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The public playground paradox: ‘child’s joy’ or heterotopia of fear?

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Alkistis Pitsikali, Professor Rosie ParnellORCiD



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY 4.0).


© 2019, © 2019 The Author(s). Published by Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.Literature depicts children of the Global North withdrawing from public space to ‘acceptable islands’. Driven by fears both of and for children, the public playground–one such island–provides clear-cut distinctions between childhood and adulthood. Extending this argument, this paper takes the original approach of theoretically framing the playground as a heterotopia of deviance, examining–for the first time–three Greek public playground sites in relation to adjacent public space. Drawing on an ethnographic study in Athens, findings show fear to underpin surveillance, control and playground boundary porosity. Normative classification as ‘children’s space’ discourages adult engagement. However, in a novel and significant finding, a paradoxical phenomenon sees the playground’s presence simultaneously legitimizing playful behaviour in adjacent public space for children and adults. Extended playground play creates alternate orderings and negotiates norms and hierarchies, suggesting significant wider potential to reconceptualise playground-urban design for an intergenerational public realm.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Pitsikali A, Parnell R

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Children's Geographies

Year: 2019

Volume: 17

Issue: 6

Pages: 719-731

Online publication date: 19/04/2019

Acceptance date: 30/03/2019

Date deposited: 12/12/2019

ISSN (print): 1473-3285

ISSN (electronic): 1473-3277

Publisher: Routledge


DOI: 10.1080/14733285.2019.1605046


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