Mathias Poulsen

Play Activist & Researcher @ Designskolen Kolding

After the PhD Defence


These days, after my defence-not-a-defence on April 9th, I’m exhausted, hardly hanging together, but also deeply, profoundly grateful.

Grateful for the opportunity to pursue this wild, unpredictable passion project; grateful for the generous support along the way; grateful for the careful reading by the committee, and not least grateful for all the incredible people who showed up to support, celebrate and play.


In a way, the whole thing peaked before it even began. As I came back from lunch, a bunch of people had already started playing in the small junk playground we had created, and it was *exactly* the kind of situation I had hoped for, lively energies pulsating through the room. A perfect start!

During my presentation, I, rather inelegantly, snuck in a line from REM I had in my head, ‘I’m pushing an elephant up the stairs’, because sometimes, that’s what this whole thing has felt like. At other times, many other times, it was different, a fantastic adventure, and an experience that has changed me.

There is no way, no words, for me to describe the experience of finally reaching the end of this particularly transformative journey. I have been fortunate enough to have had some beautiful, joyful moments in my work, but I have a feeling that yesterday was perhaps the single most important and moving day of my professional life.

The committee, loving, caring people as they are, brought an abundance of important, difficult questions that I responded to as best I could. I rarely felt like I succeeded, but as I wrote in my thesis:

‘I would like to say, triumphantly, that I have succeeded, but I have not, I could not. At least not in any big or conclusive manner. I want to embrace that sentiment and suggest there is ample rewards to be found in between those two poles, between not-quite-succeeding and not-quite-failing’

Luckily, it didn’t feel like a defence at all, but more like a lively conversation with kind, passionate people who merely wanted to understand my work and my intentions better.

It is unfair to mention any one question above the others, but when Stacy Holman Jones recruited our friend Pony to deliver her last question in the words of Mary Oliver I was equal parts puzzled and delighted:

‘Tell me, what is it you plan to do

with your one wild and precious life?’

Mary Oliver – ‘The Summer Day’

How could I ever answer that question? Not yesterday, not today, not tomorrow. I could only say that my project has set me on course I must follow far into the future. I cannot go back. I must find ways of continuing my journey, letting the work live on, while seeking to cultivate communities and the magical sense of collective joy.

There is much more to say, much more for us to talk about, but as I said at the end:

‘If it seems like I don’t quite know how to stop, then that’s because there is so much more to say. This is not the end, neither of my project nor of our conversations, we are already somewhere in the thick of it.’

Let’s continue talking, thinking, listening, sensing, hoping, dreaming, and playing together.


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