Play and Development: A Symposium with Contributions by Jean Piaget, Peter Wolff, Rene A. Spitz, Konrad Lorenz, Lois Barclay, and Erik H. Erikson
reviewed by Brian Sutton-Smith - 1973
Title: Play and Development: A Symposium with Contributions by Jean Piaget, Peter Wolff, Rene A. Spitz, Konrad Lorenz, Lois Barclay, and Erik H. Erikson
Author(s): Maria W. Piers
Publisher: W.W. Norton & Company, New York
ISBN: , Pages: 176, Year: 1972
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Despite the term "play" in the title, on the dust cover, and in Pier's epilogue, where she says, "The book's most frequent and most powerful theme is play," this is not, in general, a book about play. It is a series of essays on human development in which the speakers were asked to "illuminate their approaches at the border separating knowledge from mystery." Only two of the speakers (Murphy and Erikson) chose to talk about play.
Piaget writes on "Some Aspects of Operations" in his customary manner, including material on memory and reflexive operations. He finishes with a memorable quote: "Every time we teach a child something, we keep him from inventing it by himself. On the other hand, that which we allow him to discover by himself will remain with him visibly ... for all the rest of his life." (p. 27)
Wolff speculates on developmental pathways which are alternatives to those proposed by Piaget, and says some useful things about how a series of affective structures might be constructed. Spitz emphasizes the fundamental character of the mother-child relationship for all later learning capacities. In particular, he focuses on the role of vision in integrating the sensory; manifold into an integrated ego. In his later commentary (p. 135), Erikson calls attention to the mother-child interplay, rather than vision alone, as the source of said ego. The most interesting, as well as contentious essay, however, is that by Lorenz on: "The Enmity Between Generations." As he sees it, this enmity is a new emergence of classic tribalism, but this time within national groups rather than between them. He rests his case on a cataloguing of ethological imperatives, as well as on a series of personal experiences of the teeth baring, egg: throwing, hateful young attacking their, elders. He explains this phenomenon (whose generality he never establishes) in terms of some speculations about contemporary as well as historical child rearing practices, which are about as substantial as Mr. Nixon's remarks on the role of permissiveness in explaining the decay of modern America. This is indeed an essay on the borderline between knowledge and mystery. However, the essay does occasion remarks by Erikson on the same generation gap, in which he moves back and forth between the various meanings that the phenomenon may assume, showing that the hatred which concerns Lorenz is combined also with a playful episodic quality which, in effect, make it quite unlike the ethnic intergroup hostilities Lorenz has in mind. The difference these two outstanding thinkers display in writing about the same enmity is the best thing in the book and a priceless illustration of the uses to which maturity can be put.
With Murphy on "Infants' Play and Cognitive Development," the discussion of play begins. She suggests that the space-time intricacies of the mother-child interaction become reflected in the patterns of thematic play. This is an important concept because now that we know play and creativity are linked, the effort to trace heightened playfulness to early mother-infant relationships takes on new meaning. Erikson in "Play and Actuality" turns, as he says, "after numerous digressions to the play of children—an infinite resource of what is potential in man." (p. 127) He notes that he is loath to fit play into the theories to which
he and others at different times and under other conditions have subordinated related phenomena. Nevertheless, in his account the most general function of play seems to be a quality of all things alive, namely the restoration and creation of a leeway of mastery in a set of developments or circumstances.
Those familiar with Erikson's earlier statement that the young child's play is the precursor of the adult's planning will be interested in his shifted reference to solitary construction being the infantile model of the playwright's work. Thus play becomes the precursor of play, not work. It is a subtle shift and a less dualistic one. As Erikson says: "For if reality is the structure of facts consensually agreed upon in a given state of knowledge, actuality is the leeway created by new forms of interplay. Without actuality, reality becomes a prison of stereotypy, while actuality always must retest reality to become truly playful. To fully understand this, we must study for each stage of life the interpenetration of the cognitive and the affective, as well as the moral and the instinctual. We may then realize that in adulthood, an individual gains leeway for himself, as he creates it for others: here is the soul of adult play." (p. 165)