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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 3 - Playful Representations of Work -61


Chapter 3 Playful Representations of Work Chapter 2 highlighted the significance of metaphors, allegories and similes – as well as poetic, mythic and religious language – in transcending what, in Kant’s words, were the limits to both pure and practical reason. We argued for the importance of ‘minding the gap’ in children’s culture and the need to preserve this ‘little piece of the real’ that resists symbolization, or is beyond representation, language and reason. In this regard, children’s television programmes (such as The Muppets and children’s literature such as the Dr Seuss books) are significant in terms of their ability to ‘mind the gap’; the gap here symbolizing the ‘lack’ (Lacan) between self and other, or Derrida’s concept of dif férance. This ‘gap’ is important because it is this dangerous, ambivalent and unmanageable aspect of children’s fantasy space that is very much under threat in the contemporary era of corporatization, rationalization and commodification of children’s culture. In this chapter we apply a similar argument, examining science fiction, in particular Star Trek, in terms of how the narratives, images and metaphors it produces can enable us to play with organizational and cultural theory, and vice versa. For us, Star Trek provides a potent set of visual images, narra- tives and metaphors through which we can make sense of both theory and practice, and it also provides an ideal opportunity to work and play with the practices of theorizing and the f luid boundaries between organization theory, management studies and cultural studies. It...

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