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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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Chapter 1 - Introduction: Playing with Play -9


Chapter 1 Introduction: Playing with Play Since the Industrial Revolution, play has been split apart from work, with the latter seen as virtuous and the former as wasteful. This dichotomy is important to any understanding of play, which is why we begin our book on organization and play with a brief discussion on the concept of work, how it has changed over time and how the work/non-work boundary is at play in contemporary organizational practice. We then turn to the con- cept of play, focusing on important contributions where play is considered primordial. The ‘play literature’ (Huizinga, Sutton-Smith, Caillois) is an obvious starting point, but we also highlight instances where play is given a primordial role in sociology (especially by the symbolic interactionists) and in philosophy. We then focus on how the field of organization studies has engaged, or not engaged, with the concept of play. Playing with Work: A Brief History of the Idea of Work Over history, attitudes to work and its opposites, such as idleness and play, have changed and cycled. Such changes were evident even in ancient Greece: for instance, in Homer’s Odyssey (written around 900 BC) the hero works at house-building, but by the Golden Age (450–400 BC) Greek citizens perceived physical labour as demeaning and servile. We can interpret this from the writings of Plato and Aristotle, who both propound the idea that the fully human life is the life of the thinker, in contrast to a life based on physical labour, which...

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