Questioning Play : What play can tell us about social life book cover
1st Edition

Questioning Play
What play can tell us about social life

ISBN 9780815357261
Published January 3, 2018 by Routledge
284 Pages 10 B/W Illustrations

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Book Description

What is play? Why do we play? What can play teach us about our life as social beings? In this critical investigation into the significance of play, Henning Eichberg argues that through play we can ask questions about the world, others and ourselves. Playing a game and asking a question are two forms of human practice that are fundamentally connected. This book presents a practice-based philosophical approach to understanding play that begins with empirical study, drawing on historical, sociological and anthropological investigations of play in the real world, from contemporary Danish soccer to war games and folk dances. Its ten chapters explore topics such as:

  • play as a practice of search
  • playing, learning and progress
  • the light and dark sides of play
  • playing games, sport and display
  • folk sports, popular games, and social identity
  • play under the conditions of alienation.

From these explorations emerge a phenomenological approach to understanding play and its value in interrogating ourselves and our social worlds.

This book offers a challenging contribution to the interdisciplinary field of the philosophy of play. It will be fascinating reading for any student or researcher interested in social and cultural anthropology, phenomenology, and critical sociology as well as the ethics and philosophy of sport, leisure studies, and the sociology of sport.


Table of Contents

Part I: Cases of movement play 

1. Soccer, crisis, and grace: how round is the Danish ball? 

2. Wandering, winding, wondering: what is happening in the labyrinth? 

Part II: Critical questions to some play-philosophical commonplaces 

3. Colonial and relativistic approaches to the cultural anthropology of play: do we need a definition of play? 

4. Unproductive play? What is productivity? 

5. Play, learning, and progress: but what about the elderly in play? 

6. Innocent play, war games, playing with fire: what about dark play? 

Part III: Play as diversity and question 

7. Play, game, display, sport: how does language differentiate the understanding of concepts? 

8. Play and curiousness: what is the question? 

Part IV: Socio-political dimensions of play 

9. Folk sports, popular games: who is the folk, who are the people? 

10. Play and acceleration: play as an opposite to alienation?

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Henning Eichberg is an historian, cultural sociologist, and philosopher. As Professor Emeritus at the University of Southern Denmark, he works in the Centre for Sports, Health and Civil Society at the Department of Sports Science and Clinical Biomechanics


"Questioning Play is questioning a phenomenon, which is a question itself and as such prone for doing philosophy of interrogation. Eichberg is practicing his own “bottom-up way of philosophy” and succeeds in demonstrating an immense empirical knowledge of play and games put together in a peculiar, differential, “phenomenological” way. Thereby, he leaves a legacy of far-reaching significance for further critical socio-cultural studies, as well as personal imprints of a curious character with much vitality (despite a ailing physical body in later years) and an adventurous courage resembling the zeal and daring of mountain climbers." - Ejgil Jespersen, (2017)