Players for life : reflections by elders on play across the age continuum : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts in Social Anthropology at Massey University
To children play appears effortless, but it is available to us all, whatever our time of life. Play theory is typically aligned to theoretical hypotheses that are concerned with possible future functions of play with older persons receiving scant reference. 'Protestant work ethic' principles define notions of play as the antithesis of 'work', impeding 'progress' and interpreted as 'frivolous' and 'non-productive'. Academic critique on adult play has commonly highlighted its symbolic nature expressed through cultural forms such as, myth, cosmology, ritual and art. Such avenues of cultural expression carry unlimited potential for social transformative change, with play surviving even amid atrocity and material devastation. In this study the play lens is broadened to include interviews and observations made on toys and play in Tacoma, North America; and on returning to New Zealand, participant observation was undertaken with a group of elders who reside in Auckland, New Zealand. Fieldwork included semi-structured face-to-face interviews and time spent with individuals at a retirement village, a U3A (University of the Third Age) group, a rest home and in the wider community. Constant comparison with a grounded theory approach was used (Glaser & Strauss, 1967) with several themes emerging. Analysis distinguished play as a self authenticating act, and spontaneous experiences of 'fun.' Play entered into paid and non-paid pursuits and private/public domains. Engagement in various pursuits and activities resembled 'work ethic' principles, especially among those who had invested in a retirement 'lifestyle' option. Play was a crucial vehicle for creative expression, individual and community redefinition of identity, and valued networks of support. This research demonstrated that normative paradigms are insufficient when critiquing adult play, and that a broader, more dynamic approach is called for.