The game is the “Game” … and the “family resemblance concept”

Read a corking paper a coupla days ago, called “A dynamic conceptualization of power for sustainability research.” Definitely one that – despite being clearly written – that I will need to return to. For now, though, this quote from the first page…

“… however, power is not so much an ‘essentially contested concept’ but rather a ‘family resemblance concept’, as introduced in Wittgenstein’s philosophy of language .

A typical example of a ‘family resemblance concept’ is the word ‘game’: its meaning and connotation inherently depends on the context in which it is used. The ‘playfulness’ of a card game played at home starkly contradicts with the ‘serious’ consequences of a political game. All possible meanings of the word ‘game’ partly overlap and partly contradict each other, hence making it impossible to agree on one all-encompassing definition. Any attempt to capture the ‘essence’ of the word will exclude aspects that might be essential in a given context. Therefore, rather than trying to capture the essence of a ‘family resemblance concept’ in an all- encompassing definition or theory, the challenge is to find or construct a local language that is suitable to describe the phenomena in a specific context.”

I don’t know about you, but I find that dead useful…


Avelino, F. and Rotmans, J. (2011) “A dynamic conceptualization of power for sustainability research” Journal of Cleaner Production 796-804.

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