Academic journal article American Journal of Play

Play as a Basic Pathway to the Self: An Interview with Thomas S. Henricks

Academic journal article American Journal of Play

Play as a Basic Pathway to the Self: An Interview with Thomas S. Henricks

Article excerpt

Thomas S. Henricks is the J. Earl Danieley Professor of Sociology and guished Professor at Elon University. Since receiving his doctorate in sociology at the University of Chicago, Henricks has investigated the sociology of sports from the fandom of modern American professional wrestling to the relationship between sports and social stratification in preindustrial England. Currently his interests include social theory, modernization and change, popular culture, race and ethnic relations, and, especially, the physiological, environmental, social, cultural, and psychological relationships that shape behavior and experience in sports and play. His Play and the Human Condition appeared in 2015. His other books include Disputed Pleasures: Sport and Society in Preindustrial England; Play Reconsidered: Sociological Perspectives on Human Pleasure; and Selves, Societies, and Emotions: Understanding the Pathways of Experience. Henricks also writes a blog "The Pathways of Experience" for Psychology Today, focusing on the nature of human play and other main avenues of human expression: work, ritual, and the civic spirit of celebration he calls communitas. In this interview, Henricks discusses the study of play and notes how play gives both scholars and players a way of understanding human potential individually, in small social circles, and in larger communities. Key words: communitas; leisure as play; play and emotions; play scholars; play studies; ritual; social experience; sport and play; work American

Journal of Play: Please tell us about your early play experiences and what you remember most about the way you played as a child? Thomas

Henricks: Most people have a play trajectory that begins early and continues, with ebbs and flows, throughout life. My own early play experiences are not that remarkable, but they did help determine the person I became. And they remain a valued part of my identity. Growing up in the 1950s, I was one of four children in a family strongly committed to playing games of every type. Whatever the pleasures of the particular activity, it was clear clear to all of us that this was an important focus for our family. Whether the occasion was ping pong, canasta, Rook, or badminton, play was a chance to evaluate one's abilities in the context of others and, in that sense, to sort through the meanings of relationships. More importantly, it was a form of social bonding. And the sometimes not so gentle teasing that accompanied that process was a way of toughening oneself in the face of disappointment, of being allowed to provoke those who were normally one's superiors, and of recognizing that enduring relationships transcend moments of dificulty. My older brother and I are quite close in age. To some extent, we played ourselves through childhood.

Games were also opportunities to establish cross-generational connections. We played a lot of board and card games with one of our grandmothers, and I remember that as one of the most pleasant aspects of my youth. Even today, I play Scrabble with my mother when we visit, or we work the newspaper's crossword puzzle or Cryptoquote together. Like many boys (and now girls as well), school sports were an important aspect of my life. In part, this meant an opportunity (besides classroom activity) to work through what Erik Erikson describes as a life-stage tension between industry and inferiority. Once again, however, the chief pleasure of playing games was the social relationships these generated. On the field of play, our group established friendships with people we might not otherwise meet. We learned what it meant to oppose and cooperate. We practiced inclusion and exclusion and instituted collective governance. That fundamentally sociological interest has always been central to my studies of play.

AJP: Was there anything specific to your experiences that drew you to studying play?

Henricks: As I noted, school sports were an important friendship base growing up. …

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