Anthropological studies of children's play and games
Bowers, Melissa Ann
Master of Arts
This paper examines how anthropologists have viewed children's play and games since the discipline's beginning in the late 19th century. Play has been variously interpreted based on ideas from evolutionary theory, diffusionism, particularism, functionalism, culture and personality schools, cognitive/structural approaches, ethology, ecology and communication. Children's play has generally been ignored or used to prove specific theories, and has only recently been recognized as an important human behavior. Recent studies reflect concerns for understanding play in terms of text and context, levels of communication, and social and cognitive consequences. Many issues remain unresolved: (a) whether "play" may be precisely defined; (b) the distinction between play and games; and (c) the assumption of a play/ work dichotomy. It has been suggested that these problems largely exist because researchers cannot fully separate themselves from their topic, which is why the study of play is so suitable to the theories and methodologies of anthropology.