Playfights as trouble and respite

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Playfulness is easily overlooked in studies of total institutions because it does not match what we expect from institutional order. By studying playfulness ethnographically, social life in today’s institutions can be depicted both more naturalistically and more unexpectedly. This article explores how members of Swedish youth care institutions enact and respond to playful disputes or aggression in ways that make physical contact accountable and soften or transform controversial masculinity shows. Staff tries to down-key playfight invitations to “treatment” or “learning,” but playfighting also offers youth and staff identificatory respite from the institutional regime. Playfighting is a recurrent pattern in the social life of a youth care institution and sits at the core of what inmates and staff have to deal with.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Contemporary Ethnography
Publication statusPublished - 2014

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Sociology (excluding Social Work, Social Psychology and Social Anthropology)

Free keywords

  • total institution
  • frame analysis
  • play
  • play fight
  • doing gender
  • Sociology


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