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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 7 - Play and Madness in the Market -161


Chapter 7 Play and Madness in the Market Play is a liminal phenomenon, a threshold experience between the true and the false, between the real and the imaginary. In a game of cops-and-robbers, a child is at once a robber and not a robber; in a playfight a bite is a bite and not a bite. In play’s liminal world, both belief (in the ‘real’ world) and disbelief (in the ‘illusionary’ world) are problematized, allowing the free play of possible realities and identities. This liminal aspect of play makes it delightful, fun- filled and experimental, but also a potentially dangerous and deviant activity (which of course is why parents intervene in children’s play ‘before someone gets hurt’). Anthropologists, such as Turner (1969, 1982), have shown how societies institutionalize play to make space and time available for the expres- sion of behaviours that are normally discouraged, repressed or forbidden. Thus, while bluf fing may be socially unacceptable, it is valorized and encour- aged in card games such as Poker or Cheat, and indeed in business (Carr, 1968). Thus, play as liminality provides a context where social conventions and rules are temporarily suspended, and normally deviant behaviours may be licensed, even encouraged, in a betwixt-and-between space. As Turner puts it, ‘in liminality people “play” with the elements of the familiar and defamil- iarize them. Novelty emerges from unprecedented combinations of familiar elements’ (Turner, 1974: 60). In so far as play engages with ends, limits and boundaries – between the real and imaginary, between...

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