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Working toward Play: Complexity in Children's Fantasy Activities Author(s): Marilyn R. Whalen Source: Language in Society, Vol. 24, No. 3 (Sep., 1995), pp. 315-348 Published by: Cambridge University Press Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/4168623 Accessed: 12-07-2017 14:35 UTC JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increa
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    Working toward Play: Complexity in Children's Fantasy ActivitiesAuthor(s): Marilyn R. WhalenSource: Language in Society,  Vol. 24, No. 3 (Sep., 1995), pp. 315-348Published by: Cambridge University PressStable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/4168623Accessed: 12-07-2017 14:35 UTC   JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusteddigital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms of scholarship. For more information aboutJSTOR, please contact support@jstor.org. Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available athttp://about.jstor.org/terms Cambridge University Press  is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to Language in Society  This content downloaded from 158.38.108.238 on Wed, 12 Jul 2017 14:35:38 UTCAll use subject to http://about.jstor.org/terms   Language in Society 24, 315-348. Printed in the United States of America  Working toward play:  Complexity in children's fantasy activities  MARILYN R. WHALEN  Department of Sociology  University of Oregon  Eugene, OR 97402-1291  ABSTRACT  Children's play activities are widely perceived as developing from prim- itive to increasingly complex forms of social organization, as children  mature and acquire interactional competency. Research following this traditional, developmentally oriented approach postulates that sports and games with rules are the most advanced and complex form of play  activity; activities involving fantasy and pretend-play are viewed in com-  parison as considerably less complex. This article argues that fantasy  play encounters exhibit complex features in their own right, and that  long-held distinctions between higher-order games and fantasy play are  conceptually overdrawn. The argument is grounded in a conversation  analytic study of the play activities of a cross-sex, mixed-age neighbor- hood play group. This analysis focuses on the endogenous social orga-  nization of a fantasy play encounter. (Conversation analysis, children's play, socialization, social psychology)*  COMPLEXTY AND SOCIALIZATION  At least since Comte, Spencer, and Durkheim, evolutionary principles bor-  rowed from the life sciences have been invoked by social scientists to describe  and explain change in human behavior and social organization. Underlying  a great deal of this evolutionary reasoning is the assumption that change nec-  essarily involves a progressive, typically linear development from simple to complex forms, whether at the level of cognitive structures, social institu-  tions, or culture.' At each of these levels of analysis, then, the principle of  increasing complexity, with higher forms arising from and surpassing  lower, has played a decisive role in both theory and research (cf. Giddens  1984:230-31 and passim).  This is especially so for the study of children's play. From the classic writ-  ings of Mead 1934 and Piaget 1962 to the more recent, widely cited work of  Lever 1976, 1978, children's play activities are seen as developing, as children  ? 1995 Cambridge University Press 0047-4045/95 $7.50 + .10  315 This content downloaded from 158.38.108.238 on Wed, 12 Jul 2017 14:35:38 UTCAll use subject to http://about.jstor.org/terms   MARILYN R WHALEN  grow from infancy to adulthood, from relatively simple organizations to more complex hierarchies. As Hartup (1978:147) has summarized the argu-  ment, the development of children's play can be analyzed as a movement  from loosely differentiated interchanges to highly differentiated interactions,  and from primitive awareness of the needs of others to reciprocal relations  based on complex attributions. This developmental approach is closely  linked to a commitment to treating play primarily, if not exclusively, as a  source of data for evaluating and theorizing about the maturation of chil-  dren's physical, cognitive, and social abilities. That is, the study of play activ-  ity has been largely subordinated to theorizing about child development and  socialization (see Garvey 1974).  For example, Mead's model for the emergence and development of the self during childhood includes, as one of its central features, the notion that dif- ferent forms of play-type activities serve as the basic medium, or arena, for  this development. Role play is viewed as the most primitive form. Here the  child acts out social roles made evident by others: mommy, police officer,  pilot, nurse. Having observed the activities of such persons, children repro- duce their words and deeds in play, and come to have a sense of themselves as objects in the world with specific capacities, qualities, motives etc. (Hewitt  1993:102-3; see also Mead 1934:216-46, Denzin 1975:458-60). For the self  to be developed fully, however, Mead argued that children need a more com-  plete sense of their place and membership in that larger social world; they  must be able to take the role not simply of particular others, but of the gen-  eralized other, in the groups to which they belong. In Mead's view, children  acquire this fuller sense of self through participation in organized games with  rules, since games require participants to take the perspective of each player,  and to understand the relationship of their own activities to the activity as  a whole. Lever 1976, 1978 follows this general approach in her investigations of sex  differences in the development of interpersonal skills, with a special focus  on the contribution made to the learning of these skills by the structural complexity of the social setting within which children's play occurs. Lever  argues that games with rules show a much higher degree of complexity than  other forms of play, and that they directly mirror modern complex organi-  zations (cf. Etzioni 1969, Blau & Shoenherr 1971). Regarding this issue,  Lever (1978:474-75) indexes the complexity of games by using six attributes: role differentiation, interdependence of player's performance, size of the group, explicitness of goals, number and specificity of rules, and team for- mation. Games with rules are thus seen as nicely adaptive to the demands of  industrial society, especially the corporate world; and Lever concludes that,  because boys exhibit more of an affinity for organized games and sports than  do girls, they gain a distinct social advantage through their participation in these activities (but cf. M. Goodwin 1980, 1990).  316 Language inSociety243 (1995 This content downloaded from 158.38.108.238 on Wed, 12 Jul 2017 14:35:38 UTCAll use subject to http://about.jstor.org/terms   COMPLEXITY IN CHILDREN S FANTASY ACTIVTIES  One result of this approach - of treating play largely as a resource for the  analysis of child development and socialization, rather than as a topic of  investigation in its own right (cf. Zimmerman & Pollner 1970) - is that lit- tle close empirical attention is given to the details of what children actually  do and say as they engage in such activity, or to the nature of the organiza-  tion of social action in play, including its complexity. Put another way, the  complexity of different play forms has most often been stipulated concep-  tually, instead of documented empirically. Moreover, the methodologies of data collection and techniques of analysis typically employed in research on children's socialization and development -  laboratory experiments, clinical interviews, and subjective reports by sub- jects, in the form of diaries or elicited accounts - cannot capture the fine-  grained details of play activities. Consequently, while many researchers  acknowledge that the action that takes place in children's play is the key to  understanding its structure and function (see, for example, Sutton-Smith  1979), their methods are not sensitive to the details of such action. Finally,  without close inspection, we have no way of knowing whether young chil- dren's ordinary play activities (and not just games with rules) are perhaps  more complex than the prevailing conceptual framework would allow.  AN ALTERNATIVE APPROACH  In recent years some social scientists from a variety of disciplines have taken  an alternative approach to the study of play. By carrying out extensive eth- nographic studies of children's naturally occurring play activities - studies that often include the collection of data through video recordings - these  researchers have pointed to serious weaknesses in the traditional, develop-  mental line of analysis. These studies (see especially Garvey 1974, Corsaro  1979a, 1992, M. Goodwin 1983, 1990, Streeck 1984, Maynard 1985a,b,  Hughes 1988) have revealed that children's play activities, in all forms and  at various ages, are far more socially interactive and orderly at all points, as  Sacks 1984 would put it, than suggested by developmentally oriented theory  and research on play. Practitioners of the alternative approach to children's activities have often drawn on the writings of Vygotsky rather than Piaget, largely because Vy-  gotsky (1962:164-65) saw the importance of collective life for individual development. Piaget's notion of egocentric speech (1974:69-91) suggests  strong limitations on young children's social and interactive capacities;  indeed, one interesting by-product of the traditional, developmental  approach is a predisposition toward viewing young children as interaction-  ally incompetent. By contrast, Vygotsky argues that such speech is actually  a more sophisticated communicative form that emerges from children's fun-  damental sociality, rather than being a primitive precursor to sociality. It  Language inSociety243 (1995 317 This content downloaded from 158.38.108.238 on Wed, 12 Jul 2017 14:35:38 UTCAll use subject to http://about.jstor.org/terms
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