‘We Are Gunslinging Girls:’ Gender and Place in Playground Clapping Games

  • Albert Casals Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona
  • Joanna Riera Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona
Keywords: Clapping games, school playground, social changes, Primary School


This article presents a qualitative study of clapping games in the playground, a space directly conditioned by its historical and socio-cultural context. Based on qualitative interviews and observations with adults and children in Catalonia, Spain, we argue that the repressive Francisco Franco dictatorship (1939-1975) and the emergence of Spanish feminist and other critical movements in the late 1960s have shaped the nature of clapping games in school playgrounds. Through a close analysis of their lyrics, we defend the idea that the study of clapping games is important for understanding the gendered geographies and culturally-specific moments of girlhood in Catalonia, and highlight the role of playgrounds as spaces where girls negotiate their roles and identities.

Cet article présente une étude qualitative des jeux de main sur les terrains de jeux, des lieux qui sont directement conditionnés par leur contexte historique et socioculturel. Selon des observations et des entrevues qualitatives avec des adultes et des enfants en Catalogne, une région de l’Espagne, nous faisons valoir que la dictature répressive de Francisco Franco (1939-1975) et l’émergence du féminisme espagnol et d’autres mouvements critiques à la fin des années 1960 ont façonné la nature des jeux de main qui sont joués sur les terrains de jeux scolaires. Une analyse approfondie des paroles nous permet de défendre l’idée que l’étude des jeux de main est importante pour bien comprendre la géographie des genres et les moments propres à la culture des jeunes filles de la Catalogue, et elle met en évidence le rôle des terrains de jeux comme des lieux où les filles négocient leurs rôles et leurs identités.

Author Biographies

Albert Casals, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona

Lecturer and postdoctoral researcher at the Music, Arts and Physical Education Department and a member of the music education research group at Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona. His PhD thesis and his main line of research focus on how ethnomusicology can contribute to improve primary school education. In addition, he is carrying out research on the link between traditional song and identity, and the relationship between music and other school subjects. He is a member of various research groups and has authored several publications in the fields of education and ethnomusicology.


Joanna Riera, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona
Researcher specialized in issues related to the oral transmission, understanding and discernment of meaning among children through musical activities. She holds a Bachelor's Degree in Music and a Master’s in Music Education and Musicology Research. Although she uses an ethnomusicological approach in her research, she collaborates with working groups focused on oral transmission in other areas, especially in the context of comparative psychology.


Ackerley, Janice. 2007. “The Subversive World of New Zealand Children’s Playground Rhymes.” Journal of Folklore Research 44 (2-3): 205–225.

Arleo, Andy. 2001. “The Saga of Susie: The Dynamics of an International Handclapping Game.” In Play Today in the Primary School Playground, edited by Julia C. Bishop and Mavis Curtis, 115–132. Buckingham: National Center for English Cultural Tradition - University of Sheffield.

Ayats, Jaume. 2010. “Chanting What Cannot Be Said: The Chants of Saint Anthony in Artà, Majorca.” Trans: Transcultural Music Review 14 (16). Accessed October 28, 2013). http://www.sibetrans.com/trans/articulo/21/chanting-what-cannot-be-said-the-chants-of-saint-anthony-in-arta-majorca.

Bauer, Laurie, and Winifred Bauer. 2007. “Playing with Tradition.” Journal of Folklore Research 44 (2-3): 185–203.

Baylina, Mireia, Anna Ortiz, and Maria Prats. 2006. “Children and Playgrounds in Mediterranean Cities.” Children’s Geographies 4 (2): 173-183.

Bhana, Deevia, Thokozani Nzimakwe, and Phumzile Nzimakwe. 2011. “Gender in the Early Years: Boys and Girls in an African Working Class Primary School.” International Journal of Educational Development 31 (5): 443–448.

Bishop, Julia C., and Andrew Burn. 2013. “Reasons for Rhythm: Multimodal Perspectives on Musical Play.” In Children, Media and Playground Cultures: Ethnographic Studies of School Playtimes, edited by Rebekah Willet, Chris Richards, Jackie Marsh, Andrew Burn, and Julia C. Bishop, 89-119. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Blatchford, Peter. 1998. “The State of Play in Schools.” Child Psychology & Psychiatry Review 3 (2): 58–67.

Bonal, Xavier. 1998. Canviar l’escola: La coeducació al pati de jocs. Cerdanyola del Vallès: Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona.

Bosch, Esperanza, Victoria A. Ferrer, and Capilla Navarro, eds. 2006. Los feminismos como herramientas de cambio social (I): mujeres tejiendo redes históricas, desarrollos en el espacio público y estudios de las mujeres. Palma de Mallorca: Universitat de les Illes Balears.

Bruner, Jerome. 1983. “Play, Thought, and Language.” Peabody Journal of Education 60 (3): 60–69.

Butler, Judith. 1999. Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. New York: Routledge.

Clúa, Isabel. 2008. Género y cultura popular. Bellaterra: Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona.

Elkonin, Daniel B. 1980. Psicología del Juego. Madrid: Pablo del Río.

Fernández Poncela, Anna Maria. 2005. Canción Infantil: Discurso y Mensajes. Rubí: Anthropos.

_______. 2006. “Género y Canción Infantil.” Política y Cultura 26: 35–68.

_______. 2011. “La Subversión en la canción infantil tradicional.” Revista de Folklore 349: 29–34.

Ferré, Gabriel. 1993. “Cançons infantils folklòriques actuals: notes descriptives i assaig d’anàlisi.” Revista d’Etnologia de Catalunya 3: 50–65.

Geertz, Clifford. 1983. Local knowledge. Further Essays in Interpretative Anthropology. New York: Basic Books.

Grugeon, Elizabeth. 1993. “Gender Implications of Children’s Playground Culture.” In Gender and Ethnicity in Schools, edited by Peter Woods and Martyn Hammersley, 11–33. London: Routledge.

Leal, Aurora. 1998. “Diversidad y género en las relaciones interpersonales.” Educar 22 (January 11): 171–179.

Lobato, Emma. 2005. “Juego sociodramático y esquemas de género. Una investigación en Educación Infantil.” Cultura y Educación 17 (2): 115–129.

Marsh, Kathryn. 2008. The Musical Playground: Global Tradition and Change in Children’s Songs and Games. New York: Oxford University Press.

Martín Escobar, María Jesús. 2001. “Las Canciones Infantiles de Transmisión Oral En Murcia Durante El Siglo XX.” Universidad de Murcia. Accessed October 28, 2013. http://hdl.handle.net/10201/9714.

Mascaró, Jaume. 2008. “Elements per a un debat sobre la cultura popular al s.XXI.” In Tradicionari. Enciclopèdia de la Cultura Popular de Catalunya, edited by Joan Soler i Amigó, 92-102. Barcelona: Enciclopèdia Catalana and Generalitat de Catalunya.

Minks, Amanda. 2008. “Performing Gender in Song Games Among Nicaraguan Miskitu Children.” Language & Communication 28 (1): 36–56.

Moreno, Luis. 2004. “Spain's transition to new risks: a farewell to 'superwomen'.” In New Risks, New Welfare: The Transformation of the European Welfare State, edited by Peter Taylor-Gooby, 133-157. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Opie, Iona, and Peter Opie. 1985. The Singing Game. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Pellegrini, Anthony. 2009. The Role of Play in Human Development. New York: Oxford University Press.

Rice, Timothy. 1987. “Toward the Remodeling of Ethnomusicology.” Ethnomusicology 31 (3): 469–488.

Ridgers, Nicola D., Laura M. Carter, Gareth Stratton, and Thomas L. McKenzie. 2011. “Examining Children’s Physical Activity and Play Behaviors During School Playtime over Time.” Health Education Research 26 (4): 586–595.

Riera, Joanna. 2013. "'Don Federico mató a su mujer' i altres cançons de picar." Master's thesis, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona. Accessed September 14, 2014. http://hdl.handle.net/2072/221423.

Riera, Joanna, and Albert Casals. 2014. “Cuando la música nos exime: las canciones de dar palmas como actividad de negociación cultural.” Ankulegi - Gizarte antropologia aldizkaria 18: 111-124.

Romero, Francisco Javier, and Alejandro A. Romero. 2013. “Handclapping songs and gender: an approach using the BAPNE method.” Feminismo/s 21: 205-223. Accessed October 28, 2013. http://hdl.handle.net/10045/39705.

Singer, Dorothy G., and Jerome L. Singer, eds. 2011. Handbook of Children and the Media. Los Angeles, CA: Sage.

Small, Cristopher. 1998. Musicking: The Meanings of Performing and Listening. Hanover: University Press of New England.

Stokes, Martin. 1994. Ethnicity, Identity and Music: The Musical Construction of Place. Oxford: Berg.

Subirats, Marina. 2010. “Coeducación o Escuela Segregada? Un Viejo y Persistente Debate.” RASE - Revista de La Asociación de Sociología de La Educación 3 (1): 143–158. Accessed October 28, 2013. http://www.ase.es/rase.

Swain, Jon. 2000. “‘The Money’s Good, the Fame’s Good, the Girls Are Good’: The Role of Playground Football in the Construction of Young Boy’s Masculinity in a Junior School.” British Journal of Sociology of Education 21 (1): 95–109.

Thorne, Barrie. 1993. Gender Play: Girls and Boys in School. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.

Tomé, Amparo, and Rafael Antonio Ruiz. 2002. “El Espacio de Juego: Escenario de Relaciones de Poder.” In Género y Educación: la escuela coeducativa, edited by Francesc López and Antònia Darnés, 79–88. Barcelona: Graó.

Vila, Pablo. 1996. “Identidades narrativas y música. Una primera propuesta para entender sus relaciones.” Trans: Transcultural Music Review 2. Accessed October 27, 2013. http://www.sibetrans.com/trans/trans2/vila.htm.

Viñuela, Eduardo, and Laura Viñuela. 2008. “Música Popular y Género.” In Género y Cultura Popular, edited by Isabel Clúa. Barcelona: Edicions UAB.

Willet, Rebekah. 2013. “An Overview of Games and Activities on Two Primary School Playgrounds.” In Children, Media and Playground Cultures: Ethnographic Studies of School Playtimes, edited by Rebekah Willet, Chris Richards, Jackie Marsh, Andrew Burn, and Julia C. Bishop, 21-50. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

37.1- Transgressing Borders/Boundaries: Gendering Space and Place