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Brian Sutton-Smith (1924-2015)

Monday, March 9, 2015   (1 Comments)
Posted by: Lorraine Cashman
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From the Association for the Study of Play --

Brian Sutton-Smith, pioneer in the study of the significance of Play, died March 7 at the age of 90. The cause is listed as complications due to Alzheimer’s disease.


Sutton-Smith was one of the foremost play scholars of the last 100 years. His The Ambiguity of Play (1987) stands alongside Johann Huizinga’s Homo Ludens (1938) and Roger Caillois’s Man Play and Games (1961) as a touchstone of play theory. For more than half a century, Sutton-Smith led or synthesized all the major advancements in play studies. Sutton-Smith's interdisciplinary approach included research into play history and cross-cultural studies of play, as well as research in psychology, education, and folklore. He maintained that the interpretation of play must involve all of its forms, from child's play to gamblingsportsfestivalsimagination, and nonsense


His collected works, papers, and personal library are a key element of the Brian Sutton-Smith Library and Archives of Play at the The Strong National Museum of play, in Rochester, New York.


Born in Wellington, New Zealand, in 1924, Sutton-Smith trained as a teacher, completed a BA and MA, and was then awarded the first Education PhD in New Zealand in 1954. Shortly thereafter he was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship which brought him to the University of California, Berkeley. Sutton-Smith held professorial positions at Bowling Green State University, Teacher’s College, Columbia University and the University of Pennsylvania. He remained Professor Emeritus at the University of Pennsylvania until his death.


For combined diversity and magnitude, as well as for impact on the thinking of others, Sutton-Smith’s body of scholarly work on play is unparalleled. Sutton-Smith is the author of some 50 books, the most recent of which was The Ambiguity of Play, and some 350 scholarly articles. In addition to researching and writing at a feverish pace all his adult life, Sutton-Smith also lectured throughout the world; participated in making television films on toys and play in Great Britain, Canada, and the United States; consulted on a number of children’s television projects (including Captain KangarooNickelodeon, Murdoch Children's Television); participated in numerous scholarly organizations; helped launch what is now The Association for the Study of Play; helped establish the Children’s Folklore Society; and secured countless grants and received numerous citations of recognition, including lifetime achievement awards from the American Folklore Society and The Association for the Study of Play.


In addition, the New Zealand Association for Research in Education created the Sutton-Smith Doctoral Award, which is awarded annually for an excellent Doctoral thesis by an NZARE member.


Sutton-Smith was also the author of a series of novels about boys growing up in New Zealand in the 1930s, entitled Our Street, Smitty Does A Bunk, and The Cobbers. Initially published in serial form in 1949 in the New Zealand School Journal, the stories provided a realistic and unexpurgated reminiscence of childhood and created a national furor as Brian Sutton-Smith allegedly endorsed morally unacceptable behavior in them. Conservative representatives of local Education Boards and Headmasters’ Associations condemned Sutton-Smith’s depiction of salty language and rough-and-tumble play in his publications, but members of the Labor Party praised them for meeting a national need for stories about the country’s children.


Sutton-Smith is predeceased by his wife Shirley and son Mark. He is survived by his longtime companion Deborah Thurber, his daughters Katherine Moyer (Bill), Leslie Sutton-Smith (Mark Blackman), Mary Sutton-Smith (Warren Tucker), Emily Sutton-Smith (John Lepard), and grandchildren Kelly, Wendy, Robin, Sally, Brian, Olivia, Madeleine, Milo, Alyssa and Clara. Memorial services will be announced at a later date.


Moira L. Marsh says...
Posted Friday, March 27, 2015
A great loss.

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