Blog Update

Hello! Just in case anyone actually follows this blog I just wanted to alert you to the fact that due to the closing of my hosting company I’m soon moving to a free hosted site. The same address should work, but in case of problems please redirect here:

I may even get ’round writing something new soon. Maybe…


The World is Teeming: ‘Valuing the Visual’

The recent Literacies Conference at Sheffield University was, as usual, a brilliant event, populated by interesting people. I acted as discussant during the first day, tasked with summing up at the end of the day. The discussant role, it transpires, is challenging but also really rewarding as it forces you to make connections between presentations that you might not necessarily make as a regular conference attendee. It is definitely worth having a scroll through the conference hashtag #LitVis2017 

I presented on the second day, in part considering how the ideas of composer / artist / musician John Cage can be useful for thinking about the complexity of the world. For this I created some new comics, based on some of his reflections on the world via his art. With the conference’s focus on ‘valuing the visual’ I considered how visual and artistic methods open up possibilities for thinking about and representing the world, drawing on Cage’s concept of indeterminacy:

I have also been playing with the idea of motion, reflected in the use of some subtly animated aspects to some of my slides. I love Cage’s quote (from his book ‘Silence: Lectures and Writings‘) as a way of seeing the world as constantly in motion, ever changing and full of potential. Its also notable for its reference in Paul Auster’s recent novel ‘4-3-2-1’ where it becomes a pivotal quote for one of the versions of the book’s protagonist. Taken across these different contexts, the quote also serves as a reminder of the potential for literature / literacy to affect and influence lives.


During the event, artist Rachael Hand presented a brilliant curated exhibition of artists books and creative theses. This included my thesis, alongside the work of many others whose work includes visual elements of different kinds. Photos below are of Rachel Hand’s programme from the event. The final pic of the hands is the expert work of artist Jo Ray.


Free the Sheep Award #humblebrag

Warning: incoming #humblebrag

Life post viva has so far been a busy but enjoyable time. Earlier this month I was honored to receive the UKLA/ Wiley Research in Literacy Education Award 2017 for my paper ‘Free the Sheep: improvised song and performance in and around a minecraft community’. The award was given at the amazing Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum in Glasgow, and we were given free reign of the museum after the award ceremony. I also presented around the paper during the following day and nice people said nice things, not least Jackie Marsh:

The panel felt that the paper was highly original, and breaks new ground in the presentation and analysis of data. It is theoretically complex and demonstrates a high level of critical analysis, offering a highly topical review of literacy across hybrid physical and virtual spaces”.

The paper itself has been made public access for the year, and is available here:
Here are some photos from around the event… (note the incoming spitfire in the first photo, credit to @stollingsl for the pic)

On Life / On Play

After a few weeks of seemingly non-stop conferences and talks (Sheffield Uni, Lancaster, Sheffield Uni again and finally Bristol, for the UKLA) I am finally back to working on my thesis, drawing things together and making plans to move on to other things. All busy but all good.

Apropos of nothing much, here’s a tiny, handheld extract…



Comic Strips as Data Representation

My prezi for my presentation on Monday, as part of a symposium on methodologies around Understanding Classroom Life, at Sheffield Hallam Faculty of Development and Society Research Conference.

Minecraft Play: Phantasmagoria, Paracosm and Subversion

‘Children’s play fantasies are not meant only to replicate the world, nor to be only its therapy; they are meant to fabricate another world that lives alongside the first one and carries on its own kind of life, a life often much more emotionally vivid than mundane reality.’ – Sutton-Smith, 2001

Sutton-Smith (2001) argues that rhetoric around play that positions ‘play as progress’ serves to undermine other more useful understandings of children’s play. One area he focuses on is that of child phantasmagoria, noting that in pretend play ‘there is often ludicrous distortion, exaggeration, and extravagance at times bordering on the bizarre.’ (Sutton-Smith, 2001)

There have been a large number of in-game incidents, events or episodes throughout the club’s duration that could be labelled as such: the horse funeral, throwing meat from a mountain, riding pigs, mass animal spawning, mass animal destruction… all examples that spring quickly to mind – play that Sutton-Smith refers to as ‘irrational, wild, dark, or deep play’.

Through this play, the children aren’t recreating their own lives as much as they are working to ‘fabricate another world that lives alongside the first one and carries on its own kind of life, a life often much more emotionally vivid than mundane reality.’ So whilst elements of the children’s Minecraft play sometimes seems to reflect the ‘real’ world,  it is not ‘based primarily on a representation of everyday real events….so much as it is based on a fantasy of emotional events.’ This focus on ’emotion’ feels important… 

Acknowledging the influence of affect on play, Sutton-Smith notes that ‘play is motivated primarily by feelings and not just by images of reality, and that children’s fantastic exaggerations are their storied interpretations of the world’. So the play is not just a result of the resources (material, virtual, immaterial) taken up by the children, but it also stems directly from the children’s feelings.

Sutton-Smith (2001) further suggests that solitary pursuit of video games can ‘lead to the standardisation of fantasy’ but can also ‘permit the promotion of internal (and therefore unpredictable) solitary fantasy’. Of course, in this context, the play in rarely solitary as it is carried out alongside others – meaning that the potentially internal solitary fantasy is made collective – a collective paracosm, made visible on screen – externalised – (and therefore standardised?) through Minecraft’s 8-bit aesthetics.

Sutton Smith also talks of ‘subversive play’, where the players ‘subvert the rhetorics of the adults by creating their own play as pragmatic rhetoric against those adults.’ Certainly, the children’s play in Minecraft includes a number of instances that could be considered subversive in a school context, and even in the more relaxed context of the club’s ‘create a community’ objective – the extent to which stealing each other’s horses or using TNT to destroy part of a hill actually contributes to a sense of community is up for debate.


Sutton-Smith, Brian (2001) ‘The Ambiguity of Play’, Harvard, London