- Paperback: 288 pages
- Publisher: Harvard University Press; Revised ed. edition (May 15, 2001)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0674005813
- ISBN-13: 978-0674005815
- Product Dimensions: 5.9 x 0.7 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 14.1 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 8 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #413,462 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Ambiguity of Play Revised ed. Edition
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Brian Sutton-Smith presents a lively, contemplative and challenging theoretical discussion of the ‘category of diverse learnings’…that make up play… Sutton-Smith presents a variety of play dimensions that cause disturbance of theoretical certainty and bring together hitherto unconnected ideas on play in the tradition of creativity. The book explores its chosen rhetorics in a scholarly and yet undeniably accessible way. The material included is multi-faceted and multi-layered, drawing on theories across the centuries and presenting a case for a new look at play. Play is taken beyond the rhetoric of progress, leaving the reader alive and alert to the possibilities of play that transcend generations and cultures. (Jill Williams British Journal of Educational Studies)
This book provides a comprehensive analysis of extant theory and research on the subject of play in children and adults in a variety of cultural contexts with relevant comparisons to play in nonhuman species. The work is thorough and well referenced and provides new insights on a classic topic in children’s social development. The primary issue addressed is the ambiguous nature of play. Although we have a sense of what constitutes play, when asked to define it, explain its function, or even identify players, its paradoxical nature becomes apparent―it is and is not what it appears to be. Does and does not have a function, is and is not the purview of children. (Child Development Abstracts & Bibliography)
A wonderful and important book. Its strength is its depth and its breadth. Play is discussed in incredibly close detail, and from diverse perspectives: from anthropology to zoology, to literary criticism and biology. This work represents the one most thorough discussion of play that we have. (Anthony Pellegrini, University of Georgia)
A stunning book and a superbly scholarly undertaking which will make it impossible to discuss play in the simplistic terms we are accustomed to. (Greta Fein, University of Maryland at College Park)
The Ambiguity of Play is an extremely important contribution to theoretical discussions about play not only in the United States but around the world. The book provides a platform for further theoretical reflection, interdisciplinary dialogue, and for critical examination of long-held beliefs about child development and education. Sutton-Smith succeeds at maintaining a playful tone throughout, and lives up in his own rhetoric to the topic at hand. (Petra Hesse, Wheelock College)
About the Author
Brian Sutton-Smith was Professor of Education, Emeritus, at the University of Pennsylvania.
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Let me be Frank. This is a textbook. It reads like a textbook. It contains technical terminology, schema and classifications, definitions, references and all the usual academic tools. Some parts require serious brainpower to appreciate. The list of primary and secondary sources is massive and most impressive.
But it’s more than a mere textbook, much more. Here’s what it does for you.
It gathers together all previous theories, theorists and key works by contributors to the field of play studies. It gathers them from the widest range of disciplines possible. Then it categorises them according to seven major meta-themes or “rhetorics” that nicely bundle together all these disparate elements in such a way as to expose their core meanings and spread them over a timeline from ancient to modern. And then, for each of the seven, it picks out the main adherents, interacts with them in a lively and insightful discussion, and summarises the rest.
The work does have a weakness, but it is not the fault of SS. The Index is inadequate to the task of serving such a key text. It only picks out major interactions with a particular author and excludes all minor mentions. This infuriates me. For example, in the chapter on “the rhetoric of self” I was excited that SS focuses attention on the ‘flow’ theory of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi but there are several places where he (ps. 200, 207) and his theory (67, 81, 174, 188, 192, 195, 207) are mentioned in the text but not in the Index. Same with Nietzsche (57, 60, 132, 151, 190-1, 220). Poor Maslow (184) and Carse (207) don’t get included at all. Grrr!
If the content does have a weakness, then it might be the fact that SS hardly touches on one of the main expressions of play in our world: humour. In fact, there is an entire theory of humour that centres on the notion that humour is essentially a form of play (propounded by thinkers are diverse as Thomas Aquinas, Max Eastman and John Morreall) . Beyond mentioning humour once (208), comedians once (211), and jokes in passing (56, 210), SS does not mention humour or comedy with any depth at all.
A word about the strange title is in order. Sutton-Smith regards play as “ambiguous” for several reasons. Play cannot be captured in one definition or perspective. That why he needs his seven “rhetorics” to cope with all the material. He also believes that play exists in diverse forms and experiences, with diverse players, agencies and scenarios, studied under diverse scholarship. But more than this, unlike some authors (e.g. Stuart Brown), SS allows for valid aspects to play that others might find disturbing. Some scholars (e.g. Schechner) call this “dark play”; SS labels it “cruel play” (p. 56).
I first came across the name of Brian Sutton-Smith when reading him quoted in other books. “The opposite of play isn’t work. It’s depression.” I tried in vain to source this quote in the internet. Finally, after reading this book, I had my reward of a eureka moment. Actually, the usual quote isn’t a full or accurate rendition of what Sutton-Smith says. But it does capture the heart of the matter. Turn to page 198 for the real deal.
Anyone working with kids should learn to evaluate their own work and position within the field. This book will help you do that.
Mind you if you don't regularly learn from working with children, you are definetly doing something wrong!