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Toward An Integrated Theory of Play


This paper proposes a four-part schema for categorizing and analyzing meaningful acts with respect to their properties of consequentiality and stylization. Defined by these parameters, I suggest that we can analytically distinguish four distinct modes of meaning: play, game, work, and ritual. The salient attributes of each, but particularly the former two, are discussed, as well as the systemic relations of each to the other. Play is conceived primarily in terms of "going meta", a process by which humans exit the explicit systems of meaning in which they operate and open the terms of that system for problematization. Game, conversely, is defined by a reverse operation in which arbitrary constraints are treated as binding and absolute within a bounded sphere. I conclude with an application of this construct to ethnographic material provided by Jean Briggs studies of Inuit pedagogical practices.

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