4-2 | Bakhtin’s Carnival and Pretend Role Play


Bakhtin’s Carnival and Pretend Role Play
A Comparison of Social Contexts

Lynn E. Cohen


Twentieth-century Russian literary critic and semiotician Mikhail Bakhtin developed an epistemology that linked carnival, authority, and laughter. Drawing on his work, the author investigates hidden parent-child interactions and children’s discourse in early-childhood play. She argues that Bakhtin’s ideas of carnival and its discourses apply to young children’s pretend play. Early-childhood play, she holds, bridges the gap between authoritative and internally persuasive discourse, much as does the mockery of hierarchical order during the carnival festivals described by Bakhtin. The author uses examples from her study of culturally diverse three- and four-year-old preschoolers to illustrate the similarities between Bakhtin’s carnival and pretend play. She discusses such play in the context of children exploring their identities and negotiating their relationships with the adult world. She suggests that early-childhood educators could benefit by viewing play from a child’s perspective, as something not unlike carnival, rather than by forcing play always to fit more traditional developmental models. Key words: carnival; double-voiced discourse; dramatic play; grotesque realism; humor; Mikhail Bakhtin; pretend play; profanity; role reversal