Linköping Studies in Arts and Science
No. 173

Politics and alignments in children's play dialogue. Play arenas and participation

Mia Thorell

Akademisk avhandling

som för avläggande av filosofie doktorsexamen vid Linköpings universitet kommer att offentligt försvaras i Wallenbergsalen, Östergötlands Länsmuseum, fredagen den 27 mars 1998, kl 13.15. Avhandlingen kommer att försvaras på engelska.


This thesis is about 6- and 8-year-old children's play dialogues, and its theoretical starting point is discourse analysis, on the one hand, and theories on play, on the other hand. The empirical basis is five studies on children's elicited and naturalistic play. All studies concern politics and relational alignments.

The primary concern is how children, when playing, position themselves relative to other people. In their creation of play arenas, children position themselves or are positioned as powerful or powerless persons. In the practical construction of play, appropriation of physical space or objects is one way for children to obtain control. The children enlarged their interactive space by exploiting objects and territory. Moreover, the children's play was embodied in that they enacted a character with their own bodies, and in that they employed prosody, gestures, and other nonverbal moves. Children's nonverbal and verbal communication in play have been analyzed in detail. One outcome of the micro-analyses is a novel set of transcription schemas for nonverbal and verbal moves in play dialogues.

The children's awareness of social hierarchies was displayed in their enactments, in that the children used different discursive strategies depending whether or not they enacted a high status role. For instance, their disputes and play directives were finely attuned to the role figure's position in societal hierarchies.

One implication of this study is that children's play is imbued with emotions moving between aggression (disputes) and positive emotion ('love-play'). This means that power and affect are not mutually exclusive categories. Instead, children create play arenas in which both power and "deep" play are present in boys' and girls' playing to comparable degrees. In order to understand the complexity of children's play practices, their play should be conceptualized in terms of movements in social space, involving both vertical distance (power) and horizontal distance (affect).

Keywords: play arenas, participation, play dialogue, relational alignments, control, affect, embodiment.

Language: English

Institute of Tema Research, Department of Child Studies, Linköpings universitet, S-581 83 Linköping, Sweden, Linköping 1998.

ISBN 91-7219-175-9, ISSN 0282-9800