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Play of Emotions: Meanings Collaboratory 2015

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Image: 'Children at Play in the Open' by Nicolas Lancret. 1705-1743. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Dates: 19-20 November 2015
Venue: E-Moot Court, Faculty of Law, The University of Western Australia
Registration: This will be a free event but for catering purposes registration is essential.  Please email Pam Bond (pam.bond@uwa.edu.au) by 13 November 2015 to register, and to receive further information.

Download the event abstracts and program


Confirmed Speakers
Professor Ros King, University of Southampton
Professor Jennifer Radden, University of Massachusetts, Boston
Professor Tom Bishop, University of Auckland

‘Go, play, boy, play. Thy mother plays, and I
Play too...’ (The Winter's Tale)

Leontes’ words, spoken by a ‘player’ in a ‘play’, open up multiple and complex ideas about the various senses in which ‘play’ may ‘play’ many parts in emotional lives, from early childhood into maturity and old age.  We aim to open up as many of these meanings as possible, considered in the context of the history of emotions from 1100-1800 and across disciplines.

The word ‘play’, as both noun and verb, has many meanings, some obsolete or now rare in occurrence, which can give glimpses of the past, and others sometimes intriguingly contradictory in their senses. Although the root meaning of the word refers to some kind of aimless physical activity which involves moving about swiftly in a lively manner and sometimes clapping the hands, yet invariably we find through context, the word indicates an emotional driving force or impetus. The question is, then, ‘why do we play?’; ‘what emotional needs does play satisfy or respond to?’. At the ‘innocent’ end of a spectrum, play is an expression of joy and merriment, which was once associated with the souls of the blessed in heaven. Huizinga in 3 generalised that play has a ‘civilizing function’, and yet also underlies war and any form of ritualized violence. Children’s play is considered the most quintessentially innocent diversion, as is playing a musical instrument, while parents might regard play variously as a waste of time or as an affectively bonding experience. As adults we play as an alternative to work, a recreation, a therapy for damaged minds; however, some play as a job - actors, musicians and professional sportspeople. Like Shakespeare’s Venus, Milton’s Adam proposes sexual intercourse as a form of play: ‘Now let us play … For never did thy Beautie … so enflame my sense / With ardor to enjoy thee’, a meaning which has led to the promiscuity of ‘playing the field’, ‘playing around’, ‘playing false’ and even committing adultery, as extensions of sexual dalliance. We might play a game like dice or cards, and the implicit level of counterfeiting can shade into more general forms of pretence or representing fictional personages in drama and films that lead to accusations of deviousness or cheating, or the ambiguity with which players in the theatre have historically been regarded. Play can be considered a dangerously undermining activity – in 2014 the Chinese State Broadcasting Authority banned wordplay in the media as likely to damage culture and linguistic heritage values. A word associated primarily with innocent activity is surprisingly charged with many differing emotions when context reveals the emotional motivations behind play. Our symposium will open discussion on a range of historical factors in considering the emotional meanings of ‘play’.

Meanings of Play
Historical and semantic dimensions
Survivals of older meanings into the modern world
Huizinga Revisited
Imaginative play in its creative forms
Gender and play
Portmanteau phrases (play off, play on, play out, play at …)
Theatre – playmaking and playgoing
Music – playful; musical jokes (e.g. Mozart?)
Children’s Play – can it be historicised?
“War games”: the play of weapons, bringing military forces into play
Theoretical approaches: Locke, Rousseau, Huizinga etc
Sexuality and play - foreplay
Wordplay, jokes, tricks
Animals and playing
Play in art

For further information please contact: