Publication Date

Spring 2019

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)




J. A. English-Lueck


activity-based learning, collaboration, education, education policy, playing capital, reciprocal power

Subject Areas

Cultural anthropology; Education; Education policy


In this document I discuss the relationship between education standards for curriculum and structured play in the elementary classroom. I discuss the various forms of teacher-initiated structured play, and student-initiated informal play and resistance strategies - through participant observation, digital analysis, spatial analysis, semi-structured ethnographic interviews, and unstructured conversations - to understand the full range of learning strategies in elementary classroom settings. I analyze how these strategies relate to curricular standards, or how they might deviate from or transform those standards, which are partially shaped by federal and state education policy. I also outline and develop two hypotheses in an effort to define what I observed in the classroom and the information I gained through my interviews, which I call playing capital and reciprocal power. I define playing capital as a resource and a skill that students are trained to develop in activity-based classrooms, and which has the potential to change collaborative environments and organizational structures. I define reciprocal power as an alternate structure of soft power, in which actors are empowered to take agentive action in hierarchical social and organizational networks, and which creates an exchange of power and changes social dynamics in systems of power.