I got word today that my proposal for the 2013 International Association for the Philosophy of Sport Conference has been accepted. The conference is September 4-8, 2013 at California State University, Fullerton. I am very excited!
Here is my abstract proposal:
Title: “Work and Play: Similarities and Parallels”
The concept of play is one of the most discussed concepts in the philosophy of sport. The relationship between play and work, however, is less explored. But when it is, the assumption is that work and play are radically separate activities. In this paper, I want to challenge this assumption and argue that a clearer understanding of these activities shows us important parallels between work and play.
What makes professional athletes professional is not merely that they are paid for what they do. Sport is the activity that they engage in to be productive and to create the material wealth for their lives. It is, in other words, that sport is their work. Play, on the other hand, is presented as the contrary of work. As Kenneth Schultz says, “[i]t seems easiest to see that play is not work” (26). Roger Caillois in Man, Play and Games says that the goal of play is not to produce anything: “it creates no wealth or goods…[it] is an occasion of pure waste” (5). And of professional athletes, he says “it is clear that they are not players but workers” (6). Similarly, Johan Huizinga argues in Homo Ludens that play can have no material interest or profit gained from it.
I will argue, first, that it is not obvious that material interest or productivity is incompatible with play. Second, I will argue that while there is a real distinction between play and work, the one-dimensional dichotomy drawn in the literature misses important and substantial similarities between work and play.
Getting these concepts right is important because both work and play are significant human activities; they are components of a flourishing, well-lived life. We form our lives around our careers and often we derive, in addition to the means of material support they provide, great satisfaction from our work. Play, too, is essential for the good life. It is not merely how we spend our down time; like work, it is a way we structure our lives. Not only because play is a significant source of enjoyment and satisfaction, but also because it is a unique way of expressing and experiencing ourselves. By fleshing out the parallels between these activities—and the ways each can be informed by the other—we can improve each activity and subsequently improve our lives.
In short, many conceptions of play and work, as evidenced by Caillois and Huizinga, appear to presuppose a rigid disjunction between work and play that does not do justice to either. By gaining a more adequate understanding of work and play and the affinity between them, we will improve not only our comprehension of work, play, and professional sports, but also the way we actually engage in these activities.
Caillois, Roger. Man, Play and Games.
Huizinga, Johan. Homo Ludens.
Schultz, Kenneth. “Sport and Play: Suspension of the Ordinary.”