Volume 7, Number 3
Thomas S. Henricks is the J. Earl Danieley Professor of Sociology and Distinguished University Professor at Elon University. Since receiving his doctorate in sociology at the University of Chicago, Henricks has investigated the sociology of sports from the fandom of modern American professional wrestling to the relationship between sports and social stratification in preindustrial England. Currently his interests include social theory, modernization and change, popular culture, race and ethnic relations, and, especially, the physiological, environmental, social, cultural, and psychological relationships that shape behavior and experience in sports and play. His Play and the Human Condition appeared in 2015. His other books include Disputed Pleasures: Sport and Society in Preindustrial England; Play Reconsidered: Sociological Perspectives on Human Pleasure; and Selves, Societies, and Emotions: Understanding the Pathways of Experience. Henricks also writes a blog “The Pathways of Experience” for Psychology Today, focusing on the nature of human play and other main avenues of human expression: work, ritual, and the civic spirit of celebration he calls communitas. In this interview, Henricks discusses the study of play and notes how play gives both scholars and players a way of understanding human potential individually, in small social circles, and in larger communities. Key words: communitas; leisure as play; play and emotions; play scholars; play studies; ritual; social experience; sport and play; work
The author defines play as something beyond culture and its quotidian practices, discussing play as an embodied, affective experience that cannot be fully conveyed using conventional language. She looks at notions of play in the political philosophy and cultural criticism of the late-modern thinkers of late-capitalist society and notes that, although they have studied play extensively and theorized about it as a psychological, sociological, and anthropological phenomenon, they do not think play transcends human activity and culture. This means, she argues, that political theory and play studies have lost a highly productive way of considering play. To rectify this loss, the author conducts a selective survey of play scholars, including Johan Huizinga, Thomas S. Henricks, and Mihai I. Spariosu, to help her make philosophical claims about play as a basic force, one which drives language to adapt to feelings, sensations, and experiences that language currently fails to represent adequately. She argues that a more extensive exploration of this idea might enable many popular theories of culture and politics to deal more honestly with resistance, social change, and revolution. In short, she argues for a theory of play as the force that allows us to imagine alternatives to current cultural verities. Key words: democracy and capitalism; language and power; late modernity; mysticism; philosophy of play; play theory; sociology of play
Based on a four-month experimental study of preschool children’s play with creative-construction and social-fantasy toys, the author examines the influence of both types of toys on the play of preschool children. Her comparative analysis considers the impact of transformative play on the development of imagination during play activities and explores ways to support children’s playful initiatives. She argues that, by transgressing play scenarios, children often develop a more playful attitude. Toys, imagination, and the setting are important factors in the play children initiate, and transgressing the immediate play scenario affects each of these factors. Key words: creative construction; social fantasy; negotiation in play; transgression and childhood development
The past decade has seen an increase in research documenting the benefits of children learning through play. However, the amount of play in American kindergarten classes remains on a steady decline. This article compares the findings from a netnographic study of seventy-eight kindergarten teachers’ message board discussions about play in kindergarten with those of more traditional studies and finds the teachers’ discussions in broad agreement with past research. The results further demonstrate that kindergarten teachers feel pressures from other teachers, principals, and school policies to focus on academic goals and that these pressures lead them to limit play. The author argues for further research to develop effective strategies to help teachers include play in kindergartens rather than merely increasing teacher awareness of the benefits of play. She details how a netnographic approach can complement traditional methods for understanding how teachers treat play in their classrooms. Key words: kindergarten; netnography; No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB); play-based teaching; Social Ecological Theory (SET)
The authors argue that childhood played a special role in the cultural-historical theory of human culture and biosocial development made famous by Soviet psychologist Lev S. Vygotsky and his circle. They discuss how this school of thought has, in turn, influenced contemporary play studies. Vygotsky used early childhood to test and refine his basic principles. He considered the make-believe play of preschoolers and kindergartners the means by which they overcame the impulsiveness of toddlers to develop the intentional behavior essential to higher mental functions. The authors explore the theory of play developed by Vygotsky’s colleague Daniel Elkonin based on these basic principles, as well as the implications for play in the work of such Vygotskians as Alexei Leontiv, Alexander Luria, and others, and how their work has been extended by more recent research. The authors also discuss the role of play in creating the Vygotsky school’s “zone of proximal development.” Like these researchers, old and new, the authors point to the need to teach young children how to play, but they caution teachers to allow play to remain a childhood activity instead of making it a lesson plan. Key words: childhood development; cultural-historical psychology; Lev S. Vygotsky; preschool play; zone of proximal development
Michal Daliot-Bul’s monograph License to Play provides an engaging interdisciplinary analysis of both play and Japanese youth culture, and in this ialectical treatment, she uncovers transformations and emergent practices in contemporary Japanese culture. She includes an introduction that offers a brief synthesis of play theory, six chapters analyzing play in Japan specifically, a short epilogue, and a wealth of endnotes.
Following in the tradition of Symbolic Interaction, Perinbanayagam’s new book, Varieties of Gaming Experience, blends an analysis of the historical nature of games with their significance for religious mythology as well as secular identities. Divided into chapters titled, “The Pragmatics of Games,” “Champions and Renouncers,” “The Play of Emotions,” “Dramas of Identity,” “A Logos in the Text,” and “The Endgame,” this book works to expand our definition of gaming from one focused on a simple textual reading to one incorporating a historical understanding of religious tradition and its impact on players’ game experiences.
In this anthology, educational researchers, game theorists, and learning-assessment experts reflect on the technological and cultural changes shaping higher education and how games and social media are contributing to this evolution. The volume affords a thorough consideration of the benefits, timing, challenges, and concerns that accompany this massive transformation in traditional institutions.
Playing with Religion in Digital Games promises to explore digital gaming “as a field filled with potential for new insights into the place, presentation, and impact of religion within popular culture,” and makes the bold claim that games “reflect and shape contemporary religiosity” (p. 2). In this anthology, the essays are truly interdisciplinary: the authors hail from the worlds of journalism, game design, computer science, media studies, religious studies, and history. This wide range of disciplines creates a somewhat uneven collection of interest, most likely, to an academic audience. The essays make up three sections entitled “Explorations in Religiously Themed Games,” “Religion in Mainstream Games,” and “Gaming as Implicit Religion.” Of the three, the second is perhaps the most useful for its potential readers, but only the last section shows a clear awareness of the problems inherent in making claims about the meaning of religion in digital games.
Literary Gaming by Astrid Ensslin steps over the tired question of whether video games are art. Instead, it sketches the contours of a specific type of digital game play that places the artistic use of language in the foreground. Ensslin offers a systematic methodology for assessing so-called literary games, which she demonstrates through insightful and nuanced close readings of several exemplary artifacts.
In the acknowledgments of Dottie Higgins-Klein’s Mindfulness-Based Play-Family Therapy, the author mentions that her book, “. . . has taken a lifetime to develop and 12 years to write”(p. xv). From the first chapter on child development and interpersonal neurobiology to subsequent chapters on intake, stages of mindfulness based family-play therapy, parent education, and a final rich and thorough case study, Higgins-Klein aptly communicates her passion for and knowledge of working with families and children in play therapy. Her depth of thinking and style of writing is accessible to both students and seasoned practitioners interested in helping those burdened by traumatic experiences.
When Play Isn’t Fun: Helping Children Resolve Play Conflicts and When Play Isn’t Easy: Helping Children Enter and Sustain Play by Sandra Heidemann and Deborah Hewitt are companion workbooks for their book Play: The Pathway from Theory to Practice (2009). Both workbooks begin with a self-assessment relating to the workbook’s respective emphases. Both highlight numerous quotes from the authors’ family, friends, and colleagues collected from a play survey. They also include “Time to Reflect” boxes on the topics discussed in each chapter, a particular strength of the workbooks. Given the informal style of the writing, the content of each workbook, and the presentation of the material, I believe the most appropriate audience for these workbooks would be early-childhood educators and care givers in training. People seeking information or a good read about play as pleasurable self-directed experiences without extrinsic controls would most likely be disappointed with these reads. They are intervention texts.
Elena Bodrova is Director for Research and Development at Tools of the Mind and a
Research Fellow at the National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers University.
She began her work on Vygotsky in her native Russia, and her work has appeared
widely in journals and essay collections. Deborah J. Leong is Executive Director at
Tools of the Mind and Professor Emerita of Psychology at Metropolitan State College
of Denver. She is also a Research Fellow at the National Institute for Early Education
Research. Bodrova and Leong codeveloped the Tools of Mind curriculum and coauthored,
among other works, Tools of the Mind: The Vygotskian Approach to Early Childhood
Education, Basics of Assessment.
Meghan Lynch is a doctoral candidate in the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the
University of Toronto. Her research on play-based education programs and netnographic
methodology has appeared in, among others, Childhood Education Journal, Contemporary
Issues in Early Childhood, Early Childhood Development and Care, Health Education
Journal, Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, Journal of Research in Childhood
Education, and Pediatric Nursing.
Signe Juhl Møller is a doctoral fellow and lecturer in the Department of Developmental
Psychology at the University of Copenhagen, where her thesis deals with creative imagination
in play. She has contributed articles to Child Development, Journal of International
Research in Early Childhood Education, and Journal of Playwork Practice.
Rachel Shields is a doctoral student in the Department of English and Cultural Studies
at McMaster University. Her research interests include socio-cultural studies of science
and technology and utopianism in literature and politics.