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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 6 - Playing the Fool: The University as Fool -143


Chapter 6 Playing the Fool: The University as Fool The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool. — William Shakespeare (1564–1616), As You Like It This chapter introduces the Fool1 – a ludic spirit whose primary modus operandi is play – as a novel and insightful metaphor for understanding the changing nature of the University. Our central argument is that the University, over its history, has always been a ‘Foolish institution’ embed- ded in a close relationship with various ‘Sovereign’ institutions, akin to the fool’s role in the medieval royal court. We begin by assuming that identity is an emergent property in a network of relationships, which implies that the idea of the University is perhaps best understood through analysing its relationship with other institutions over time. The metaphor of the Fool emerged from a close analysis of the history of the university, and was then assessed using Cornelissen’s (2006) eight ‘optimality principles of meta- phorical imagination’. The first part of the chapter describes the evolution of the relationships, before proceeding to explore other ‘foolish’ aspects of the contemporary university. The Fool is full of ambiguity and paradox. So it is with the University, with its foolish nature constituting a source of dynamism for other institutions (even though this creates a profound insecurity within itself ). The chapter proceeds to explore the notion of the Fool as normative narrator, sorter and playmaker, which provides a vital 1 We capitalise the word Fool (and related...

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