Play is the central theme of my master’s thesis. I have started the journey to scouting culture by describing the place of a scout group in Belgium. In their scout field, they organise their place informally. This infrastructure of informality encourages playful activities and creativities of the scouts. It minimises the consciousness of breaking things and opens for possibilities of creative actions – a necessary condition of play.
The place does not only welcome informal actions. Rather, because the scout as an organisation is a hierarchical community, the scout field and other play spaces inevitably include formalities. The scout community functions according to age groups. Each person goes through scouting group to group as they grow up. Until the age of 18, the person then becomes a leader in charge of a specific age group. Their duties include responsibilities to create, plan, manage and evaluate activities; organise fund-raising events such as parties and football match; and in an equally visible manner, reproducing scoutness in the activities they plan.
To oppose play to work is a rather impossible task for the scouts. As many anthropologists have argued, the boundaries between the two are more problematic than usually regarded
Scouting inherits both the character of play and work. The scout members spend at least 35 times per year in participating in scout activities. The time requirement is almost double for the leaders. Apart from the time of the activities, they also need extra time to plan, organise, and evaluate the activities. In this sense, to oppose play to work is a rather impossible task for the scouts. As many anthropologists have argued, the boundaries between the two are more problematic than usually regarded.
Play is a common activity among the scouts. Every Sunday, they gather in the scout field to “play”. Despite the highly fluctuated definition of the term, many scholars have put countless efforts to understand play. As I have described, the word can refer to both a “mode” of experience and a “form” of activity (Malaby 2009). It can be understood as the time and place that the scouts exchange their meanings of things within their community (Bateson 1972). Play is also understood as a pattern of behaviour which can be compared to other patterns. Henricks (2006; 2012; 2015) contrasts the characteristics of play to work, communitas, and ritual. Although he claims that the four patterns overlap in certain areas, play for the scouts prove to be more problematic. The scouts reposition themselves constantly in and outside of play. They play in a non-totalised world (Derrida 2001).
Play for the scouts is for “fun”. While fun is the goal of the activities for the scouts, it is also a means to achieve it. In the planning of the activities, the scout leaders clearly show mutual concern over the topic of fun. They leave the space for possibilities in games for it to allow unexpected situations which is necessary to the construction of fun. Fun for the scouts is when they achieve the goal. It is a forward movement of when a person realises that he or she is capable of doing something he or she has never thought of. Fun for the scouts, therefore, resembles Csikszentmihalyi’s concept of “enjoyment” to a certain extent.
The openness of fun as a central element in play of the scouts is important. Accordingly, it is necessary to leave the definition of play loosely open. Play is where the scouts negotiate the reality with possibilities. It also requires that the leaders evaluate the situations consistently even during the time of play. It is after all processual movements that generate certain kind of experience, which is not necessarily playful.
During the time of activities, the scouts practice their scoutness. They produce, introduce, negotiate, perform, and reproduce it during the time of play. Scoutness is the characters that the scouts commonly consider unique to scouting. The scouts use scoutness as a discourse despite its variety of subjective meanings. Paradoxically, this fluctuation makes scoutness work; everybody perceive what it is although they do not share the same meaning of it consistently.
Fun, play and scoutness are accordingly amalgamated within the scout community. However, owing to the openness of fun and the formlessness of play, the scouts are able to negotiate scoutness in particular activities.
Play as the most common activity among the scouts certainly consists of this scoutness. The scouts’ choices of activity depends heavily on the idea of scoutness, thus create a particular condition for fun. Fun, play and scoutness are accordingly amalgamated within the scout community. However, owing to the openness of fun and the formlessness of play, the scouts are able to negotiate scoutness in particular activities. The scouts can reinterpret and practice their own version of scoutness. In this line of thought, the scouts’ play activities are not merely the reflection of their community, but they are actually their community at play. It is not merely just when the scouts have “fun” together, it is also when they are reproducing their community’s values. During play, the scouts throw scoutness into reinterpretation and practice. They shape and reshape their community in this manner. In other words, the scouts build their community through play.
Bateson, Gregory 1972 Steps to an Ecology of Mind. California: Chandler Pub. Co.
Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly 1990 Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. New York: Harper & Row.
Derrida, Jacques 2001 Writing and Difference. Alan Bass, trans. London: Routledge.
Henricks, Thomas 2006 Play Reconsidered: Sociological Perspectives on Human Expression. Illinois: University of Illinois Press.
———- 2012 Play as a Pathway of Behaviour. American Journal of Play 4(2):225-253.
———- 2015 Play and the Human Condition. Illinois: University of Illinois Press.
Malaby, Thomas M. 2009 Anthropology and Play: The Contours of Playful Experience. New Literary Theory 40(1):205-218.