What is “play”? The noun “play” and the verb “to play”, though related, can have quite different meanings. Either way, the term is ubiquitous and plays (!) a significant part in the depiction of many common and important aspects of existence. This is so despite – or perhaps because of – the contradiction that is inherent in the concept “play”. On the one hand, there is the sense of play that has to do with freedom, improvisation, inventiveness, not-in-earnestness, frivolity, fun, though sometimes nastiness, too  (as in playing with someone’s affections or torturing others for pleasure – think Abu Ghraib photographs, for example). On the other hand, there is play which is ritualistic and rule-governed: sport, drama, musical performance, various games, all of which have a strong element of structured performance in common. However, in both cases there is the implication that when we “play” (or a “play” is in progress), something not quite “for real” is taking place, something superfluous, perhaps, from the point of view of necessity or survival.

The interdisciplinary project “Making Sense of Play” seeks to examine the various meanings of “play”, elucidate their inter-relationships and trace the origins of the patterns of play and their place in the human condition.

Key themes for development and exploration will include –

Play  (as both – or either – freedom and constraint)

–           in politics
–           in literature
–           throughout history
–           in philosophy
–           as a psychological issue
–           its evolutionary significance
–           in language
–           as humour
–           in metaphor
–           play of perception
–           play and the life-course
–           relating to existential crisis (illness, death)
–           and love
–           and hatred
–           and power
–           animal play

Related themes will also be identified for development and exploration. Out of our deliberations it is anticipated that a series of related cross context research projects will develop.