Institute of Advanced Studies (IAS)


The Anthropology of Play: Encounters and Emergences

11 July 2024–12 July 2024, 9:00 am–6:00 pm

playful, colourful lines, abstract oil painting

What can an anthropological approach bring to our understandings of play?

This event is free.

Event Information

Open to







Kellynn Wee and Giles Bunch


IAS Common Ground
G11, ground floor, South Wing
UCL, Gower St, London
United Kingdom

What is an anthropology of play? This simple question has drawn the attention of anthropologists working in a panoply of fields, particularly since an appreciation of what play constitutes has broadened far beyond the study of games. This conference, inaugurating the newly-established AnthroPlay network, seeks to return us to the heart of the anthropological approach: ethnographically driven engagements with play and playfulness. While conceptual thinking on play is attractive due to its broad interdisciplinary nature, we seek to centre anthropological methods, theories, and approaches to its study. Meaningful cross-disciplinary work requires us to first define and reflect on what our discipline can offer before we enter into dialogue with others. With that in mind, we ask: What do we, as anthropologists and ethnographers, bring to the magic circle of play?

In the spirit of experimentation, during this two-day conference we intend to play around in the most earnest way, inviting responses to questions such as:

  • How is play understood within the anthropological canon? What surprising and useful places can we look to in order to find tools to think about play?
  • Is play a doing or a being? What is play?
  • What are the slippages present in how anthropologists approach play? How can we reconcile them – and should we try to reconcile them at all?
  • How can we both distinguish ourselves and draw from cognate fields, such as games and leisure studies, while being precise about what an anthropological approach to play means?
  • How can we rescue play from being a residual category to other anthropological categories and analytics relating to studies of labour, games, religion, and ritual? (Does it need rescuing at all?)

We also insist on not just reading texts of play, but also playing them. Scholars of play continue to engage with each other primarily through the reading and reception of texts, but this conference is an opportunity to play up the intersubjective dynamism that play can offer.

As such, in the spirit of experimentation, we have incorporated not just presentations on play but things to play with. Participants will bring games and other playful experiences often experienced or made in the field, and will start our conference with a session of play. A meta-question therefore underlying this conference is whether we can incorporate a sense of playfulness in how we as academics relate to each other -- and how this can shape new ways to think and be together.

Note: This is a hybrid event. Please select the correct ticket type when checking out so that we can reach you with the right information and Zoom links: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/929705051837

edited Octagon logo
This event has been funded by the IAS Octagon Small Grants Fund.