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Organization in Play

Donncha Kavanagh, Kieran Keohane and Carmen Kuhling

Play is a foundational concept that animates life, work, creativity and organization; and while play is essential, it also dislodges the very meaning of these terms. Organization in Play explores different meanings, usages and understandings of play to present novel and insightful perspectives on capitalism, management, markets, bureaucracy and other organizational phenomena. It traces how early capitalism, with its ethos of austerity and distaste for recreation, has given way to a more ludic version in recent times. At the same time, children – those playmakers supreme – have been, curiously, excluded from scholarly conversation about organization. The authors examine this and other paradoxes using a wide range of sources – from Weber to Sesame Street, from Star Trek to Lacan, from Riverdance to Beckett – that shed light on the capricious boundaries between work and play, rationality and foolishness, sense and nonsense.
Play points us to the liminal and the extraordinary, where meaning is ambiguous at best, and where conventional notions about order and disorder, movement and stasis, centre and periphery are undone and are put into play. It focuses our attention on the silences and absences, the comic and the theatrical, the folly and the madness of markets, organizations, management and work practices in contemporary capitalism. Drawing on a deep engagement with sociological and organizational literatures, the authors show how a play perspective enhances our understanding of the institutions we inhabit and which inhabit us.

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Foreplay -1

Extract

Foreplay Play encompasses a broad sweep of dif ferent phenomena and is highly ambiguous in meaning. An infant plays with a toy; a professional footballer’s work is to play; a corporation’s stock can be ‘in play’; we visit the theatre to see and enjoy a play; and we can play a musical instrument. While these and other meanings problematize any discussion about organization in play, this semantic diversity can also – and consistent with the play theme – bring opportunities. One way of dealing with the ambiguity issue is to define this elusive concept of play, and indeed this has been done by a number of authors. Perhaps the best known attempt is Huizinga’s (1955: 13): Summing up the formal characteristic of play, we might call it a free activity standing quite consciously outside ‘ordinary’ life as being ‘not serious’ but at the same time absorbing the player intensely and utterly. It is an activity connected with no material interest, and no profit can be gained by it. It proceeds within its own proper bounda- ries of time and space according to fixed rules and in an orderly manner. It promotes the formation of social groupings that tend to surround themselves with secrecy and to stress the dif ference from the common world by disguise or other means. However, this captivating characterization of play has been criticized by Caillois (1961) who instead identifies six attributes (free, separate, uncer- tain, unproductive, governed by rules, make-believe) and four forms of play (agon, alea, mimicry,...

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