains or areas where we should not be in a play mood?

No to both questions. In my point of view, play moods are relevant to everyone in every places and should not be excluded from anywhere. The question is rather, how can the different moods be realized in the different domains, AND how different domains accept these, and thus how and which that are ensured good conditions and which that are being abjected. the answers to the questions says a lot about where and how the specific domain is.


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


Professor in Design for Play. Head of research of Can I join in, funded by Danish Independent Research Foundation and Playful Learning Extension, Funded by LEGO Foundation. Author of several books and papers about play moods.











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Helle Marie Skovbjerg 

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