Political play is a mode of thinking critically about politics, and of developing an agonistic approach to those politics. This agonism is framed through carnivalesque chaos and humour, through the appropriation of the world for playing. By playing, by carefully negotiating the purpose of playing between pleasure and the political, we engage in a transformative act.
Quote taken from PARTICIPATORY REPUBLICS: PLAY AND THE POLITICAL by Miguel Sicart on the Play Matters book blog.
I love where Miguel is going with his thinking on the relationship between play, politics, appropriation and resistance.
I am interested in this because at Hubbub we have been exploring similar themes through the making of games and things-you-can-play-with.
The big challenges with this remain in the area of instrumentalisation – if you set out to design a thing that encourages this kind of play you often end up with something that is far from playful.
But the opportunities are huge because so much of today’s struggles of individuals against the state relate to legibility and control in some way, and play is the perfect antidote.
For example shortly after reading Miguel’s piece I came across this McKenzie Wark piece on extrastatecraft via Honor Harger. Extrastatecraft shifts the focus from architecture and politics to infrastructure.
Infrastructure is how power deploys itself, and it does so much faster than law or democracy.
You should read the whole thing. What’s fascinating is that Wark briefly discusses strategies and tactics for resisting such statecraft.
So the world might be run not by statecraft but at least in part by extrastatecraft. Easterling: “Avoiding binary dispositions, this field of activity calls for experiments with ongoing forms of leverage, reciprocity, and vigilance to counter the violence immanent in the space of extrastatecraft.” (149) She has some interesting observations on the tactics for this. Some exploit the informational character of third nature, such as gossip, rumor and hoax. She also discusses the possibilities of the gift or of exaggerated compliance (related perhaps to Zizek’s over-identification), and of mimicry and comedy.
“Gossip, rumor and hoax” sound a lot like the carnivalesque reflective-in-action political play Miguel is talking about.
To finish off, here’s a video of the great James C. Scott on the art of not being governed. He talks at length about how peoples have historically fled from statecraft into geographical zones unreachable by power’s infrastructure. And how they deploy their own, state-resistant infrastructure (such as particular kinds of crops) to remain illegible and uncapturable.