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Monday 28 March 2011

The Work of Play

Play is becoming an overused phrase in philosophy and, indeed, throughout the humanities. Its latent ambiguity allows it to be 'put to use' in a variety of explanatory mediums. For example; it is taken as the main goal of the philosopher Wittgenstein, as the aim of modernist art, as an explanation that mediates between subjectivity and objectivity, and so forth. Now, while I might not object to the outcomes of play used in each of these areas, I do find it more than a little disconcerting that play can be such a conceptual multi-tool. Indeed, that it can apparently carry such a heavy weight of theoretical responsibility seems in opposition to the constitutional description of play as a concept.

One should always pay attention to the descriptive language one uses especially when a particular phrase seems to be an especially handy 'catch-all'. Perhaps the worry isn't there and we are really talking about play simply as an analogy for a better description which does not yet exist, i.e. it's the best word we currently have for capturing a certain dispositional feel that is trying to be (indirectly) communicated.