Playtime, Lifetime: The Anthropology and Psychology of the Lifespan

Spring Open
Class Standing
Ada Vane
Eric Stein

In this playful program we will explore the spaces and theories of play, as well as psychology of human development that allows us to play. Who decides where and when we play? Who makes the rules, and why? How do various contemporary and historical cultures define play? How does our changing cognitive, social and physical ability affect the way we think about ourselves, the world and others? How do these affordances allow us to grow, learn, and play?

Our studies of the anthropology of play will consider the lifespan from childhood to old age historically and cross-culturally, and aim to develop “structural competency”: an awareness of how larger economic and political dynamics shape possibilities for human thriving. We will delve into a range of social theorists – Bakhtin, Foucault, Goffman, de Certeau, and others – to explore the interrelationship between power and play. As part of the ethnographic work, students will learn foundational techniques in observation and documentation, as well as strategies for analyzing and interpreting everyday objects and settings. We will pay particular attention to accessibility and universal design in relation to games, toys, and playgrounds, and engage in design projects that apply theory to practice through creations of our own.

In Lifespan Developmental Psychology, we will explore psychological theories in human development from in utero through childhood, adolescence, early to late adulthood and death. Areas of emphasis include individual physical, cognitive, social, intellectual, perceptual, personality, and emotional human development, as well as cultural and environmental context affecting these processes, and the relationships among the various threads of development in each age period. The program will provide students with the chance to draw on their own experiences as they weigh these theories, research, and issues/topics. This area of the program will prepare students not only for careers in psychology but also education, entrepreneurship, law enforcement and justice, medicine, nursing, parenthood, social work, teaching, etc.

In addition, students will develop a research proposal as part of the class that can be expanded into a future independent study project or research capstone.

Upon successful completion of this program, students will be able to…

1. Assess the biological, cognitive, social, and cultural influences on development throughout the lifespan.

2. Think critically regarding contemporary and past research in the study of lifespan psychology

3. Apply developmental psychology principles to daily life.

4. Detect myths and misconceptions regarding human development throughout the lifespan.

5. Describe methodological approaches used to study development.

6. Use ethnographic techniques to understand and improve human lives.


Course Reference Numbers
Sr (16): 30086
Jr (16): 30087
So (16): 30088
Fr (16): 30089

Academic Details

Psychology, Education, Social Sciences


$180 total fee covers entry for museum visits ($25) and two night overnight field trip to Seattle ($155).


In Person (S)

See definition of Hybrid, Remote, and In-Person instruction

Schedule Details
SEM 2 B1107 - Workshop