Dear Arthur…

Arthur Batram kindly commented on my last piece, ‘On Evidence. On the Political’. (See the comments section after that article)  For reasons that I hope will become clear if you care to read on, I thought that his piece too rich simply to leave a short comment-type reply.  So, in a scatter-gun sort of way, I’ve tried to respond to his musings. 

But if you’re looking for sustained argument on one topic in what follows, turn away now, you will not find it here.


Thank you for what Word Press defines as a ‘comment’ (this on my piece  ‘On Evidence. On the Political’).

It is in fact not a ‘comment’, so much as a stream of consciousness laced with your customary erudition, tangential references, entertaining allusions, bewildering double-backs leading to what one assumed (hoped?) was the last – that is, final –  thought  only to find oneself in yet another wild flower meadow sown by your mind’s emissions.


For those readers who get to, say, word 505 of your ‘comment’, only to despair that there are another 1,090 to go (but who’s counting?) – read on!  Patience can – mostly – be rewarded, certainly if one takes a look at the links and references. So thank you for the link to Professor of Theology James P Carse.  Looks like  a rich theme to explore, not least because he puts training in its place:

To be prepared against surprise is to be trained.  To be prepared for surprise is to be educated. Education discovers an increasing richness in the past, because it sees what is unfinished there. Training regards the past as finished and the future as to be finished. Education leads to a continuing self-discovery; training leads to a final definition. Training repeats a completed past in the future. Education continues an unfinished past into the future (This from a paper about his work )

I think I have it right – no doubt you’ll correct me if required – when I say that your comments were a good deal to do with politics; in particular, the qualities – attitudes of mind – required to grapple with and oppose established configurations of power.

And that’s why you stroked my vanity in commending my suggestion that it is ‘…self-imposed constraints that limit our capacity to act’,  as I welcome you reminding us that it is ‘better to ask for forgiveness than permission’ – the provenance of that quote to be a matter for others to fret about.

Play Wales

Interesting, in the context above,  that the bewildering and irrational Welsh Government  decision not to fund Play Wales has evoked what surely counts as a ‘political’ response.

The wider issues the Welsh Government’s decision highlight and which we have both touched upon include: counter-productive procurement processes; the growth of ‘chari-businesses’ (acting not dissimilarly to the SERCOs, G4Ss and CAPITAs  of the outsourcing world – skilled in particular in the processes of procurement not necessarily in substantive action); the marketisation of the voluntary sector; assaults on the independence of the voluntary sector; and, as a consequence of all the above, the shrinking of political space within which civil society can operate – the depoliticisation of the political.

But more on this once the future health and welfare of Play Wales is assured.   The decision not to fund Play Wales properly cannot be allowed to stand.  As most readers probably know, Play Wales is asking for explicit expressions of support  –


You raise the question of professionalism in particular in respect of some playworkers seeking to be anointed as professionals.  In more general terms, if I read you right, you see the quest for professional status here as part of a more general depolitisation of the political – a need to be validated, to be accepted, to become part of an Establishment

Here I want to urge you to pursue on your own blog – you need the space to make the argument – the view that playworkers ‘are better described as craft people’.  I think there is much in this and, though you say you have ‘ranted’ about this in a previous blog, my urging is that you dispense with the ranting and aim your cannon precisely.  There is an argument to be made here, and it needs to be heard.

For myself, I can’t help detecting a sense of beleaguered exceptionalism afflicting aspects of playworkers’ debates about their status   There are of course exceptional playworkers, but the playwork ‘craft’, which is simply a practice born out of a certain worldview that comes to life in specific contexts in respect of children (and teenagers?), is otherwise not quite as exceptional as it is sometimes said to be.   Rather, playwork is a member of a wider, diverse, feisty and noble family that shares a visceral, ethical and rational commitment to the autonomy, agency and freedom of the individual – along with a fierce commitment to creating ‘worlds’ where these qualities may flourish.  How this links to the need to be a seen as a professional, I am unsure.

It occurs to me that ‘craft’ and ‘professional’ are not mutually exclusive concepts.  Thus one can have a barrister – member of the legal profession – practicing the craft of cross-examination, well or badly.

Is this nearer the point: a profession is the marshalling and exercise of power, in particular to the advantage of the self-designated professionals who, by and large, determine for themselves who may achieve that status. Professionals police their own borders, and maintain discipline within their own ranks (some of this supported or reinforced legislatively).  Shaw’s well-known and oft repeated dictum ‘All professions are conspiracies against the layman’ has salience here.   There is, for example, no reason to assume that all members of the legal profession share a commitment to the advancement of justice.

Is it simply that craft’ is a practice, and ‘profession’ a status, though again the distinction is not hard and fast for we speak of ‘acting professionally’, which denotes a  stance or attitude to work and not simply a mark of status.

As is by now almost certainly clear, I see no necessary connection between achieving professional status and creating benefit for the recipients of professional services.

Back to the politics

Those aspects of life which we hold most dear, in this context Freedom and the value of the Here and Now – play being one expression of this – is an intensely political matter requiring thought and action beyond the limited goal of persuading conventional politicians to add this or that to their election manifestos.

Your ‘comments’ to my article seem to suggest that the way we go about things, the way change is sought, and the actual changes  being sought, have become forms of self-entrapment – that we are busy painting a house the foundations of which should not be allowed to stand, that must be impelled to crumble.   This suggests that we are in need of a political analysis that takes us beyond the limitations inherent in an Establishment’s scope for action (here I refer back to my piece).  Linked to this are questions as to the degree an Establishment is linked to and influenced by what I’ll call its hinterland.

These and other questions – all of a political hue – deserve more attention. I hope to have another  bash at them shortly.

Thanks, Arthur, for giving me the occasion to travel a little around your diverse musings. I look forward to more of them coming my way.

Best wishes


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