The Colors of Play: Re-thinking Organizations through re-cognizing the fluid nature of play

Nikolaj Junker Madsen & Bianca Caroline Stöckl

Student thesis: Master thesis

Abstract

The concept of 'play' has gained prominence in both organizational literature and practice since the cultural turn in the 1980s, in which new configurations of work and 'non-work' to increase business performance were recognized (Kavanagh et al., 2011). However, rather than embracing play's highly ambiguous character, management, and organizational theory, majorly has been limiting their inquiry into play to certain controllable aspects of organization. This misunderstanding has led to prejudice, and today, play is still mainly seen as a mere organizational tool or resource (Miller, 1996; 1997 in Andersen, 2009). We believe this is problematic as organizations thereby will not be open to all the opportunities that play potentially can bring.
In our research, we thus elaborate on the historical relationship of work and play, as we believe that the misunderstanding of play is related to the underlying logic of control, spawned by governmental rationalities that shape the way we work and how organizations function today. We address this problematic by proposing 'Colors of Play', inspired by Huizinga's (1949) claim to grasp play in its 'totality'. These 'colors' allow for conversation and self-contemplation in which readers can mix colors and create their own picture, hence understanding of play as a concept. By applying a narrative approach using Burke's Pentad theory to dissect our four empirical cases, these 'colors' thus serve as a lens to change perspective, whereby we discover how 'balancing openness with dependencies' as a 'new mechanism', challenges the traditional logics of organizations. Furthermore, we uncover that in an organization that is 'at play' it is possible to work seriously unserious, and where effectiveness and what it means to work efficiently can merge. An 'Organization at Play' (Andersen, 2009) thereby consistently allows itself and its players to be subject to constant re-interpretation, which often results in the creation of new meaning.
With this thesis, we, therefore, aim to challenge the conversation about play in organizational theory. Furthermore, we aim to provide direction for organizations to create a space where meaning can be taken apart, reconfigured, and put together differently to solve problems and create new value.

EducationsMSocSc in Organisational Innovation and Entrepreneurship , (Graduate Programme) Final Thesis
LanguageEnglish
Publication date2020
Number of pages132
SupervisorsDaniel Hjorth