Anthony  D  Buckley

From Anthony D Buckley and Mary Catherine Kenney 1995 Negotiating identity: rhetoric, metaphor and social drama in Northern Ireland.  Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington.

Chapter Nine



 'You want to watch out for them boys', said a colleague good humouredly to me.  'They'll never miss a chance. There's nothing they'll enjoy more than wrong footing you'.

 I raised an eye brow.

 'They'll try to get you on the wrong foot', he explained cheerfully, 'just out of badness'.


It is odd that so many studies of life in Northern Ireland neglect to mention the humour of the place. Ask any Ulsterman why he likes to live in Northern Ireland and he is likely to tell you that he does not want to miss the 'crack' , the witty conversation. Fun is an important feature of life in Ulster. It is, therefore, strange that so many social scientists should miss it out altogether. More than this, playful genres of social interaction often provide a means of dramatizing the existence of a specific kind of social relationship. The dramatized relationships, however, are not always as loving or as friendly as those defined in the playful rites of the Pentecostalists.


'Them boys', to whom my colleague referred, live in the villages of Long Stone and Killycarnon in the district of Listymore.  The playful activity which I saw there contained varying degrees of aggression.  It was used to dramatize the existence of a range of different kinds of social identities, some of them antagonistic.

The idea here is not to classify the different genres of playful interaction.  There is no need for a taxonomy of forms.  Rather, there is a spectrum of different genres built from a range of different symbolic devices variously exploited (see Heald 1990, 386).

'Wrong footing' is not a term much used in Listymore.  It is retained here because it is so apt.  In Listymore, the commonest epithet for the wrong footer and his activity is 'tricky'.  Aggressive kinds of play are also called 'winding somebody up' or 'keeping them going'.  Playful people and playful acts are also described as 'crazy', 'mad', 'wicked', 'wild', 'idiot', 'sinful', 'a nut case' and so forth.  Many such expressions come from the vocabulary of deviance.  They are usually uttered with a smile to show that, like the activity described, the expression is not seriously meant.

The relationships defined in play are often both antagonistic and amicable.  Sometimes the drama shows no more than the trivial fact that participants are different from non participants. In other cases, however, the differentiation is more pointed.  Here there may be some people who are decisively 'in on the joke'; while there are others, equally decisively, whom the play defines as outsiders.

The operational model for play, the last chapter argued, is the framework modelled on the relation of parent to child.  It is based upon an asymmetry of social control.  In the relationships of parent and child, not only in Listymore, but generally in the western world, the different individuals typically employ different stratagems of social control.

During a day, a child will perform various actions.  He may sit decorously, read a story, break a vase, climb a tall tree, torture the cat, kneel in prayer and so on.  The parent will tell him which of these types of action are permitted and which are not. Where an action is known to be forbidden, the child has the option either of complying with the parent's regulation or of rebelling against it.  It is uncommon, at least with young children and their parents, to find these stratagems of social control reversed.  Seldom will a child comment upon his parents' actions.  When a child does speak in such a manner, his parents usually try to establish a rule that such criticism is forbidden.  A child's method of social control is generally restricted to evading, ignoring or disobeying the parents' verbal regulations.

There is a pattern of two contrasting stratagems of social control here.  Let them, in the manner of Eric Berne (1975), be called 'parent' and 'child' stratagems.  Their inter relationship may be broken down into three discrete moments.

 1.  The child acts (or is deemed likely to act) in a     particular manner.

 2.  The parent, who witnesses the act, either permits it or  tells the child that actions of that type are forbidden.   Such a prohibition may be reinforced with action.

 3.  The child either complies with the precepts embodied in  the parent's definition of the situation or he rebels     against them.

Chapter 4 argued that people in Listymore saw a wide range of different social relationships as similar to the asymmetrical relationship between parent and child.  These relationships were summed up in the images of the 'little old lady' and the 'bad boy'.  Here are some of the relationships which these images evoked together with others more widely thought in Ulster to have the same asymmetry (see also Buckley 1982).

  Parent  / Child

  Female  / Male

  Old   / Young

  Wealthy   / Poor

  English    / Ulster

  Killycarnon people   / Long Stone people

  Employers / Employees

  Protestants / Catholics

  Officials  / Non Officials

  The Snooty / The Rough

The playfulness described in the last chapter took place within a ritual framework and had a decidedly non rebellious character.  Here, the authority figure who witnessed the act (whether God, the Bible or the pastor) set the bounds of the playfulness.  The congregation then kept dutifully within them.  Other kinds of playfulness consist however of the deliberate breaking of such quasi parental bounds.

With the breaking of rules comes risk.  There are some risky non social forms of play, such as mountaineering or ocean going solo yachting.  Here it is the physical environment, the mountains or the sea which threaten the actor with 'punishment'.  Most forms of play, however, are social.  Here, individuals can use their skill playfully to evade a socially imposed punishment.  Play, indeed, is often merely 'bad' behaviour which, however, has been provisionally sanctioned by a sympathetic authority figure.

This chapter, then, is concerned with play, with wrong footing and with social drama, but it will also examine relationships involving figures of authority.  The relationships in question are those between men and women, and those between Northern Irish people and the people described as 'English'.



The psychologist Jay Haley (1959a, 1959b) argues that in all relationships there is a continuous interplay of social control.  A person acts, and the other, who witnesses it, either permits or strives to prohibit that type of action.  Searching for a good example, Haley chooses a familiar kind of interaction between men and women.

 When two people meet for the first time and begin to establish a relationship a wide range of behavior is possible between them.  They may exchange compliments,  insults, sexual advances, statements that one is superior to the other, and so on.  As the two people define their relationship to each other, they work outwhat sort of communicative behavior is to take place in this relationship.  From all the possible messages, they select certain kinds and reach agreement that these rather than others should be included ...  If a young man puts his arm around a girl, he is indicating that amorous behaviour is to be included in their relationship.  If the girls says, 'No, no', and withdraws from him, she is indicating that amorous behaviour is to be excluded.  The relationship they have together, whether amorous or platonic, is defined by the kinds of messages which are mutually agreed shall be acceptable between them.  The agreement is never permanently worked out, but is constantly in process as one or the other proposes a new message or as the environmental situation changes and provokes and provokes changes in their behavior (1959a,153).

People in Listymore make frequent reference to the social control exercised over men by women.  Everyone is, of course, aware of the considerable body of opinion, given expression in newspapers and television, which regards women as unduly subject to the authority of men and in need of liberation.  This view is sometimes expressed directly in Listymore. It is found, however, most usually among those who are outsiders to the core community.

The majority seem to express two somewhat contradictory views.  One is that women have a potential to 'nag' or 'hen peck' their menfolk, keeping them under too strict a supervision.  When this is the case, a man is said to be justified in resisting the woman's authority.  The other viewpoint is that certain men are too 'wild' or 'rough' and that 'them boys' need to be kept under control.  I have never heard it said or implied by any member of the core community that specific men, or men in general keep too close a control over women; nor that women are out of control and need close regulation.

To place this idea into some sort of relief, it might be useful to contrast this vision of Listymore with Ardener's (1975) comments upon male regulated societies.  The instance he specifies is the Bakweri of the Cameroon.  Here men constantly complain about their ill disciplined women-folk.  He writes:

 'Ethnographers report that women cannot be reached so easily as men:  they giggle when young, snort when old, reject the question, laugh at the topic, and the like.  The male members of the society frequently see the ethnographer's difficulties as simply a caricature of their own daily case' (Ardener 1975,2).

This ethnographer found broadly the same contrast in Listymore, only the other way around.  Men were often shy and reticent or truculent and prickly.  They were capable of ignoring my questions and of making fun of me and my task.  Women, on the contrary, were open, direct and willing to discuss ethnographic topics with great intelligence and interest.  Not infrequently, they expressed sympathy with whatever difficulties they suspected I might have in learning anything of interest from men.  In contrast to the Bakweri, perhaps Listymore should be regarded as a female regulated society.

This last statement, of course, requires some qualification.  It is true only within those frameworks in which the female/male distinction is relevant, as, for example, in the relationship of wife/husband, sister/brother, mother/son and even, in certain cases, daughter/father.  In short, it is true in the comparatively intimate relationships of the family.

I should perhaps also make clear that there is here no claim that the women of Listymore have more (or less) power in the family than men.  The suggestion is, merely, that, in relation to men, women tend to use the distinctive stratagem of social control which I have called the `parent' stratagem.  Men are commonly either `compliant' or `rebellious' in relation to this `parental' control{1}.

It is also the case that not all interactions between men and women have this clear formal structure.  Some individuals and some relationships between men and women seem obsessed with issues relating to social control.  Other relationships are more easy-going. Here, questions of social control come up only infrequently, and the couple can devote themselves to more interesting topics.

Female social control over men takes place most obviously in set piece situations of social drama.  One such is that described by Haley above, which it is tempting to call 'courtship ritual'. Another, closely related, is the 'flirtation' which occurs between those individuals who are unlikely ever to become attached.  Flirtation in Ulster is a social drama almost entirely focussed on female control over male sexuality.

Another area is female control over male drinking, for in Listymore, as elsewhere in Ireland, drink has major symbolic significance.  And, indeed, masculine drinking has a close correspondence to child like behaviour.  In the same way as a child 'go out to play' and thus evade the restrictions of his parents or teachers, so adult men will 'go out to the pub'.  It is widely accepted that women should and do exercise control over the way their men spend their spare time.  Beyond drink, women strive to exercise social control more over the generally 'rough' and 'tricky' tendencies of men.

Play is an articulation of this kind of structured relationship based upon an asymmetry of social control.  In childhood, play is distinguished from seriousness first of all by the relaxation of the parents' social control.  This is not to say that in play parents exercise no social control.  Rather that the child is allowed to break many of those rules which, in a serious frame, the parent would impose.

It is not surprising that a child's play often takes place in a physical setting from which the parent or parent figure has withdrawn.  In schools, this is exemplified by the physical distinction between the classroom, which maintains strict standards, and the (nevertheless walled) playground where rules are more lax.

Here, we are concerned with the interactions of men and women in play.  In Listymore, in serious frames, it is an important aspect of the male role to rebel against the excessive regulations of women.  So also, in playful relations between men and women, do men to disrupt and challenge female regulations.  A few examples will illustrate this.

The first concerns Saturday night in Long Stone Lounge.  On Saturday nights, many men take their wives or girlfriends to the normally all male Long Stone Lounge to drink, dance and listen to the musical entertainment.  On one such occasion, I was sitting at a table, armed with a tape recorder, in order to record some music.  At my table were two young couples and there were similar groups at the other tables around the room.

Standing at the bar were a number of bachelors, who were visibly drunk and becoming drunker.  Throughout the evening, these men leaned against the bar, talking and engaging in horse play.  Occasionally one of them would break away from the group, wandering from table to table to chat to those sitting there.  Whenever the music stopped, they engaged in banter with the landlord who doubled as compere.

Throughout the evening, their demeanour teetered on the seemingly fragile line which divided acceptable from unacceptable behaviour.  The landlord, a nervous man by disposition, looked especially anxious that night.  Although he was able to joke with these men, he whispered with concern to a muscular relative whenever events seemed to be getting out of hand.

At my own table the young couples were in a relaxed and cheerful mood.  The men had their own conversation and the women their's.  Much of the men's dialogue, though to a lesser degree than was the case with the bachelors, took the form of joking insults to each other.  There were also playful threats reinforced by occasional light punches.  For the most part, the women ignored their husbands, being engrossed in their own, apparently more serious conversation.  From time to time, however, one or other of the wives would indicate by a glance or a quietly disapproving remark that her husband was becoming too exuberant.

The behaviour of both of the husbands at my table and of the bachelors at the bar was 'playful'.  There was much signalling of regulating glances and remarks by the landlord and the women.  Nevertheless, the regulations imposed were certainly more relaxed than would be the case in a serious frame.  On this occasion, there was a much greater challenge to the limits of order than is normal when women are not present in the bar.

In the next example of playfulness, between a man and his wife, there was no overt attempt by the wife to exercise control over her husband.  Instead, there was almost a conspiracy between them to define the husband's behaviour as playful rebellion.

On the evening in question, I arrived at the house of Jack Stewart having made an appointment to see him.  His wife told me that this was his regular night out with two friends.  He had left word that I was to meet them at the pub.  I said I would walk down to the pub and that I might meet them on the way back.  Smilingly, she said I was unlikely to meet them on their way home.  She conveyed the firm impression that the men were out for a hard night's drinking.   When I met up with them, someone bought me a drink.  I was, however, unable to repay the courtesy because the three men had no wish to drink beyond a very strict limit.

When we all returned to Jack's house, I was surprised to see that Jack, who most emphatically was not drunk, behaved as though he were.  He talked volubly, lolled in his seat and leaned affectionately over the people he was sitting close to.  His wife, far from disapproving, regarded him with deepest affection.  Presumably a man may in his own home playfully break the rules made by his own wife.  The others behaved with quite normal propriety.

Female regulation of male activity is not confined to drinking, nor to relationships involving husband and wife.  The next example is of an married daughter whose attempt to limit male untidiness was flouted by her father.  When I visited the farmhouse of the Gordon family, Mrs Gordon's father happened to call.

During our conversation, it became apparent that he was rather ostentatiously dropping cigarette ash on to her neat kitchen floor.  I had the suspicion, as I had had with Jack Stewart, that this was done, in part, for my benefit.  I am easily identifiable as both English and educated.  Because of this, people often presume that I have a desire to impose high moral standards upon the people of Northern Ireland. Occasionally, they may challenge my supposed morality.

At all events, while I was given an ash tray, he was not, and he commented on the fact.  'It' (the clearing up), he said, 'gives the women something to do'.  When he said this I glanced at his daughter whose task it would be to sweep up the mess.  Far from being annoyed, she was beaming at her father's undoubted misbehaviour.

In all of these cases, the playful mode allowed an exaggeration, and hence a dramatisation of the ordinary relationships which exist between men and women.  It is a significant part of the male role playfully to over ride a woman's regulations.  Also, it seems, artifically strict rules are sometimes invented that they may be playfully over ridden.  As with the Pentecostal ritual, a kind of relationship supposed to exist more generally is dramatized in a heightened and exaggerated form.



In my discussion so far of cases of playful behaviour, there has been no need to introduce the concept of paradox.  This point has some consequence, for Bateson (1955) has argued that all play is paradoxical.   The essence of Bateson's argument is that to indicate by means of a direct metamessage (or social context or whatever) that 'this message is play' is effectively to negate the normal meaning of the message.

Here is one of my own examples close to Bateson's own.  When one of the husbands in the lounge punched his neighbour, he first qualified it by a metamessage (in this case provided by the general context).  This metamessage defined it as play.  Had he not thus defined it, the punch might have been 'taken seriously'. It might have been interpreted as downright aggression.

Bateson argues, however, that because the metamessage 'this is play' negates the truth value of the playful messages, it also creates a paradoxical frame such as the one given below.

All the messageswithin this frameare untrueI am attacking you

Here not only is the primary message 'I am attacking you' negated; so also is the metamessage itself. 'All the messages within this frame are untrue' is, therefore, identified as untrue.

In contrast to Bateson's argument, I wish to claim that although paradox can have an important place in playful behaviour, there is no particular reason to suppose that all play is paradoxical.

As I watched the two men amiably insulting and punching each other, neither I nor they had any difficulty in regarding their activities as play.  The reason for this is simply that the metamessage 'this is play' is not itself expressed within a playful frame.

Indeed, if anyone were to misinterpret the situation and call into question the meaning of their actions, the men would probably respond.  They might say, 'We are only fooling around', and deliver this with great seriousness from outside the playful frame.

Play is never paradoxical in structure when it is 'honest play', in which the definition of a message or action as playful is clear and shared by all relevant people.  And play need not be paradoxical because it is possible to establish a hierarchy between the serious metamessage 'this is play' and the playful messages themselves viz:

All the messageswithin this frameare untrue

I am attacking you


Once this hierarchy is established, the (untrue) attack, the playful punches and the threats, can become a metaphor.  They can exemplify the mildly rebellious, rough and tough kind of person that the participants in real life claim to be.

It was suggested above that, 'the English' stand, in relation to 'Ulster people', in the role of parent to child in much the same manner as do women to men.  This needs some qualification, for in their attitudes to the English, people in Listymore manifest some ambiguity.

Let me put this more carefully.  When a member of the Listymore core community meets somebody whom he decides is 'English', or an official, or 'educated', or 'snooty', he is likely to slip into a child like role, expecting the other to adopt that of the parent.  The 'child' here may, of course, be either compliant or rebellious.  On the one hand, the person may become shy, reticent or even embarrassed.  On the other hand, the person may exhibit rudeness, a pointedly brusque manner, and an excessive determination to stand up for his rights.

As an educated Englishman, I have had much direct experience of both responses, but have also had much independent corroboration from both educated and English people familiar with the district.  Here I concentrate upon one man's private rebellion which took the form of 'wrong footing'.

James Wallace is a widower and a prosperous farmer.  His forebears have lived on the present site for more than two centuries, and he recently placed some buildings in the care of a semi official body so that they might be on show to the public.  He invited me along to the offical opening to be held one afternoon.

On the morning of the opening, I happened to call at his farmyard.  I found him and his employees cleaning out 'slurry' from the tanks which lie beneath the cattle sheds near to the old buildings. Presumably the job needed to be done, but the emptying of slurry tanks is not an everyday task and it was interesting that he should choose to do it on that particular morning.

When, a few hours later, an assembly of civil servants, clergy, officials, local worthies and press arrived, the aroma of cattle slurry hung over them like a cloud, providing a major topic of conversation.  Perhaps, I thought for a while, it was just a coincidence.

I joined James Wallace and was introduced to his sister and another relation, a local historian of some note.  It soon became clear that all around us were people of importance.  The dominant dialect was conspicuously 'English'.  For a time we exchanged pleasantries and enjoyed the summer day.  The only slightly untoward event occurred when a Catholic priest arrived.  James made a private but ostentatiously offensive remark to his sister concerning the priest.

Soon, however, his relative discovered some factual errors in the newly printed brochure.  This man, being interested in local history, was clearly concerned to set the record straight.  Wallace too showed his concern, and they all went off to find an official to complain to.  As they departed, it was noticeable that Wallace was hoping to add another dimension to the situation.  He wanted to have some fun.

They provisionally settled the matter to allow the ceremonial to take place.  We stood politely listening to a succession of speeches.  Wallace however did not merely stand politely. Instead, throughout the speeches, he whispered what were presumably witty remarks into the ears of his companions, eliciting from them barely suppressed guffaws.

The speeches over, the throng moved off to look at the now 'open' building, while Wallace and his relatives once more laid siege to the officials.  I was not privy to their conversation. However, I noted the glee with which Wallace approached them and the officials' glazed politeness as they settled down to sort the matter out for a second time.

As tea drew to a close, a group gathered to be photographed by the local press.  Wallace and his party were by now out in the sunshine.  I watched as people gestured towards Wallace to join in the photograph.  I too looked at Wallace and saw him observe the beckoning group out of the corner of his eye.  He soon became aware what they wanted.  Immediately, he fixed his gaze on some distant object, and began to stride resolutely towards it and away from the photographer.

His sister, however, was too quick for him.  She grasped his arm and, with a sweetly unconvincing smile, began, in the best of humours, to drag her brother towards the group.  For a moment, they were in friendly combat, though both pretended they were not.  He pulled one way, she pulled the other.  Wallace seemed to be muttering that he was not going to be in any photograph.

The sister, however, now put resolution into her step and Wallace began to be hauled off.  For a moment, he resisted the inevitable.  Then, with the cheerfulness he had displayed throughout, he meekly accepted defeat and went off to be photographed.



Wrong footing characteristically consists of bad behaviour directed against one or more individuals.  There is, so to speak, an aggressor and a victim.  It is constructed in such a way that the victim knows, or thinks he knows, that the act is taking place, but for some reason cannot retaliate.  The performance characteristically takes place in front of a legitimating audience.  Typically, this audience is a parent figure, who redefines the action as play. Such bad behaviour only ceases to be 'playful' when the likelihood of punishment becomes real.

In the case we are looking at, the wrong footing depends upon a manipulation of metamessages in such a way that the victim has difficulty in framing his experience.  Specifically, the metamessages in question are those which indicate that aspects of the wrong footer's behaviour are playful.  The wrong footer shares the playful frame with his audience, but he subtly excludes the victim from the play.

Let me concentrate first upon a small part of James Wallace's quite complex behaviour.  Immediately upon discovering that there was a fault in the brochure, James went off to find an official.  The message (call it the primary message) which he went to convey was fairly straightforward.  Roughly speaking, it was, 'There are mistakes in the brochure and it must be rewritten'.  Such a message was judgmental.  It carried authority. It was, indeed, that of a parent figure.  Since it was an accurate representation of the situation, the appropriate response of the officials would have to be to apologize and offer to make amends.

Qualifying this message, however, was a metamessage of the type that Goffman (1975, 40ff) calls a 'keying'.  This transformed the message into the frame of 'play'.  It was perfectly clear both to Wallace's relatives and to myself that he regarded his forays to harass the officials as play.   By noticing his sideways glances and secret smiles, but also by observing the general pattern of his behaviour, it was easy for us to see that he was playfully hoping to discomfort the officials by issuing his complaint.  There was here, for us, no paradox involved in his behaviour.  The reason is simple.  He made it clear to us that he was playing.

The situation for the officials was quite different. They were confronted with the primary message delivered, as far as they could confidently be sure, in a parent like frame.  It pointed to an error for which they were responsible.  This they had to act upon.  Wallace was not, apparently, trying to be awkward, and he was entitled to satisfaction in the matter of the brochure.

Only gradually, and in occasional glimpses could they become aware of the 'keying' which defined the situation as play.  Had they been sure that Wallace was being playful, the officials might have done something about it.  Specifically, they might have been able to describe the situation as one in which Wallace was merely trying to be difficult.

Unfortunately, because they could not be sure that Wallace was playing, they were unable to send him away with a deserved flea in his ear.  To have tried to do this would, in any case, have been hazardous in the midst of the reception.  Wallace could quickly have stopped being playful and become angry (acting as a parent) and have described more forthrightly their ineptitude.  This would have been, at the least, embarrassing.

Conversely, however, there was a strong suspicion that the primary message was, indeed, delivered in a playful frame.  This placed the officials in the invidious position of having to behave courteously and correctly (like a compliant child) with a complaint which they first suspected and later knew to have been in part concocted with the devious purpose of inconveniencing them.

Thus were the officials deftly placed in that celebrated version of Epimenides' paradox which Bateson and his colleagues call the 'double bind' (Bateson et al 1956).  The other instances here exhibit a similar pattern.

The effusion of a spectacular smell over a respectable gathering has a considerable potential as a message.  Ordinarily, there is an implied qualification upon such agricultural messages to indicate that they are not intended to be a nuisance.  Here, however, Wallace's overall behaviour cast the truth of this apologetic metamessage into serious doubt, though not to the extent that anyone could retaliate by complaining.

The rude remark which Wallace made on the arrival of the Catholic priest may be seen in the same light.  In part it was, of course, a direct snub to the priest and to the religion he represents. Wallace shares in the locally common opposition to Catholicism.  However, 'the English' who invited the priest and who were there in profusion are notoriously ecumenical in spirit.  They also have a lax attitude towards the central issues of contemporary Ulster politics.   Wallace's gesture should, therefore, be seen in part as defiance, not merely against the priest, but also against those who had invited him.  The fact that this remark, though obviously offensive, was 'private' in nature, again prevented any complaint.

The finale of the occasion came when Wallace saw that he was required to take part in the photographs.  His initial reaction was to pretend that he had not seen the people gesturing at him, to fix his eyes on the horizon and to walk towards it.

His was not an open defiance of the photographer and officials, for he was pretending merely to walk across the lawn.  However, it was not difficult for me, or indeed anyone else who was looking, to see that it was a pretence.  Was he even pretending to pretend?

His sister also knew what he was up to, so she grabbed his arm.  Really she was trying to drag Wallace towards the photographer:  she pretended, however, merely to be walking arm in arm with her brother.  Perhaps she too was pretending to pretend.

As they stood there, tugging in different directions, each with an unconvincing smile on the face, the pretences began to slip away.  Lurching into view came the unambiguous fact that Wallace was, indeed, trying to be disruptive.  At the instant that this became clear, however, his demeanour changed.  In mock submission, he walked cheerfully over to be photographed.

In all of this, nobody could, with any degree of certainty, claim that anything had been going on.  If anyone had been foolish enough to complain about Wallace's behaviour, brother and sister would have stuck to the theory that they were merely strolling across the lawn.

A distinction is made here between 'honest play' and 'paradoxical play' which is one form of 'wrong footing'.  In honest play, there is a straightforward definition of the situation such that certain actions take place   punching, insults, being untidy, drunk   in a context in which everyone knows that the actions do not denote what they would denote in a serious frame.  The witnessing parent-figure is thus invited to relax the rules of acceptable behaviour.  In so doing, however, the parent is still able to exercise legitimate control.  The reason is that there is no profound confusion created by the playful frame.  The parent is still able to describe, if necessary, what is going on, and description is the characteristic stratagem of social control exercised by someone in a parent frame.

In paradoxical play, the situation is quite different.  Here, there may be a parent figure acting as an audience who is privy to the entire drama.  However, the victim is also a parent and this person is unable to describe what is going on.  Robbed of the parental mode of social control, he must fall back upon characteristically child like behaviour.  If, like the English officials, he is also robbed of the ability to be even rebellious, he must be meekly compliant, a helpless, impotent child.

Thus is the victim laid low by playful dexterity.  And thus, in the case given here, is there made a complex rhetorical and metaphorical statement about more general social relationships and identities not only in Listymore, but in Ulster generally.

By distinguishing honest from paradoxical genres of play, one need not always be certain which is which.  In the pub, for example, were the rowdy bachelors trying to wrongfoot the landlord into over reacting with a parental imposition of authority which would be inappropriate and thus foolish?  Or when I noticed the ash scattered on the farmhouse floor, were my features being scanned for signs of typically English disapproval which could be laughed at later?  It is difficult to be sure, because, except for those who are most decisively 'in' on the joke, paradoxical play evades description.

This chapter began by suggesting that playful genres of social interaction could dramatize relationships and identities.  It could rather pointedly differentiate between those who were 'in' on the joke and those who were not.  As in the last chapter, play need not always be an aggressive form of action, but in given instances it can be.  The next chapter will examine an even more aggressive form of activity, the riot.  What it will show is that rioting can be fun: a form of play which dramatizes identities and allegiances.



1  One can also contrast modern opinions with those of    Schopenhauer, who writes,

'Women are suited to being the nurses and teachers of our earliest childhood precisely because they themselves are childish, silly and shortsighted, in a word, big children their whole lives long: a kind of intermediate stage between the child and the man, who is the actual human being, "man". One has only to watch a girl playing with a child, dancing and singing with it the whole day, and then ask oneself what with the best will in the world a man could do in her place.' ('On Women', Schopenhauer 1970, p81)

It is not just that this view is 'politically incorrect', or, indeed, offensive to women (for, clearly, it is both!).  Much more interesting is the fact that today we find this opinion implausible.  The opposite view, often expressed by women in Northern Ireland, that the hobbies and enthusiasms of men make them 'just like children' seems, in contrast, transparently apposite.