Mathias Poulsen

Play Activist & Researcher @ Designskolen Kolding

An open invitation

I recently wrote the first post about my upcoming PhD project, “Designing for Playful Democratic Participation”, which I’m extremely excited about. I ended the post with one of my Freire quotes and an invitation to play along:

“For apart from inquiry, apart from the praxis, individuals cannot be truly human. Knowledge emerges only through invention and re-invention, through the restless, impatient, continuing, hopeful inquiry human beings pursue in the world, with the world, and with each other”

Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed

While I am already exceptionally grateful for this opportunity, it will all mean far, far more to me if a host of travel companions will join me.

I know so many brilliant people who have endured the struggles of PhD projects. All experiences are different, of course, but there seems to be a pattern of loneliness, a realization that doing a PhD project is a solitary affair.

Does it really have to be?

I’m aware that this is my project, that it is me who have to do the work, and that there will be periods of hiding away somewhere, striving to meet some quota of words to be written.

That’s a given, I guess, and I’m fine with that.

To an extent.

Only to an extent, because while I accept the premise that this is also an education for me to become a proper researcher, I intend for it to be much more than just that. Let it be a project that becomes meaningful, helpful and valuable to more people, the more the better.

The way I have worked over the past decade was always a delicate balance between being on my own while having an urge to cultivate communities and co-create shared experiences. I was self-employed and as a natural consequence of that, I was often left alone with the final decisions and the final responsibility. At the same time, I was never alone, because I always had friends embarking on these journeys with me. Everything I’ve ever done, including my biggest project, CounterPlay, only ever meant anything when there was a shared ownership and when someone else started building, expanding and sometimes – to my delight – subverting my ideas.

Why should a PhD project be any different? Should it?

I have been very inspired by reading Lynne Segal’s beautiful “Radical Happiness Moments of Collective Joy“:

Acknowledging the sadness of others, doing work we find interesting, sharing friendship and love through good times and bad while facing the tribulations life hurls at us, with help when we need it, seems to me the essence of pursuing any good life. As the world becomes an ever lonelier place, it is sustaining relationships, in whatever form they take, which must become ever more important. An act of defiance, even.

Segal, Lynne. Radical Happiness

I’m always deeply touched by this quote, because it resonates on the deepest, most fundamental level. There is no good life, no meaningful existence without sharing friendship and love.

That obviously goes for a PhD project as well, and I’ll do my best to keep it open: I’ll be the one with the re-sponsibility and I’ll drive the project forward, but always in an ongoing, open dialogue, where you are all more than welcome to play along, to ask questions, and to challenge my always-rough ideas.

I don’t know exactly how, but that’s my modus operandi, right? That’s just part of the fun and something I’ll figure out along the way – with all of you, of course.


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