Imagining New Legalities: Privacy and Its Possibilities in the 21st Century

By Austin Sarat; Lawrence Douglas et al. | Go to book overview

The Law of Play

ARIELA R. DUBLER

As much of America surfaces in a ball park, on a golf link, at a race track,
or around a poker table, much of Bali surfaces in a cock ring. For it is
only apparently cocks that are fighting there. Actually, it is men…. [T]he
deep psychological identification of Balinese men with their cocks is
unmistakable. The double entendre here is deliberate.

Clifford Geertz, Deep Play: Notes on the Balinese Cockfight 1


Introduction: The Sphere of Play

We all play. Children play. Adults play. All people play in one way or another. Indeed, according to Martha Nussbaum, “[B]eing able to laugh, to play, to enjoy recreational activities” constitutes a basic defining feature of human existence. Play is not a meaningless pastime. Along with life itself, bodily health, thought, and practical reason, Nussbaum argues, the ability to play makes us human.2 Play has no single meaning, form, or mode of expression. We play to have fun and to escape from our “nonplay” lives. We play when we have too much energy to do other things or, alternatively, when we lack enough energy to do other things. Play can be spontaneous or intricately orchestrated. It can be ludicrously frivolous or highly goal oriented. It can be wonderfully cooperative or intensively competitive. It can be boring or it can be exciting or violent or soporific. Its forms are myriad. There is something for everyone. In its many manifestations, the joys of play famously save us from the dullness of a life of “all work and no play.”

Just as Nussbaum identifies play as constitutive of our individual humanity, Clifford Geertz famously identified play as constitutive of collective culture and social relations. After all, we often play not alone, but rather with one another. Many forms of play are social, and interactive. As Geertz demonstrated by focusing on the practices and rituals of cockfighting in Bali, play can be a serious and consequential cultural phenomenon. It is through ritual forms of

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