The Antipathies of Play

Brian Sutton-Smith

in The Oxford Handbook of the Development of Play

Published in print December 2010 | ISBN: 9780195393002
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Library of Psychology

 The Antipathies of Play

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This paper argues that history has treated play as a special kind of antipathetic existential duality, characterized often by the notion that play contains both good (fun) and bad (waste of time) elements. So widespread are these antipathetical play dualities in play theories that there is reason to think of all types of play as basically territories for existential affective ambiguities, an approach developed in my prior book The Ambiguity of Play (1997). There it is contended that these play dualities (from Kant to Goffman) are functional transcendents beyond the “work ethic” using formulae as positive as those of Huizinga (1944) or as negative as those of Freud (1938). The hypothesis here, therefore, is that these play dualisms, although they are inherently pleasurable, also have an adaptive function mediated primarily by the underlying character of the primary versus secondary emotions in all forms of play as this is inferred from the biology of Damasio (1994, 1999, 2030) and the neurology of Fredrickson (1998). In our present account play is seen to balance the antipathetical negative emotional effects of sadness, shock, fear, anger, disgust, and apathy, by regulation through the positive secondary emotions: of pride, empathy, embarrassment, guilt, and shame, all of which become sociological and biological representations underlying the various basic kinds of existential evolutionary struggles for survival presented in this article. It will be shown that this duality of the emotions and their ludic management become the mediators for evolutionary struggles and presumably underlie the issues of reproduction, social power, and territoriality as in Darwin’s evolutionary interpretations (1872).

Keywords: play; history; emotion; adaptation

Article.  4548 words. 

Subjects: Psychology ; Developmental Psychology

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