Playing for privilege : an ethnography of play in a summer camp

Cohen, Zelda Ruth (1980) Playing for privilege : an ethnography of play in a summer camp. Masters thesis, Memorial University of Newfoundland.

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    Available under License - The author retains copyright ownership and moral rights in this thesis. Neither the thesis nor substantial extracts from it may be printed or otherwise reproduced without the author's permission.
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Abstract

The primary purpose of this thesis is to elucidate the ways in which play is utilized by young people to manipulate and alter social structures. -- Fieldwork for this study was conducted in a summer camp in the Haliburton Highlands region of Ontario during the summer of 1979. The camp accepted campers between the ages of approximately 6 and 17, while the counsellors' ages ranged from 16 to 23 years. Research was focused specifically upon the play of two age groups within the camp, the intermediate girls (aged 10 to 14 years) and the senior campers (aged 15 to 17 years). -- The camp was structured in the form of an egalitarian community. No camper received extra privileges and all campers were treated similarly regardless of their age. Counsellors, by virtue of their position in the camp, enjoyed a number of rights and privileges which were withheld from campers. -- Various forms of conflict arose between senior campers and counsellors, resulting from the fact that these campers were often the same age or older than the staff members. The counsellors' freedom to regulate their own hours and to smoke were perhaps the most pronounced causes of conflict. When campers endeavoured to share these privileges it was often their age mates on staff who attempted to enforce the camp rules and stop campers from enjoying these restricted privileges. Senior campers dealt with these restrictions by creating their own 'private' areas on the camp grounds. During daily free time activities, as well as each night, campers would move into the 'bush', in groups or alone, to free themselves from their counsellors' almost constant supervision. The privacy the bush afforded these campers gave them the opportunity to, for example, smoke and/or be with members of the opposite sex. At the same time as the campers were enjoying these 'illicit' privileges, the free time of staff members was interrupted, since they would have to search for the missing campers. In this way senior campers could not only enjoy the same privileges as their age mates on staff, but also interrupt the staff members' free time activities. Hence, campers, by forcing counsellors into nightly games of 'hide and seek', could invert the camp's power structure, taking rights for themselves while removing them from staff members, and thereby momentarily exert control over the counsellors and the camp. -- The intermediate girls did not share the senior campers' above-mentioned problems. For this group, the egalitarian nature of the camp, which demanded that they share their friendship equally with all their cabin mates, was a problem. Although strong cliques formed within cabin groups, counsellors attempted to maintain equality among all their campers. During periods of free play however, clique members were able to emphasize their popularity and camaraderie by supporting each other and ostracizing non-members. In this way clique members could reinforce and emphasize their self-images as popular and powerful individuals by forcing outsiders into a position of unpopularity and powerlessness. -- Although the senior campers and the intermediate girls were contesting for different types of power and/or recognition, both groups used play as the arena for the contest. Both groups also required the presence and/or participation of non-members in order for their messages to be communicated. In this way much of the play of the intermediate and senior campers was concerned with 'presenting’ their ideas to an audience. -- In sum, the present study supports the contention that play can be utilized to alter social systems (Sutton-Smith 1972:17; Turner 1974). This study also illustrates that the potential freedoms inherent in play are as available to young people as they are to adults, suggesting therefore, that young people have the capacity to recognize and alter binding social structures.

Item Type: Thesis (Masters)
URI: http://research.library.mun.ca/id/eprint/3987
Item ID: 3987
Additional Information: Bibliography: leaves 150-160.
Department(s): Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of > Anthropology
Date: 1980
Date Type: Submission
Library of Congress Subject Heading: Play--Social aspects; Camps--Social aspects

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