Natasha Lushetich


In Perform or Else, McKenzie suggests that performance is to the 21st century what overt disciplinary regimes were to the 18th and 19th century  – an ontological and historical formation of power (2001). The imperative to perform refers to techno-organisational efficiency and to excessive performance. Unlike the repressive disciplinary principle theorised by Foucault, which prompts normative behaviour, the performance principle adopts the norm by means of transgression. As both inversion and transgression are characteristic of play, the following question has become pertinent: can the recent glorification of play in all walks of life (business, education, advertising, tourism, fashion) be seen as the next echelon in the performance-indexed formation of power? Are the repeated calls for new ways of playing old games really much more than new ways of perpetuating old instrumentalist and exploitative strategies?

By delving into three areas of play: 1. sports and games; 2. leisure and sex; and 3. politics and finance, this paper traces the radical modification Huizinga's concept of play has undergone in the past two decades (both as a result of new communicational technologies and  new cultural practices). In so doing the paper elucidates the role of play (qua activity) and games (qua structure/s) in the creation of intersubjective realities arguing for a paradoxical articulation of play as always-already serious; a hegemonic force par excellence.

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