Kjølsrød, L. (2003) ‘Adventure Revisited: On Structure and Metaphor in Specialized Play’, in Sociology, Vol. 37, No. 3: 459—76.
This article discusses a form of adult play, 'specialized play', which includes collecting objects or having various physical adventures. The article is based on the definition of adventure by Simmel, which 'springs from a differentiation within life that opens for something unexpected. It occurs when the continuity of life is disregarded on principle' (460), or where we choose to disregard it. We find that adventures can connect closely with ordinary life nevertheless, but in a playful way. In this way, adventurers find 'their activity is turned into a metaphorical system, highly useful, as we shall see, in their construction of identity and attainment of individuality' (460).
For Simmel and Freud, the opposite of play is 'what is real' (460) That is not to say that play escapes the real, however: for Freud, for example, indulging in a cherished hobby can be a way of acting out a defence against insecurity, enhanced by the repetition of the activity. Similarly, those who set out to collect a whole set of objects, or to climb a mountain, can be seen as attempting to 'symbolically transcend their own deaths' (461) [a kind of 'magical resolution' for the middle classes]. Further, organised play reassures us of our individuality [with a link to the notion of action in Goffman here]: 'Daring situations, small and large, offer opportunities to demonstrate valued conduct' (461). In this way, 'actors and audiences can still maintain analytical and emotional distance to [sic] the dilemmas of the real world' (461).
The devoted collection of objects, or enduring 'unrelenting misery from beginning to end' as in serious mountaineering (462) may look inexplicable. One explanation might be that these activities are connected to work in some way [rather as in Parker's (1983) classic account of the connections between work and leisure here]. However, Simmel's notion of frame or boundary seems to apply, where a private area is separated out, and also strengthened. Organised activity helps to develop notions of a self, and the role of physical objects can be important 'as stage props for the benefit of those who assume that ways of thinking, relating and being have some degree of external representation. We recognise this as metaphoric communication' (463).
It is not easy to master developments that are required to maintain these boundaries. Participants may go through a career, a set of stages, and may not proceed through the stages in any easy or linear way. Stage one involves a choice of objects to collect or adventures to undertake, and this is 'never accidental. It may relate to the collective memory of an ethnic group, to family history, to occupation, to sexual preference, to political or other values' (463). Several examples follow, such as the person who collected Russian stamps because of an early interest in communism, or 'homosexual males who collect dolls' (464). Novices may well be guided by a mentor. Stage two involves finding a wider context for the activity, or 'some ideological reason for what one is doing' (464) This stage involves investing objects with specialist meanings, and adopting specialist aesthetic views. The third stage involves considerable work and effort to develop expertise and to pursue the hobby. This can involve substantial adjustments and implications for the person and their lives [and the notion of a career in Becker is referred to here].
One motivation is to 'fill in the gaps'; another is to develop the chance for more action (in this adventuresome sense) (466). Here, Goffman is explicitly cited in explaining the notion of action as involving 'taking chances and grasping opportunities, undertaken outside the normal rounds, and possessing a consummate end-in-itself character' (466). Dramatic opportunities to experience emotion are often involved, and success can be seen in terms of heroic or other admirable personal qualities. Leisure provides much more opportunities here than other aspects of life. Participants can also develop 'flair', which can be seen as another personal quality, particularly useful in narratives explaining how one overcomes indeterminacy and risk. Collection often involves a useful kind of seriality, which 'facilitates specialization and invites ambition' (468). The continuation of the activity over time renders it particularly significant: it 'stages the player and a dynamic relation to self and others and sets many memories in motion' (468). This is another example of how a leisure activity can be incorporated into a social identity. Seriality may be more motivating in the middle of the career, and less at the beginning and the end.
An adventure can be modified in various interesting ways, through specialization, or through finding increasingly difficult tasks. Many collectors apparently have different goals and themes running at the same time, to insure the steady delivery of achievement and novelty. Satisfaction follows a 'running adjustment between a flow of challenges and changing ambition' (469) [an allusion to Csikszentmihalyi (1975) on 'flow']. An adventure has to be managed in terms of its pace, and in the way it relates to every day life. Collectors can justify and valorise their activities:
'by describing themselves and what they do in terms of four binary oppositions: they insist that they are playful by birth, not just by learning; that they are motivated by enjoyment more than by external rewards, although money and social status may be highly appreciated as by-products; they think of their efforts as been fairly methodical and based on knowledge more than on impulse; and many have some altruistic ideal in addition to the personal enjoyment' (469 - 70).People can develop a sense of identity from a number of sources of meaning, including family occupation location and so on, but 'key metaphors from adventures appear very useful in this respect' (470). For one thing, subjective narratives can be supported with documentation, the display of actual objects indicating how successful one has been, for example. This is a version of the 'looking glass self' notion of Cooley. Collections of various kinds can also manage a less respectable identity, as in the early membership of the Communist Party mentioned before. Collections and adventures can provide 'a metaphor that brings solace' (472), as when a collection for a widow requires little money, and no particular social dependencies. Adventurers take full advantage of the ability of the objects concerned to generate multiple meanings, more or less exactly as did the Dadaists and their attempts to make art out of junk. This capacity, combined with the ability to distance oneself, can be extremely useful in expressing emotions and identities.
Indulging in this kind of specialized play is a way of coping with the excesses of modernity, an alternative to becoming blase as in flaneurie, a way of managing otherness. In play, 'every day expectations do not apply, and... [players]... are able to realise their own purposes in their own creations' (473). In this way, specialized play can be 'made to lend actors support, depth of experience and individuality' (473). Specialized play offers a way to act out the dilemmas of being incorporated within society while being an individual, a matter of maintaining boundaries. Players are not always successful in this -- they can over invest in the activity and seem compulsive, for example. Class also provides limits to the opportunities, as Bourdieu argues in his discussion on autodidacticism and its social risks. Nevertheless, specialized play needs to be researched as one response to an instrumental society, or to notions such as disenchantment. The activities reveal 'a growing conception of the creative imagination, which sees expressive fulfillment... as compatible with commitment and morality... [a matter of using]... adventure for their own purposes' (474).
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