Playful Literacies Across Cultures: Pluralities of Pleasure, Affect, & Living Texts
Overview of the special issue
During the COVID-19 pandemic, educators observed increased student stress and disconnection in formal learning environments; at the same time, many young people valued activities such as playing, gaming, LARPing, and collaborative writing to cultivate connection in the midst of this upheaval. Educational researchers’ interest in youth literacy practices outside of schools recognizes the many benefits that youth derive from their play in spaces that are largely unrecognized as productive sites of learning in formal classrooms. We embrace play and pleasure as an important part of learning, within and outside of the classroom, and join with other critical scholars arguing that constructing learning spaces without attention to youth play, pleasure, desire, and joys can reify inequitable learning environments that silence youth literacies and exclude their cultural practices (Muhammad, 2020; Kirkland, 2013). The presence of and engagement with others in such spaces provides occasions to take individual or collective action (Wohlwend, 2018), motivation for affect-laden reading and writing practices, broadly defined (Burnett & Merchant, 2020), and contexts for reflection and feedback from others (Magnifico, et al., 2015).
Yet for adolescents, and also increasingly for children, play in formal educational, and even informal contexts is often rigidly constructed in relation to neolioberal, Eurocentric conceptions of value (Ahmed, 2020), productivity, and use (Vossoughi, Hooper & Escudé, 2016), especially when play is linked to STEM discourses (Vossoughi & Vakil, 2018). Such opportunities for play are often connected to identities or outcomes that limit play’s potential and define its value in relation to pre-determined career pathways: How do playful opportunities in makerspaces engender ‘design’ thinking and engineering mindsets? How can teen’s videogame play lead to careers in the gaming industry?
In this special issue, we challenge such normalized conceptualizations in our ‘play-i-fying’ of literacies theory and practice with youth across varied contexts. We are particularly interested in how theories and practices from literacy studies can re-invigorate perspectives on play throughout the lifespan at a time when play’s value has come again to the fore. How might education researchers better understand playful literacies as a vital outlet for pleasurable discovery, socialization, and community building within and beyond formal education, and beyond neoliberal notions of use? How might scholars continue to broaden and critique the predominantly Eurocentric conceptions of play that pervade literacy research?
Indicative list of anticipated themes
- Centering playfulness in literacies learning/teaching
- Challenging normalized, neo-liberal conceptions of play
- Non-Eurocentric literacies and cultures of play
- Multimodal/Digital play
- The affective dimensions of play and literacy
- Making playful connections
- Building community through playful engagements
- Playing for passion, pleasure, and joy
- Theoretical (re)conceptions of playful literacies
- Playful literacies and identities
- Childhood/Youth culture, play, and literacies
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