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Title: Playing with things
Author: Wilson, Graeme
Awarding Body: University of Aberdeen
Current Institution: University of Aberdeen
Date of Award: 2016
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This thesis addresses the nature of play, its relationships with the world, and the relationships between people and objects. The study is exploratory; rather than confining itself too strictly to a particular time or place it has followed the evidence as new areas of interest have unfolded. Throughout all this it has remained grounded in an interest in the archaeology of the Scottish Northern Isles, and in a desire to better understand the archaeological evidence for play from an anthropological viewpoint. It begins with an account of ethnographic fieldwork among chess players (in Edinburgh and Orkney) and players of euchre (a card game played on the Orcadian island of Westray) and moves on to consider the findings in the light of archaeological sources. As the study progresses several key themes emerge. The work carried out amongst chess and card players leads towards a more cognitive appreciation of these activities: how can the relationship between player and pieces be understood? It becomes clear that players use their pieces as proxy forms for their own actions or intentions: can the pieces, then, be said to possess agency, or is some other factor at play? Also, do the movements of chess pieces and cards represent a simple form of notation, or is this a more active engagement, one where person and thing are involved in something more complex? It is suggested here that these relationships can best be understood as an example of 'active externalism', where cognition is not contained but distributed in the immediate environment. Consideration of the role of gaming pieces leads towards an examination of the ways in which the manipulation of objects during play brings new and unexpected discoveries to the participants. The discussion addresses this theme in terms of bricolage and considers the placement of things singly and in sets. Turning then to a review of the archaeology, a major impediment is immediately encountered, which lies in the difficulty Turning then to a review of the archaeology, a major impediment is immediately encountered, which lies in the difficulty of identifying play in the archaeological record prior to a certain point in time. This initially leads to a focus on the archaeology of the first millennium AD before returning to a reconsideration of the nature of the evidence, and of our expectations of where play should be found. A consideration of ritual, for example, brings the role of play into sharp focus and points out how these divisions are not so clear cut. This thesis is a critical appraisal of the archaeological evidence for play and a reappraisal of the relationship between play — an activity which is most often understood as 'set apart' — and everyday life; leading to the conclusion that play is not in fact so separate. The focus on archaeology and game playing gives this thesis an object-centred orientation, together with a certain time-depth, however the discussion demonstrates how the findings are also reflexive: whether in the chess club or on the archaeological site, it also finds play-like or ludic ways of dealing with the world in everyday life.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Play ; Orkney (Scotland) ; Shetland (Scotland)