Wednesday, April 3, 2013

On privileging play

I have been thinking about the issue of privileging play and how it unfolds in different cultures, if at all. I recall stories of my father as a young child going heading out to the beach with his brothers, searching and foraging for snails or any molluscs that they can find. Dad seemed to enjoy himself immensely, and one might think that this event might be considered play from his perspective. However, the reality of the situation was that while it was fun, the reason why Dad was by the beach was to look for food.

In contrast, when talking to my late grandfather, I do not ever recall of him thinking of such activity as fun (he would scoff I think). This is largely because to Grandpa, actions that had no bearing on the future or others are nothing but indulgence. Don't get me wrong, he was a loving man who had a wry sense of humor. But his life experiences shaped his outlook on life. Life as a fisherman taking care of 8 children by himself (Grandma died when Dad was 6) was challenging, then life under/working with the British, then occupation under the Japanese... suffice to say, life was definitely eventful. No play is death some say ... but I do not believe that. Grandpa's life was fulfilling and he was happy and contented. Play may not be central to his life, but when one is focused on surviving, this is not unsurprising. I guess my point is to simply be careful of claims that we make about the necessity of play, less it tramples on the lives of others. It is an activity that may be definitive in some life courses, but not all. And to say that we all need play to survive sometimes does not feel right.


  1. Excellent point. However, I wonder if there were other aspects of your grandfather's and father's life that would fit into one of the paradigms -- for instance the telling of family stories, or songs and 'cultural' aspects that were more hidden that were passed to them buried in the work and toil and worry. You say your grandpa had a 'wry sense of humor.' Could it be that humor is what helped him keep his balance, was his 'play' and connection to that part of his soul, nurturing his well-being? Also, could it be that this is a story of 'deprivation of play,' something that when we think of human/children's rights on a global scale, and seek to ensure they have 'play' in their lives thta we wish to watch out for? That when children are growing up in devistating times -- surviving on the margins, working with their families as migrant workers, or living in transient housing after fleeing a home from a war, for e.g. -- that it is up to societies to work toward protecting their freedom to play as well as to be educated, receive nutrition, cloting, and medical care? These are the things I ponder...Just because some "survive" without play, do they indeed "thrive"?

  2. With Dad, I can certainly say that he thrived and is fond of telling stories and playing games with us as we were growing up.

    Grandpa though only told his stories when asked - he was not one for sitting around and telling stories. In fact, most of the stories about his life growing up was only known since I did an interview with him when I was doing a family genealogy. Even then, I recall asking why he'd never told us about his experiences during Japanese Occupation. He said that there was no point telling me these stories since they were in the past and there was nothing anyone can do about it now.

    I'm not sure if I'd say that Gramps didn't thrive, he certainly did in a lot of ways. Religion was his center and I think that was what made him thrive in a lot of ways. I think people find different things in their lives that make more sense than others. Gramps was very practical in a lot of ways and while there was a lot of things that did not make sense to him (i.e. his granddaughter studying for two decades), he always said that this was our paths and we had to find it for ourselves. Sorry - for some reason I was thinking of Gramps a lot this week.