Psychology, Civilization, and Play

What do games of checkers or football have in common with the serious pursuits of common life, such as government, commerce, or law? In the early 20th century, the Dutch historian Johann Huizinga proposed that play and games are the foundational basis for all of human society. During play, we enter set-apart social frames, where special, socially constructed rules normatively govern our behavior. But the same thing is true for the laws of a country — a unique social frame causes certain rules to apply because we agree on them, not because they’re natural laws. Today, development psychology suggests that imagination games during childhood may be the means by which humans learn to understand and deal with rules and social institutions. As  as Huizinga argued, we may be homo ludens: man the player of games. In this 8-week seminar students will have the opportunity to read selections from Huizinga and other theorists of play, cross-fertilized by contributions from behavioral biology and developmental psychology.

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