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Anthropology and Play: The Contours of Playful Experience

Thomas M. Malaby

University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee

December 12, 2008

In what follows I outline the tendencies of twentieth-century anthropological work on play and argue that anthropology, despite its ostensible neglect of the matter, nonetheless has much to offer the current aim of rethinking play. I begin by suggesting that, while the ingredients of a more useful conception of play as a disposition (as opposed to an activity) were always present, and even found expression on occasion, the field as a whole stressed only two viable possibilities: play as non-work, and play as representation. Departing from this pattern prepares us to recognize a better model for thinking about play, one that draws ultimately on the pragmatist philosophers' portrayal of the world as irreducibly contingent. On this view, play becomes an attitude characterized by a readiness to improvise in the face of an ever-changing world that admits of no transcendently ordered account.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 16

Keywords: play, games, anthropology, pragmatism, contingency

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Date posted: December 15, 2008  

Suggested Citation

Malaby, Thomas M., Anthropology and Play: The Contours of Playful Experience (December 12, 2008). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1315542 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1315542

Contact Information

Thomas M. Malaby (Contact Author)
University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee ( email )
Department of Anthropology
P.O. Box 413
Milwaukee, WI 53201
United States
414-229-4175 (Phone)
414-229-5848 (Fax)
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