Re: First LCHC Play Discussion Notes

From: Peg Griffin (
Date: Sun Apr 17 2005 - 07:21:58 PDT

Hi, all,
For what it is worth, I take to heart the yield of thinking about contrasts (imprinting as a linguist, no doubt).
In this case the contrast is between a truncated system and a full system. I get this from Leonti'ev's Problems in the Development of Mind.
A truncated system has operations and activity but is not mediated by action/goal/society/mind.
A toddler grabs a spoon or a robot -- it may look something like play but may have few if any of the features or consequences of full pretend play.
Often, in fact, dress-up boxes in preschool centers become a cue for a sequence of these truncated activities (and fights over the "little o" objects) rather than a resource for an activity sufficiently mediated by acts so the object becomes a subjective object and the subjects become objectified subjects.
When the "UBthe" game breaks in as an action sequence in the activity ("UBthe" as in "You be the cook, I'm the checker"), it is more likely that a play activity with sequalia for learning and development appear.

  ----- Original Message -----
  From: Mike Cole
  Sent: Saturday, April 16, 2005 10:12 PM
  Subject: Re: First LCHC Play Discussion Notes

  Thanks for the clarifications, Ana. I wonder what others think.
  (Obejctively speakin!) :-)

  On 4/16/05, Ana Marjanovic-Shane <> wrote:
    Mike and everyone,
    In many ways I agree. "Object" in the activity model is not merely a thing or a "material" object. Mary Bryson actually replaced the word "object" on the triangular model with the word "other". That is significant and maybe even better for the model.
    In another "dramatistic" analysis (not the one by Burke), Anne Ubersfeld talks about an "object of desire" (Reading Theatre, University of Toronto Press, 1999, Ch. II, Actantial Model in Theatre). The "Object" exists only in a relation to the "Subject" (Hero). And, of course, "it" can be another human being (as in "an object of love or hate"). It is a very complex concept, really, and in many ways. I think that we need (or maybe we already had) a discussion on "objects" in the activity models.
    However, when I said "Object (which for this purpose we should view as 'the material reality of the world')", I really did not want to go into that discussion, but just wanted to say that if in the "reality plane" an activity is oriented toward an OTHER which is perceived to be a member if the world to which we belong, then in the "play frame" the activity is oriented, so to speak, inwards, toward creating the meta-relationships: rules, symbols, tools, division of labor (roles). In other words, the ostensible "object" WITHIN the play activity is in the background, the PLAYING with the relationships themselves (between subject-community-object) and PLAYING with the entities that enter into these relationships, (namely the individual, the community and the 'object') IS the OBJECT OF the play activity.
    I wanted to make a contrast between a direction toward something out there: "the material reality of the world", which prevails in the activity system when it is not in the play frame and the direction toward its own components or relationships in the making, when an activity system "slides" into a play frame.

    It is very hard to talk about all of these, because we have to use the very words that we want to redefine. But to clarify, I never meant simply "material objects" = "things in themselves" (Kant's - das Ding an sich). However, if the participants of an activity believe that they are in "reality plane" - then the "object" of that activity somehow belongs to the "reality of the world". And if the participants of an activity believe that they are in the "play plane" - then the "object" of their activity, in their own eyes, belongs to a "fictive", nonexistent, imaginary world. From a researcher point of view, the difference is not in the "object" but in the orientation of the activity.


    Mike Cole wrote:
      Ana-- Thanks so much for the discussion of the way that play can be
      analyzed within a chat framework. On one point I want to raise an issue
      that I seem to be encountering a LOT lately, including at AERA.

      When you characterize the object of activity, you use the phrase, "material
      object." I do not believe this is a useful way to think think about the notion
      of an object and I do not think it is what Leontiev, Engestrom, Lektorsky, etc
      had in mind. I could be wrong, but "object" is related to motives. Yrjo uses the
      metaphor of object/motives being always "just over the horizon." The are about the future
      and it is difficult to think of the future as simply a material object. Even if it is in some way
      oriented toward what we might consider a concrete object (a diploma from college,
      a new car) as "object" it is still infused with ideality, both when it is being anticipated, striven for,
      and when it is sitting right before you.

      I have also been mulling over the idea that other people can be objects of activity, no less than
      non-human objects. My current life partner was, at one time, clearly the object of my activities
      and remains the "object of my affections."

      What your discussion highlighted for me is that all nodes of the triangle, which exist only in
      dynamic tension with each other, are always present as constituents of our goal directed actions,
      but some seem close up, or dominant, in our analysis while others seem backgrounded to the
      point where they are virtually invisible to us, at least "at the moment." This is related to Burke's
      ideas about the highlighting of varouis elements of his pentad.

      I will try to get the chapter on being human where Burke writes about "no" and get it posted. But
      it may take a while to find.


      On 4/15/05, David Preiss < > wrote:
        There was XMCA activity the last few days? I haven't gotten anything.

        David Preiss


        Pontificia Universidad Catolica de Chile:

        PACE Center at Yale University:


        Phone: 56-2-3544605

        Fax: 56-2-354-4844


          -----Original Message-----
          From: Ana Marjanovic-Shane []
          Sent: Friday, April 15, 2005 12:56 AM
          Cc: Xmca
          Subject: Re: First LCHC Play Discussion Notes

          Hm!! With an exclamation mark! I feel like seeing a frozen picture of your workshop which I have to warm up in some places in order to insert my remarks and comments and in that way try to become a part of the discussion. I will insert my remarks directly into the text of the workshop notes into the places where I think these comments belong. I will separate them from the rest of the text visually in three ways, so that even if you get only text (ASCII) e-mail you will be able to see my notes). So, please scroll down:

          Mike Cole wrote:
            Robert Lecusay is having difficulty posting to XMCA (will these gremlins never
            give up the ghost and stop playing with us!!!*&&*&*#$ who-is-at %#!!!). So I get to
            (he he) be the portage guy today.

            Here are the notes from the first session. We are still working at getting more
            relevant articles posted on xmca.

            Play worlds Meeting at LCHC
            April 11, 2004

            Sonja Baumer Presenting
            Lindqvist The Aesthetics of Play (Chpts. 3-5)
            Elkonin The Psychology of Play (Appendix)

            Present: Mike Cole, Deborah Wilson, Elaine Parent, Virginia Gordon,
            Xavier, Beth Ferholt, Kristen Clark, Sonja Baumer, Kelli Moore, Robert
            Lecusay, Christian Simmoneti, Lars Rossen, Neils Pederson, Koichi Haishi,
            Don Schumman.

            Sonja began by asking everyone at the meeting to write on a piece of paper
            their intuitive definition of play. She collected these and read some,
            noting that some people defined play in terms of their own experience,
            others negatively as the opposite of work, and others in terms of
            suspension of disbelief. Here are some samples:

            "embodiment of imagination"
            "the absence of stress, fun"
            "free departure from everyday life"
            "freedom, enjoyment, pleasure"
            "unconscious, fictional, pretense"
            "informal setting, another reality, lack of incentives"
            "separation from everyday reality."

            Sonja defined play as a state of mind, an experience.

            Mike asked about the difference between games and play, to which Sonja
            responded with a comparison of Piaget and Vygostky's ideas. Unlike play,
            Piaget saw games as rule-bound. Vygotsky, on the other hand, viewed games
            as another stage in the development of play humans enact scripts that
            pertain to stereotypes and narratives of a particular character role.
            Sonja concluded by defining games as characterized by explicit rules and
            implicit imaginary situations, play by implicit rules, and explicit
            imaginary situations.

          We can look at this relationship in another way -- using the CHAT model (famous triangles). In order to do that, let me just briefly re-describe that model: there is a small triangle in the center, that describes relationships between the Subject (individual), the Community (or the others to which the Subject relates) and the Object (which for this purpose we should view as "the material reality of the world"). The bigger (outer) triangle represents three meta-relationships or functions that mediate the three basic relationships. Tools/Symbols mediate relationships between the Subject and the world (of material objects); Rules mediate relationships between Subject and the Community/Others and Division of Labor mediates the ways Community relates to the World of material objects.
          I look at play-like-activities - ** I want here to broaden the meaning of the concept of PLAY** - as activities of creating these meta-relationships. Hence you have Pretend Play -- as play-like-activity of creating ROLES (division of labor). You have Games -- as play-like-activities of creating and exploring rules, making rules, using rules, bending rules, testing rules etc. And - the third category of play-like-activities are those that create and explore Tools/Symbols: Play with words, play with various building blocks, Lego blocks, tinker-toys, e.g. tools that manipulate the physical world.

          BUT -- in each category of these various play-like-activities you have embedded all the relationships and aspects of the activity systems: pretend play may be an exploration of the roles (division of labor), but it is also about the rules, only the rules are not the in the immediate focus of play. The games, although they are primarily about rules, cannot be imagined without an imaginary situation in which these rules are created, and without the roles that are assumed by players. And, lastly, play with language / tools, always also contains negotiating rules and exploring the division of labor.
          So I would say, that play-like-activities are activities which, in contrast to the "for real" activities, are not aimed at an object-objective; instead, they are activities of creating and exploring the very meta relationships between the subject, the community and the material world (object).

            Deborah asked about the progression of puppy play (which seemed to have no
            mental element) to play that did involve some kind of mental element (play
            with humor)

            Sonja responded by highlighting an example from Bateson's What is Play?
            (to be posted on XMCA): Chimps giving eye signals that communicate that
            their biting is playful biting. This is a paradoxical frame in which the
            playful bite stands for a bite but does not denote pain.

          Bateson's example is interesting and important because it discusses the relationship between the tools used to create the play and the topic of play. This is a complex example which needs sorting out: "play frame" from "reality frame" and what does it mean that an object stands for another object or an act stands for another act: i.e. what does it mean to "stand for". Bateson called "frames" -- being in the play frame is signaled -- or you cannot create the play frame: dogs signal to other dogs that they are going to "play bite them" and not really bite them. If another dog does not see the signal -- it may bite back for real. People need to signal "this is play" in order to create the play frame.
          Little lower (or later) Mike asked what is the relationship between the rules and the frame. They are connected. The framing activities (signals) create a "switch" or a "portal" into the play-modus. The rules are different in the play frame from the rules outside and that has to be signaled, or there will be no play but just misunderstanding.
          An interesting issue for the research is what are all the different the ways to create the play frame. (Think of the Wardrobe!!!)

            Mike brought up Burke's "Dramatic No" (Being Human)

          Mike, can you elaborate (or just give me a reference: I need to refresh my Burke knowledge)

            Sonja continued by talking about historical changes in the perceived value
            of play, noting that with the emergence of capitalism, play came to be
            associated with childishness , whereas before (e.g. medieval), play was a
            privileged activity for adults.

            Mike asked what the difference was between rules and a frame. What about
            peek-a-boo? Is it play?
            Sonja argued that there are some rules, expectations that are non-verbally
            negotiated in peek-a-boo.

          I think that Peek-a-boo is a game that belongs to very beginning of introducing very little infants into the code switching or creating a play frame. It is an activity which is clearly not a goal directed activity, but instead is changing the rules of perception; it is also about creating different relationships between the infant and the person who is initiating the game - changing the rules of "normal" behavior and relationships; and a game of creating definite roles that players can assume. I think that we have to go back and study different "peek-a-boo"-ish games around the world.

            Mike told the story of a girl (participant at the Fifth Dimension) who
            engages in elaborate and spontaneous pretend play that reflects her
            difficult situation at home.

            Deborah asked if in play, the back and forth between emotional and
            intellectual states was engaged in order to eventually gain a clear
            definition of each state.

          Deborah, could you elaborate on "the back and forth between emotional and intellectual states"?? What did you have in mind when you called them an "emotional state" or an "intellectual state"? I think you are onto something important here, but I am not certain what.

            Mike then discussed instances in which adults could be put in positions
            where they were uncertain about the reality of the moment (Alfred
            Schutz?). He continued by asking, "What is it that allows people to create
            and work with certain frames?" Then offered two examples: a memory of his
            son playing a fantasy baseball game (not an actual game, but the
            recreation of specific moments of a game, playing the parts of specific
            ball players), and an anecdote about a time in U.S. baseball history when
            travel was such that teams couldn't travel around as much as they do
            today, and so radio reenactments of the games were staged (the issue of a
            fully engaged audience).

            Sonja added the example of radio audiences writing letters to characters
            asking for advice (e.g. asking the character of a doctor for medical
            advice). Mike brought up an example of a soap opera viewer who physically
            attacked an actress from the show because of the evil things she had done
            on the show. Sonja: "How are people seduced into acting these ways?"

            Beth, returning to the example of a person writing for medical advice to
            someone who plays the character of a doctor, said that part of the healing
            process for people is grounded in the trust one develops for the doctor.
            She went on to highlight similar examples from the Narnia play world.

            Kelli argued that in this situation of audience-actor, the actor, who is
            also engaging in play, is also actually learning something when he/she,
            for example, researches his/her part. She brought up the example of a TV
            actor who when interviewed said that he found himself able to answer
            medical questions from fans.

          This and some previous examples are the issues of the relationship between the play frame and the reality frame and their interaction. What can do we take into the play frame -- from the reality frame? What do we take back from the play frame into the reality frame? How do we cross between them? What are the "good" crossings over (an actor learning something in researching a character) and what are the "errors" (writing letters to a doctor in a play/ TV series as if to a real one?)

            Mike: this brings up the question of imitation

            Sonja brought up Stanislavsky: the notion that when trying to act out an
            emotion, one needs to locate that emotion in oneself (a personal memory
            that causes one to re-experience the emotion). In light of this, Sonja
            noted that it was not chance that she plays the role shoe does in the
            Narnia play world. Mike noted the Eisentstein, Stan, Vygotsky were all

            Mike next discussed transition phenomena kids who are beginning to
            engage in games with rules. He offered an example of a kid playing pool in
            the Fifth Dimension who created new rules within the rules of the game
            that were to his advantage (e.g. yelling "Chancies!" gives one the
            opportunity to take another turn).
            Sonja spoke about the relationship between imagination and thought,
            highlighting Vygotsky's notion (discussed in Lindqvist's article) that
            adults have more imagination than kids as a consequence of the fact that
            they have had more experiences than kids, and thus have more resources to
            draw on. Sonja argued that the research does not support this.

            Next Mike introduced the Russian term voobrazhenie (into image making)
            as a lead-in to a discussion about the necessity of separation from the
            world in order to have an experience of contrast, and therefore the
            possibility of being able to anticipate what happens next (see Cole and
            Levitin (1998) A Cultural Historical View of Human Nature,

            Sonja and Mike: Imagination is a cognitive tool that allows us to maintain
            the illusion of continuity.

            Sonja: Play helps maintain an illusion of unpredictability, but enacted in
            a safe space.

            Mike: Reality and fantasy are present all the time. This ties into the
            value of moments of disruption (Yrjo Engestrom)

            Kristen: Returned to the issue of the difference in the capacity for
            imagination between adults and kids, adults having more experience than
            kids with social and cultural texts.

            Mike: Listed some potential areas for future play discussions: rules &
            frame, ritual, hyperreality (Baudrillard), Stanislavsky,

            Deborah: Do autistic individuals play?

          A very interesting article in the newest Discover Magazine :

          What Do Animals Think? Temple Grandin says animals think like autistic humans. She should know.

          (I am sending a link to the on line article in a separate e-mail)

            Sonja: High functioning individuals do.

            Then there was debate (stemming from an anecdote of a Kid at the Fifth
            Dimension) over whether Asperger's Syndrome is high functioning or low
            functioning . . .


          This discussion is VERY productive and already covers miles and miles of concepts that have to be carefully rethought. I am very excited about it. Can't wait to get the films and watch them too.
          It is almost 1:00 am on the east coast in Montreal. I must get up early for another fascinating session of AERA. So good night.


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