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Doing Things with Play: The Play of Everyday Life

Karen Gainer Sirota

UCLA Sloan Center on Everyday Lives of Families
Working Paper No. 16


Drawing upon naturalistic videotaped data of working families’ everyday lives, this paper explores the communicative context and communicative structuring of pretend play activity as it unfolds organically throughout the course of mundane family and household routines. Although a number of scholars have emphasized the complexity of pretend play as a communicative activity per se, less attention has been focused on examining the interrelationship between pretend play activity and the broader stream of everyday life discourse. In consequence, this analysis concentrates on the “everyday context of pretending” (Sutton-Smith 1997), exploring how participation frames of work and play at times may interdigitate and dynamically influence one another. Particularly salient within the contextual milieus of North American middle class households, in which conceptual and practical domains of household work and play commonly are counterpoised as discrete, opposing activity spheres, this analysis alternatively considers more subtle dialogues in which recreational play and housework activities at times shade almost imperceptibly into one another and comprise contextualized, contingent, and ultimately moral discourses in which children as well as parents participate as consequential social actors. More than simply childish preoccupations a world apart from workaday adult concerns, playthings and play activities thereby take on significance, shape lives, and create meanings as part of intimate household economies nested within far-reaching webs of social relations and exchange. By considering work and play as both broad-scale social constructs and locally negotiated on-the-ground practices, this analysis cautions against adopting an overly simplistic view of pretend play as “mere pretending” by demonstrating that participants’ involvement in everyday pretend play activities serves to accomplish consequential action in the world-at-hand as participants efficaciously and creatively manage to “do things with play.”

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