Can play be defined? Colonial and relativistic approaches to the cultural anthropology of play

Henning Eichberg

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Can play be defined? There is reason to raise critical questions about the established academic demand that at phenomenon – also in humanist studies – should first of all be defined, i.e. de-lineated and by neat lines limited to a “little box” that can be handled.
The following chapter develops the critical argument against this academic technique by going back to the history of cultural anthropology of play. This history did not develop in a linear way, but by shifts between different periods of colonial and anticolonial positions, as well as between more positivistic and more relativist approaches.
The academic imperative of definition seems to be linked to the positivistic attempts – and produces sometimes monstrous definitions. Have they any philosophical value for our knowledge of what play is? Definition is not a universal instrument of knowledge-building, but a culturally specific construction. Human beings can very well understand play – or whatever phenomenon in human life – without defining it.
TidsskriftEast Asian Sport thoughts
Sider (fra-til)45-82
StatusUdgivet - 2015