“Beyond the Dialectic of Work and Play: A Serio-Ludic Rhetoric for Composition Studies.” – Rouzie

“Beyond the Dialectic of Work and Play: A Serio-Ludic Rhetoric for Composition Studies.” by Albert Rouzie

Article Citation: Rouzie, Albert. “Beyond the Dialectic of Work and Play: A Serio-Ludic Rhetoric for Composition Studies.” JAC 20.3 (2000): 627-58. Web.

Abstract (From Source): “I argue that the dichotomy between work and play in our culture continues to contribute to our alienation from creative connection to both work and play and that this dichotomy in English studies is further institionalized <sp> in composition studies. Although play may appear to exist outside the realm of rhetoric, where it is limited to “creative” or “expressive” writing, I argue that certain forms of play are highly rhetorical and that an emergent form of literacy must include fluency with the play element in the writing of both traditional and electronic discourse. Furthermore, in discussing play in the context of critical postmodernism, I argue that play does not
have to be apolitical, that its dialectical qualities can make it a powerful force for resistance and change” (629, emphasis mine).

Keywords: Play, Computers and Writing, Technology, Writing Studies, Ludology, Taylorism, serio-ludic (633), Rhetoric, composition

Further Reading:

  • Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly. Beyond Boredom and Anxiety: The Experience of
    Play in Work and Games. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1975.
  • Dryden, L.M. “Literature, Student-Centered Classrooms, and Hypermedia
    Environments.” Literacy and Computers: The Complications of Teaching
    and Learning with Technology. Ed. Cynthia L. Selfe and Susan Hilligoss.
    New York: MLA, 1994. 282-304.
  • Gibson, Walker. “Play and the Teaching ofWriting.” The Play of Language. Ed.
    Leonard F. Dean, Walker Gibson, and Kenneth G. Wilson. New York:
    Oxford UP, 1971. 281-87.
  • Runciman, Lex. “Fun?” College English 53 (1991): 156-62.


Key Quotes:

“Progressives who land in between [the two extremes] view play as the natural mode of cognitive development through which intrinsically motivated activity can free us from the oppressive, authoritarian traditions epitomized by the conservative approach” (628).

“The deeply entrenched divisions between work and play, seriousness and frivolity, and order and chaos inherited by educators ultimately impoverish our culture’s approach to literacy. By now it is a truism that computer technology has added new dimensions and requirements to our concept of literacy” (628-9).

“Despite the emergence of computer technology and its potential for enhancing the play element in literacy education, a normative ideology of work, reality, seriousness, practicality, and adult behavior continues to rule post-secondary institutions” (629).

“Even though the complexity of the word play itself suggests considerable slippage across the binary oppositions between work/play and seriousness/frivolity, the prevailing dichotomy between seriousness and play has been our culture’s most persistent approach to defining play” (630).

“We construct reality on the basis of work versus play, the elective versus the required, as if our attitudes and performance were prescribed by these categories: now we play; now we work” (630-1).

“If, in our work, we are alienated because we are not engaged in creative activity, we are likewise alienated from forms of play offered by the leisure industry in which we are mere consumers of prefabricated presentations. If one connotation of play is the freedom to engage in creative activity, the leisure industry offers not the freedom to be creative, but the freedom from the control of the work environment” (632-3, emphasis in original).

“Play’s rhetorical power lies in part in how it can reflect our most serious activities, but with a parodic twist, as in a funhouse mirror” (633).

“Play parodies not reality itself but an idea or image of reality held by players, participants, and audiences. Reality then, is put into play and reframed in the context of the rhetor/player and the audience” (634).

“Walker Gibson sees the writer as a ‘play-actor’ assuming various roles and masks in ‘dramatic play through language’ and thus functions as an antidote to the model of the writer as objective mapmaker (284-86). Both play and writing can, in this view, be seen as forms of ‘symbolic action’ through which individuals encounter and negotiate socio-cultural structures of meaning” (634).

“The process approach supports the practice of playing around with ideas by viewing writing as provisional, deferring performance anxiety by involving students with the associative, constructive, and discursive process of writing in the hope that they feel a sense of intrinsic motivation” (634-5).

“Serio-ludic play calls attention to itself as play while achieving rhetorical purposes by conveying content of a serious nature through playfully stylistic means” (635)

With the shift to the “process approach, a student subject has emerged: seemingly for the first time students might focus on the intricacies of their experiences of writing rather than solely on the fetishized product” (638).

“Computer technology, according to Lanham, returns rhetoric to a fruitful oscillation between truth and style that has always been one of its disturbing and enabling tensions. Western thought has been constituted by ‘two clusters of motive’ (game/play and ‘being serious’) that the computer’s liquid interface keeps in productive oscillation in a more or less sustained and self-conscious way (57)” (641).

“It is not underlife itself that must be overcome but the alienated nature of academic ‘gamesplaying’ that results in cynical manipulation of classroom behavior and writing for external rewards that prevents the commitment to examining roles and identity necessary for growth as a writer” (644).

“Underlife and, more broadly, serio-ludic play are not inherently disruptive of the social order; rather, they open up a space, an opportunity for critique, while they help to connect that process with what we think of as “real life” and help make the work of composition less onerous, alienated, and drudgelike. From this perspective, play does not stand in
the way of critical agendas; rather, it is a necessary but not sufficient element of social change. Play can, of course, be a force for containment rather than subversion, since, as Sutton-Smith points out, “games of disorder” are balanced out with “games of order.” The outcome of play depends on what you do with it, on your goals and values, as well as on the cultural and material conditions within which it is enacted” (645).

Further Questions:

  • If the serio-ludic approach to composition studies is delicate, but will bridge the gap between work and play in academia, is game-based pedagogy the answer to its implementation?
  • There is a large focus on hypertextuality and digital compositions as being the playful options in the composition classroom. Rouzie stresses that the networked-classroom should be the focus of composition, but does this privilege those that have access to technology and previous technological skill?
  • I agree that bridging the gap between work and play is important in academia and the workplace, but is there an inherent balancing act that needs to be engaged in order to make sure writing instruction doesn’t fall in favor to experimentation and style? Don’t we have to help students understand disciplinary genres before we deconstruct them with technology?

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