The City as Spielraum: Play, Aesthetic Experience and Politics in Urban Space

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


The German notion of Spielraum, which can be translated as “room-for-play” or “space for free play”, implies a relationship between rules and free movement within rules which is a defining feature of playing and games in general. Delving into the work of key urban philosophers Walter Benjamin, Guy Debord and the Situationists, Henri Lefebvre and Michel de Certeau, this chapter develops a theoretical framework around the notion of Spielraum and enquires into the connection between the city, play and democratic life. The latter refers to the participation of citizens in the processes that determine individual and collective life and calls both for prioritising inhabitants’ use of space over idealised planning and for counteracting the negative effects of capitalism and other power relations. Following on from this, the last section of the chapter analyses two seminal case studies from architecture and art, the first concerning Aldo van Eyck's Amsterdam playgrounds and the second the work of the artist Francis Alÿs. In different ways, the two explore the link between the political dimension of collective play and aesthetic experiences that can foster the transfiguration of urban space and strengthen democratic life.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationPlay and Democracy
Subtitle of host publicationPhilosophical Perspectives
EditorsAlice Koubová, Petr Urban, Wendy Russell, Malcolm MacLean
Place of PublicationOxon, New York
Number of pages16
ISBN (Electronic)9781003122289
ISBN (Print)9780367641276
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2022
EventPhilosophy at Play Conference – Play and Democracy - Institute of Philosophy of the Czech Academy of Sciences, Prague, Czech Republic
Duration: 24 Jun 201926 Jun 2019


ConferencePhilosophy at Play Conference – Play and Democracy
Country/TerritoryCzech Republic
Internet address


  • Spielraum
  • Play
  • City
  • Democratic life
  • Politics
  • Aesthetics


Dive into the research topics of 'The City as Spielraum: Play, Aesthetic Experience and Politics in Urban Space'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this