четверг, 16 февраля 2017 г.

Сhildren's Play Activity through the Paradigm of Sociological Imagination (Part 3)

The Influence of Deep, Hidden Resources and Constraints on Children’s Play
The Influence of the Past on the Present Play Activity of Children
To conduct researches, devoted to the play activity, is both interesting and challenging task because you try to perceive the elements of an ‘invisible social structure' (Komarovsky, cited by Sztompka, 2004: 256), which are interconnected with this activity.
I want to emphasise the central element (both resource and constraint), which, according to my opinion, defines the consideration of children's play activity. It is the prevailing attitude toward children. The prevailing attitude, which exists in society, is one of the main factors of the influence on the perception of any activity of children. But the following allocation: 1.‘the absence of childhood’, 2. ‘the children as the problems’, 3.‘the reproductive approach to the childhood’, 4.‘children as active social actors’, - is relative because may exist in different societies and historical times (Sibireva, 2015). Moreover, I will include in the analyses some conceptions of socialisation which can help to study the children's play activity from the point of view of sociology. 
First of all, I need to remind that the childhood was not an independent category for a long time. According to the Philippe Aries's conception (1962), the child was considered as a small adult, and the analyses of the different components of a sociocultural reality proved this fact. In the pictures, the represented children were similar to the ‘small men and women' because their images contained the reduced proportions of the bodies of the adult persons. Psychological development of the child was also represented from this point of view: the process of growing was considered as the quantitative increase of the qualities which were typical for the child from the birth. Thus, the children's play was something which did not require attention; even the term ‘play' had different meanings. 
The famous pictures used now as the examples of the various forms of play and games can give some information.  
In the picture of Pieter Bruegel "Children's games" (1560), there are 84 traditional national games in the city. However, the figures of people look like children only in their sizes. The central question is: "Do these games mean only games in a classical (common) sense?" The interpretations which I have met more often than the others are: the games in this picture have the meaning of the senselessness of a human life; the chosen plot is the comparison with the ‘play of the God'.
The source of the picture is here.


‘Combining depictions of games and toys with mottos and texts that moralise about the behaviour of young and old alike, Dutch emblem books appear to offer a key to understanding the deeper meaning behind images of play. Individual games found in emblem books such as Jacob Cats's Silenus Alcibiabes (1618) and Pieter Roemer Visscher's Sinnepoppen (1614) have been matched with comparable motifs in Children's Games, with damning results: the boy blowing a bubble in the left foreground has been read as a vanitas symbol of the transience of life, while the games with hoops in the right foreground have been seen as representative of the futility of life's endeavor ‘(Orrock, 2012). 


One more example is the picture of Jean Siméon Chardin "Soap bubbles", 1733-1734. The interpretation is the main sense of the soap bubbles is "a fragile happiness". This picture reminds us the transience of our life.
The source of the picture is here.
Certainly, there is a criticism of the Philippe Aries's conception. But if I addressed to the traditional societies (the differences between adults and children are being levelled too), I would describe the play and games as the vestiges of ritual and ‘as the final stages in the process of decaying social institutions' (Swede Yrjo Hirn, cited by Unesco: 8).
All attributes of play, like toys, some actions, some repetitions, etc. are associated with the social institute of ritual. 
According to my opinion, despite the fact of the long absence of childhood as the independent category, it is impossible to separate play and games from the children cardinally. Children as ‘beings' are always present in every society. 
In their play and games, the children keep the traditions, which adults have forgotten (Aries, 1962).
The "sacral" elements (like in rituals) have remained in the modern games, the descriptions of which you will see below. 
The protection components (corresponding words, the using of circles and the other actions to hide from the opponent, etc.), which are typical for the children's games such as tags, hide-and-seek, etc. are similar to the adult's activities which were used in the rituals to avoid ‘the meeting with an evil spirit'.
When the children play the game ‘Zombies' (one of the children is Zombie, others must prevent the meeting with this ‘Zombie-child'), they interpret and reproduce one of the forms of the game ‘a blind man's buff', the main sense of which is to avoid the meeting with the ‘blind man', who means the death or the mystical sphere ("the dead person is searching the alive", "the blind man is searching the person who can see"). In the game ‘Zombie’ the children also want to hide from the ‘dead', to avoid "infection" and the meeting with the mystical world.   
These examples can prove the fact the games have an exclusive stability (Caillois, 2001):  when empires and social institutes are disappearing, the games are remaining. Even in the modern games, it is impossible to avoid the ‘echo of the past'. 
When the existence of childhood and children is recognised, unfortunately, children are sometimes considered as the problems. The corresponding social and historical circumstances cause the anxiety and the fear of the future generation. For example, during the domination of puritan moral, it was considered that there is a necessity ‘to battle' with children to socialise them correctly (to expel the ‘devil essence' from them). I suppose the play activity of children was always difficult for the control. Because of it, play was condemned and forbidden. 
But the desire to supervise the child was typical for people not only several centuries ago. The conception of a ‘methodical socialisation' developed by Durkheim (cited by Filloux, 1993), the functionalism of Parsons (1951) (which had the greatest popularity in 1950’s, in 1960’s) had the similar idea: an ‘asocial' child is full of primitive instincts, he or she is a dangerous force inside the society. Since the children ‘threatened' the order of the society, socialisation was considered as the turning of the individual beings into the social beings, and the right direction of this process provided the ‘survival of society'. Different historical circumstances (migrations, revolutions, and after war periods, etc.) resulted in the corresponding consideration of children's play: playgrounds, kindergartens were the places to control children, to institutionalise all their life, because the society is afraid of the future events, the main participants of which the children will be. 
But did children want to follow all existing rules? "The days of disobedience", which are well known from the history, the wishes to play not only in the yards and on playgrounds are the real cases of the infringements of adult instructions by the children.     
Modern adults do not refuse from the fear of children and their play completely either. Nowadays, the fear of children's play and games is explained by the computer and video games and the Internet. Some sociologists suggest the concept of a «dangerous child» (Wyness, 2006: 81) because when children use technologies, they can learn too much about violence, wars, economy, political problems, destroying borders between adulthood and childhood.
The child is visible partly during his/her computer game, and there is a big invisible part of the participation of the child in these games: what does the child think when he/she is involved in the shooting game, what does the child feel during the moments of violence? To answer these questions, we must take into account, that the child can continue or destroy the plot of a computer game in his/her real play. 
One more system of the attitudes toward children, which exists in different societies, in different historical times, is the reproductive theory of socialisation. Socialisation here is the process of repetitive reproduction of the particular members of society, the mechanism of management of a class inequality. Different families, children, etc. have access to various resources, to the support of the different social institutes, according to the prevailing class system. Play, games and toys also participate in the reproductive process. Various conditions, in which play exists, show to what resources the children have access. Good children's playgrounds are not provided in all districts of cities; not all children have an opportunity to visit the shopping centres or safe parks. The same facts concern toys: some children have a lot of dolls, toy automobiles, etc., while others make all toys from the improvised materials.
Let's consider the several historical and modern examples.
Example 1. The main aim of the pedagogy of John Locke (1968) was to bring up a ‘gentleman and a ‘businessman' who is useful to society.  He recommended avoiding telling the children the stories about ghosts and goblins. According to the researchers, the given interdiction pursued specific purposes:  Locke concerned that ‘supernatural tales were the province of servants and the poor, and one of his main aims was to remove the children of the middle and upper classes from the influence of their social inferiors' (Grenby). 
Exanple 2. For a long time in Russia, the game ‘gorodki' (townlets) was considered as the game for the lowest classes. In the engravings of the 19th century, the players are represented as the ‘muzhiks' - people of the lower class. But in the USSR the attitude to this game changed: ‘gorodki’ (townlets) became a proletarian game and oppositional to the "bourgeois" games, such as billiard or golf (The Moscow Regional Federation of Townlets Sport). 
Example 3. One of the examples of the attempt to transform the reproductive approach into life is a doll Barbie. 
To stop buying accessories for Barbie is impossible: it is necessary to get them because she must have the «house of dream», the prestigious car, the swimming pool, etc. The life of this doll is an infinite summer vacation and travel, free from school, family and financial problems (Cox, 1977). The offered image of the doll Barbie comprises certain components of a "magnificent" life, which includes the elements of a social stratification. There is somewhere a beautiful life, which the child has never seen, but can dream of it, because Barbie is the princess, the rich girl, with the ponies, with the sports equipment, etc. However, it is necessary to remember, that children can transform the ‘rich’ image of the doll into the poor Cinderella, the engineer, the housewife, the mother of a big family with a lot of children. 
So, is it possible to accept the reproductive approach completely? Probably, no: the children can resist to this approach by deviations, hobbies, etc. However, to refuse it is impossible: play and games, even partially, reproduce the future of the children playing them.
In the frameworks of the reproductive approach, there is an opportunity to observe the constant influence of the past on the present and future. 
Games pass from father to son. Game originates in the past and game is directed to the future. At the transition from one generation to another, games can change or lose the intensity. However, there is a tendency to marry the people playing the same games or, at least, related games (Bern, 1964).
During some centuries in the different cultures, the play and games were the significant part of the adult culture too. The history of holidays and traditions, some works of art show us that adults and children played together a lot of games, and unfortunately, this tradition is gradually disappearing in a modern society. The results of the conducted researches proved this assumption (Sibireva, 2014). It is important to mention this fact, because through games children join the life of adults, satisfying own needs of the participation in this life.
Summing up the said above, I can conclude play is produced by children and they are active social actors: children can keep the traditions, they can create new games, children can revolt against existing trends. We must consider playing as the activity which requires respect, exploration and support. 
To be continued.
Part 4.
Part 5.
Part 1 is here.
Part 2 is here.
Please do not sell, post, publish, or distribute all or any part of this article without author's permission.

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