Seven rhetorics of play


Brian Sutton-Smith in ‘The Ambiguity of Play’ defines seven rhetorics (myths or ways of seeing play in society). The rhetorics are as follows:

  • Play as progress: This rhetoric focuses on the developmental aspects of play and on the notion that children learn through play. The rhetoric is also linked to studies of animal play.

  • Play as fate: This normally refers to games of chance and gambling, and rests on the assumption that human lives are controlled by destiny.

  • Play as power: This rhetoric is associated with sports and contests, and Sutton-Smith suggests that it is an ancient rhetoric, as old as patriarchy.

  • Play as identity: Here, play is viewed as a means of constructing and confirming social identities through community celebrations and festivals.

  • Play as imaginary: This rhetoric relates to the imagination, creativity and innovation.

  • Play as the self: This normally refers to individual playful pursuits and hobbies, where play is seen as a form of relaxation and escape from everyday life.

  • Play as frivolous: This rhetoric is usually applied to activities of the historical figures of tricksters and fools; it refers to the activities of people who playfully protest against the social and cultural order of everyday life.

Personally, the one that holds firm in my mind is Play as Imaginary, and to a certain extent, Play as Identity (but only through the imaginary).