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Homo Ludens: our ability to play as foundation for a healthy society


This information is subject to changes.

Entry Requirements

This course is meant for second year students of the Honours College FSW programme, Science & Society track.


In 1938, Leiden University's historian and philosopher Johan Huizinga famously stated:

'... civilisation is, in its earliest phases, played. It does not come from play (...), it arises in and as play, and never leaves it.' (Huizinga 1955:173)

Playing behaviour is so essential to our species that Huizinga proposed to move away from the term Homo Sapiens and use Homo Ludens instead. Playing takes a central role in the development of children. Scholars have argued that play should take a more prominent role in the school curriculum. But as adults, we also play: not only in our leisure time, when we plays sports, music, and games, but also in our professional lives, the element of play is a driving force in our behaviours and choices.

In this course, we will explore aspects of human play in the fields of politics, child development, psychological well-being and the arts. Our leading questions will be: What can we learn about the workings of society and the psyche by studying playing behaviour? And how can we use these insights to create a healthy society?

Learning objectives

After completing this course, you will:

  • be familiar with a broad range of insights on human play and playful behaviour

  • be familiar with current debates on the importance of play in contemporary society

  • be able to conduct small-scale qualitative research

  • be able to take your position in current scolarly debates on playing as an essential part of human nature and society

Mode of instruction

The course consists of five interactive meetings and one meeting for final presentations. In the course you will combine theoretical and empirical ways of learning. In the meetings, there will be ample room for discussion. We will also experiment with playful ways of learning.

In between meetings, you will conduct a small field or internet research a research group of 2 to 4 students. This research will take place in a social setting of your choice, where you can observe play and playful behaviour. You will design a research question, gather qualitative data and write a report that is both academic in content and an interesting read for a broader audience in style.

The course will give room to and require your personal involvement, allowing you to explore your personal motivation for doing socially engaged research.

Preliminary Literature List

Csikszentmihaly, M. (1975) Play and Intrinsic Rewards in Humanistic Psychology Vol.15, nr 3, pp 41-63.

Farrelly, C. (2013) Play and Politics in Journal of Political Science Education 9:4, 487-500

Frissen, V., Lammes, S., Lange, M. de, Mul, J. de, Reassens, J. (2015) Playful Identities, the Ludification of Digital Media Cultures. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press.
Chapter 1: Homo ludens 2.0: Play, media, and identity.
Chapter 3: Spiritual play: Encountering the sacred in World of Warcraft.

Vandewaetere, S. (2015) Playing After Auschwitz: the case of Primo Levi and Johan Huizinga's Homo Ludens. Incontri.





Number of participants

Maximum: 50 participants


You will receive qualitative feedback on your final assignment. Assessment in the categories insufficient, good or excellent will be based on commitment, courage and academic rigour.


Date Time Location
7-10-2020 18:00-20:00 online
14-10-2020 18:00-20:00 online
28-10-2020 18:00-20:00 online
11-11-2020 19:00-21:00 online
25-11-2020 18:00-20:00 online
9-12-2020 18:00-20:00 online


Registration via uSis, activity code 15305.

Contact information

If you have any questions, please contact Nienke van der Heide