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date: 25 February 2020

Abstract and Keywords

Children’s play in industrialized societies such as the United States tends to be observed either under controlled conditions, in a laboratory or studied via closed-choice questionnaires, or under semi-controlled conditions in the home or child-care center. By contrast, studies of play in the majority world tend to be conducted by ethnographers who observe in any of the typical settings in which children are found. There are both disciplinary and paradigmatic reasons for this. However, even those methods that are intended to assess children’s naturally occurring play in their everyday contexts may misrepresent the extent to which children play, their types of play, and their typical partners in play. Misrepresentation may occur by examining play in limited settings or by relying on parental reports (in the industrialized world) or by ignoring the heterogeneity of contexts in rapidly changing parts of the majority world. We present a method, designed explicitly to fit within a contextualist paradigm, for observing play in its everyday contexts, and use data derived from a single city from each of the United States, Kenya, and Brazil to illustrate the heterogeneity of young children’s experiences and cast doubt on the generality of earlier findings.

Keywords: play, culture, ecology, ethnography, paradigms, contextualism, methods, United States, Kenya, Brazil, children, parents, everyday lives

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