Three playgrounds: researching the multiple geographies of children’s outdoor play

John Horton, Peter Kraftl

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)
307 Downloads (Pure)


This paper argues for more careful, combinative approaches to children’s outdoor play that can better apprehend the social-material, political and spatial constitution of children’s play with/in diverse urban communities. Much extant scholarship on play starts either from macro-scale generalisations about the ‘state’ of children’s play, or from micro-scale analyses of the performances, materialities and feelings that constitute play. Our approach in this paper is to both combine these approaches and, more significantly, to focus elsewhere. Drawing on a large-scale, multi-method study of children’s outdoor play in three London communities, we start our analyses with three ostensibly similar, and geographically-proximate playgrounds. Through detailed attention to children’s narratives about these playgrounds, we assert the value of a comparative approach that demonstrates how the three playgrounds articulated both overlapping and strikingly divergent social-political processes in each community. Children’s narratives ranged from humorous and affirmative accounts of relaxation, fun, friendship and wildfowl, to haunting urban myths that make manifest community anxieties about ‘strangers’, sexual violence and intravenous drug use, to troubling, stinging critiques of how playgrounds evinced longstanding concerns about social-political marginalisation. The paper opens out a number of important avenues for future scholarship on play, specifically, and for research in children’s geographies and childhood studies more generally. In particular, it emphasises the value of a comparative approach to outdoor play that pays detailed attention to the enduring role of myths and rumours in the co-constitution of playspaces with, in and as the social-political lives of communities.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)214-235
Number of pages22
JournalEnvironment and Planning A
Issue number1
Early online date10 Oct 2017
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2018


  • Children’s geographies
  • childhood studies
  • play
  • community
  • talk
  • rumour and myth
  • Materiality


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