The interdisciplinary project Making Sense Of: Play seeks to examine the various meanings of “play”, elucidate their inter-relationships and trace the origins of the patterns of play and their place in the human condition. Variations in cultural conditions naturally impact on play, its meanings and its forms, as do, often in a different way, economic inequalities both within and between different cultures. Our deliberations will necessarily takes this into account. In many languages, as in English, throughout its etymological history “play” has been closely connected to the world of children and make believe. Academic study of play, too, deals predominantly with various aspects of children’s play and its importance in development. There is, in fact, a lack of balance between the study of play in relation to children and childhood on one hand, and “play” more generally, as outlined above, on the other. For this reason our project explicitly emphasizes the comparatively under-explored aspects of play in linguistic, literary, philosophical, historical, psychological and evolutionary frames of reference.

Possible Themes and Topics:

  • its evolutionary significance: Viewed from biological and paleoanthropoligical standpoint, how has play factored into the evolution of Homo Sapiens?
  • in politics: is politics a game? What are the “rules” and how can they be transgressed?
  • in literature and the arts: How do the arts function as play in our culture? Are artists game-masters? Are some forms of art especially “playful?” How is “the play the thing”- to quote Shakespeare? What should we make of artistic works in which “dark play” is featured?
  • The Embodiment of Play: When is moving playful? In dance? In physical games? How does the enactment of body movements influence physical and emotional behaviour?
  • historical and cultural models of play: Does “play” mean and function differently in different cultures and societies? What can we learn by exploring other cultures’ models of play? Has the concept and practice of play evolved differently for adults and children?
  • in philosophy: How does play function in the divide between truth and appearance? Do philosophers “play” with ideas? How can we understand play beyond the limits of specific disciplinary boundaries? Why does play continue to be a “slippery concept”?
  • as a psychological issue: Do we need to play as a function of mental health and well being? Are there healthy and non-healthy forms of play? Play/Work/Contemplation: does Aristotle’s analysis of the good life serve contemporary conditions?
  • in language and linguistics: what does it mean to” play with language?” Are metaphors linguistic play? How is ‘deconstruction’ a form of playing with language?
  • as humour: How do jokes and other forms of humor operate as play? When might jokes and humor be “anti-play?”
  • play of perception: How do our senses afford us opportunities to play? Is the artistic look a form of play? Can sounds, tastes, colors invite us to playfully engage in the world?
  • play and the life-course: How does play figure into existential crisis (illness, death), love, hatred, and power? Does play serve as special form of communication? Can play be a form of addiction or can it be used to address addictive behaviour? What forms does play take in adult lives and in the lives of the elderly?
  • animal play: What does play mean in the animal world? Do animals play? Need to play? Can we play with animals in the sense that we are engaging in their own forms of play? Animal play has been an important tool in understanding how humans play. Given this, how are human and animal play different and similar?
  • play and children: What role do toys serve in a child’s life? How does play function in the classroom? How do children play? What role does contact with the natural world play in child’s play?
  • play and technology: How has technology changed and expanded/or limited how we play in our respective cultures?
  • dark and dangerous play: Where does play veer from “playful” to dangerous and destructive? How does the example of “war as play” provide a paradigm of exploring the complicated nature of play? How can we understand “dark play” within the classic paradigm in which play is seen as predominantly “fun”?
  • In order to support and encourage inter-disciplinarity engagement, it is our intention to create the possibility of starting dialogues between the parallel events running during this conference. Delegates are welcome to attend up to two sessions in each of the concurrent conferences. We also propose to produce cross-over sessions between these groups – and we welcome proposals which deal with the relationship between Making Sense of: Dying and Death, Strangers, Aliens and Foreigners and Making Sense of: Play.