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Grant for research on politics and play: ‘In both cases, a world is created’

How do politics and play relate to each other? Six Leiden academics hope to find an answer to that question over the coming years. They have received an NWO grant of 750,000 euros. Professor Sybille Lammes and University Lecturer Bram tell us how they plan to spend the money.

Sybille Lammes

‘When you look at how politics and play work, they have something in common,’ says Lammes. ‘In both cases we are talking about the creation of worlds. We can see this relationship in a lot of films and series, like The Queen’s Gambit.’

Ieven adds: ‘Politics does not represent a world, it creates one. It does so using play. It has always been that way, but over the past twenty years the game element has gained a completely different dynamic due to the rise of social media. Politicians say one thing on Instagram and another in the House of Representatives. This way, they move between different platforms in a very playful way. But don’t get me wrong: this game can be a very serious one, possibly concerning matters of life or death.’

Politics and social media: what about it?

‘With our research, we want to understand the interaction between politics and social media, also to gain insight into the anger that is sometimes created by that interaction,’ says Lammes. In order to reach that goal, her and Ieven work together with four others: Americanist Sara Polak, literary scholar Frans Willem Korsten, philosopher Frank Chouraqui and media scholar Alex Gekker (University of Amsterdam).

Lammes: ‘First, we will use digital tools to search platforms in order to create an archive. After that, we will use more qualitative humanities methods to analyse the data we have found. Sara Polak will look at tweets by Donald Trump for example, while Bram will focus on Dutch politics.’

Bram Ieven

Collaboration as a breeding ground for research

All six academics participated in the creation of the proposal. ‘As a professor I think it’s a shame that there are so few opportunities for younger employees to participate in a collaborative project starting at the conceptualisation,’ says Lammes. ‘You need more than just good ideas for good research, such as people who want to share their knowledge. It was a conscious choice to make the start-up period a long one, so that we could properly think about what we wanted and what we shared. That’s why we already have a strong team that is good at working together. That is a huge advantage.’

Ieven: ‘Sybille has really contributed to that cohesion. Since her arrival four years ago (she has been LUCAS’ academic director since 2019, ed.) all researchers who concern themselves with play have somehow started operating more as a team. That interdisciplinary element produces a hopefully unique contribution to knowledge.’

Workshops and podcasts

The emphasize on collaboration and connection is also visible in the way in which the results of the research are to be presented. ‘We don’t want to aim at just A-journals,’ says Lammes, ‘but we also want to create a podcast, to explore the possibilities of streaming and to organise workshops with politicians, which will hopefully start a debate that can be widely supported and understood.’ 

Ieven: ‘We don’t yet know what those workshops will look like exactly, but the ethical component will be very important. How do you gain insight into play, but also: what does it mean to deal with it responsibly? That reflection doesn’t always occur on a political level, but might be very relevant. That is what we want to respond to with our research. The question is thus not: how can we get rid of play in politics?, but: how can we deal with it responsibly?

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