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homo ludensliterally, ‘man the player’. The fullest sociological treatment of the term is to be found in the work of Johan Huizinga (Homo Ludens, 1944). He argues that PLAY precedes culture in the development of human societies. Huizinga proposes an alternative model of social development in which the play-forms of reverie, irony and the capacity to imagine ‘as if, are interpreted as being the spur to human innovation and growth. In addition to dominating SPORT and LEISURE, play forms are analysed as the basis of legal processes (the game of advocacy and defence), philosophy (the arts of rhetoric and sophistry) and war (mock battles and war-games). Huizinga's work was intended to rescue play from the marginal status which it has usually been assigned in the history of ideas. He was only partially successful. The conception of ‘man the player’ lacks the urgency or brutality of other metaphors of human development such as ‘man the worker’ and ‘man the tyrant’. Nonetheless, homo ludens provides a challenging alternative view of history and society. Its full potential has yet to be realized. Compare HOMO FABER.
Collins Dictionary of Sociology, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2000