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The Ambiguity of Play


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Table of Contents

Preface Acknowledgments Play and Ambiguity Rhetorics of Animal Progress Rhetorics of Child Play Rhetorics of Fate Rhetorics of Power Rhetorics of Identity Child Power and Identity Rhetorics of the Imaginary Child Phantasmagoria Rhetorics of Self Rhetorics of Frivolity Conclusion Bibliography Index

Promotional Information

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.


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

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