What is playwork under neoliberalism?

In this new paper, Ben Dalbey, inspired by the writing of Wendy Russell and Mike Wragg in the recently-published Aspects of Playwork: Play & Culture Studies, Volume 14 (Hamilton Books, 2018), and quoting extensively from their work, attempts to apply some of their ideas to a US context informed by race and class.


The hegemony of neoliberal economic and social policy has had far-reaching cultural and political impacts in the UK and US, including changing the lives of children and governing the ways adults tend to think about childhood. Neoliberalism renders vast numbers of children deficient, devoid of value, or invisible, while encouraging the placement of a wide array of adult political and environmental anxieties in a socially-constructed neoliberal ideal of potential childhood success.

The field of playwork is uniquely situated as a profession working “with” instead of “over” children, but we are not immune to the impacts of this colonization of childhood. By lifting our eyes to see past the trope of the over-scheduled child of affluenza, playwork advocates and practitioners can improve our practice and place our advocacy within a context of revolutionary hope.

Read the full paper here

Ben Dalbey lives in Baltimore, Maryland, and is co-founder of Free For All Baltimore, a child-led community building project.

Photo: Petra Bensted

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