Reinventing Play

Autistic Children and the Normativity of Play in Postwar France

in Historical Reflections/Réflexions Historiques
Jonathyne Briggs Indiana University Northwest

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In postwar France, the definition of play helped to situate the meaning of childhood in a manner that marginalized disabled children from the common understanding of childhood. Three thinkers—Françoise Dolto, Maud Mannoni, and Fernand Deligny—all advocated more nuanced and open definitions of play that allowed for the recognition of disabled children's forms of play, which often operated outside of social norms. In their practices, each of these thinkers articulated new interpretations of play that expanded its meaning in social and therapeutic contexts. This recognition was important in questioning the isolation of disabled children, in identifying their belonging among other children, and in revealing the changing boundaries of definitions of childhood.

Contributor Notes

Jonathyne Briggs is a Professor of History and Associate Dean of Humanities and the Arts at Indiana University Northwest. He has published extensively on popular music in postwar France, including Sounds French: Globalization, Cultural Communities, and Pop Music, 1958–1980 (Oxford, 2015). He is currently at work on a monograph on the politics of autism in France since 1950, which is tentatively entitled Perpetual Children. Email:

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