Academic journal article Cosmos and History: The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy

Play, Community and Democracy: Understanding How Play Can Stimulate Democracy

Academic journal article Cosmos and History: The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy

Play, Community and Democracy: Understanding How Play Can Stimulate Democracy

Article excerpt

Professional sport is now an undeniable and growing branch of the entertainment industry. As such, professional sport is now a spectacle, watched and consumed by millions of sports fans across the world. What was once based on being free, spontaneous and creative, is now, in many instances, organised and restricted by game plans, set plays, tactics and is produced as entertainment for consumption.

The evolution of play, games and sport has been widely studied and explored by many sport and cultural theorists and historians. So too has the commodification of professional sport and the consequences of this for athletes, fans, the community and culture. However, this study seeks to go to the very heart of professional sport and its community to discuss play and democracy, or more particularly, how play can create, stimulate and uphold democratic principles and characteristics such as those Australia was committed to at its founding in 1901.

This paper will highlight the link between play, community and democracy to illustrate how play can stimulate vibrant communities which function as democracies. If play is corrupted, the formation of communities and the way they operate will also be damaged, thus undermining democracy.

To expound the link between play, community and democracy, it is first necessary to understand the notion of democracy and the principles that underpinned Australia's Federation in 1901. From there we will further explore the play element and how it stimulates democracy.


In his most famous book, Homo Ludens: A Study of the Play Element in Culture, Johan Huizinga writes that the 'play element' of a society is at the heart of how a society forms and defines its community and culture. He explains how 'play', in its most autonomous sense, is responsible for allowing citizens to come together for a common and enjoyed activity. Huizinga goes on to say that through these play experiences, citizens begin to create a culture that ultimately stimulates and binds the community. (1)

Other modernists, such as Hegel and neo Hegelian British Idealists writing around the time of Australian Federation shared a similar view. They argue the underlying cornerstone of a political community is the active participation of its members in pursuit of the common good and general will of the community, for a common interest and common goal, where the relationships that the members of a community have are based on shared, common values and principles. (2) According to Hegel, it was the culture of the community that is the binding force of this relationship. (3) Huizinga takes this a step further back, stating that it is the 'play element' and the 'games of the people' that are responsible for creating a society's community.

Hegel argues that the state is a political community because it is a cultural community, because its constitution is grounded in a national culture, because its political institutions are deeply interwoven and interdependent with all other aspects of culture and similarly, they express the values of the national culture. He also claimed that the individual identified with the state through participation within the community and that the state was responsible for fostering the ability of its members to reach their full potential. If people did not find their worth or identity through the community then they would seek to do so through conspicuous consumption. He considered it the duty of the state to ensure that the market is directed at achieving the common good of the community. (4)

This idea was enriched towards the end of the nineteenth century by a new liberal or social liberal philosophy inspired by British Idealist philosopher, T.H Green. In developing Hegel's philosophy, Green wrote that true democracy can only exist when all members of society are free to participate in their community. "When we speak of freedom", he wrote "we mean a positive power or capacity of doing or enjoying something, and that too, something we enjoy in common with others. …

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