Genre relation

In her research into the power relationships within children’s play and interrelating groups based on children’s mutual communication, Schwartzman (1978:210-245) was faced with the same difficulties concerning the premises for registration: What constitutes play and what is the clear text/context of play? Schwartzman chose to allow “the facts (to) speak for themselves” (1978:247).

In considering the various relationships between the persons-at-play, she has been inspired by Turner (1969:37-42) who describes the relationships between the participants in play as ritual processes which often do have the characteristics of play.

Where body language and speech are concerned, she is inspired by Garvey & Berndt (1975) - their research into “children’s organisation“ of “let’s pretend”-play. The same relationships and conditions apply to play and interaction within the family, between parents and children, between younger and older siblings who are the target groups for this book’s research.

Schwartzman uses Bateson’s metacommunication theory and the terms “text/context” (content/environment and the environmental framework) to explain that, in their mutual relations, some children are more powerful than others. They employ dictatorial body language and certain verbal terms by means of which they either incorporate other children into or exile them from their play groups.

Metacommunication is apparent in two ways:

  • as a way in which to establish, maintain and develop play using order and regulations
  • as another, parallel way in which to control power, position, relationshipsbetween roles, persons and objects so that disorder and contravention of the rules of the game do not get out of hand.

Metacommunication between children within play is demonstrated when they use a number of controlling, directing or manipulating statements. On the basis of her own investigations, Schwartzman lists nine different types of statement:

  • constructive statements: (Let’s play!)
  • connecting statements: (Can I play too? - I’ll be baby!)
  • rejecting statements: (No, you can’t join in! We’re not doing that!)
  • disintegrating statements: (I don’t want to do this anymore! Let’s do/say this instead!)
  • defining statements: (I’m the baby and you’re the mummy!)
  • accepting statements: (I was the baby, I lay there sleeping!)
  • declining statements: (I don’t want to be baby!)
  • maintaining statements: (You make a good baby, so we’ll carry on playing!)
  • reformulating statements: (Why don’t we….. instead!)

These statements are used by the children to keep the play process going or to develop it. They are not used in the same order but function on the same level as a kind of key to communication in order to keep all the options open.

The distribution of power and influence between the persons-at-play is maintained via the participants’ mutual relations and positions.

In this book, power and influence are maintained via mutual relationships and positions between parents and children and between older and younger siblings (or playmates) which again depend on the individual personality and gender of the persons involved, their position in the family group, their dispositions and abilities, etc. There are, therefore, three elements in the text/context of play:

The play genre:

number of participants (size of the group), the play diad, triad or group, which is either symmetrical, asymmetrical or confrontational

The model for relationships:

(in this book’s analysis): parents, the child, siblings and playmates (both adults and children)

Play themes:

vary. They can be formal or informal, depending on the genre and relationships involved.



Model for the relationship

Play themes

1. Asymmetrical dyads

* Parent-child

* Older/younger siblings

* Informal

* Play between siblings

* Family play


2. Asymmetrical friendship groups

* Teacher/pedagogue -


*Older child - younger child

* Formal

* Play school, witches, wicked step-mother, “I know better”


3. Symmetrical dyads or groups

* Friend-friend

* Group-group

* Informal, everything

* Informal/formal

* Name games, getting to know each other


4. Metacommunicative


* Mixed relationships, where the relationship is called symmetrical but is in fact asymmetrical


* informal/formal

* (All kinds of play)

5. Group confrontations

* Good boys/bad boys

* Good girls/wicked witches

* Cowboys and Indians, Batman, witches


(Table partly based on Schwartzman (1978:244))

Play is therefore unpredictable and can be interpreted in different ways. Its themes are filled with many different impenetrable aspects.



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