Sociology of Leisure and Recreation Research Paper

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I. Introduction

II. The Rise of Leisure in the West

III. Leisure in Society

A. Time

B. Types of Leisure

C. The Meaning and Motivation of Leisure

IV. Specialization in the Sociology of Leisure

A. Symbolic Interactionism

B. Gender and the Feminist Perspective

C. Family

D. Life Cycle/Life Course

V. The Future of the Sociology of Leisure

I. Introduction

Leisure is a commonsense term whose etymologic roots date to Roman times and the Latin noun licere. It later evolved into leisir in Old French and from there into leisure in modern English (probably by way of the Norman Conquest of England in 1066 AD) and into le loisir in Modern French. In everyday parlance, leisure refers both to the time left over after work and nonwork obligations—often called free time—and to the way we spend that time. Scientific attempts to define the idea have revolved, in considerable part, around the problems generated by this simplistic definition.

Scientifically speaking, leisure is uncoerced activity undertaken during free time. Uncoerced activity is positive activity that, using their abilities and resources, people both want to do and can do at either a personally satisfying or a deeper fulfilling level (Stebbins 2005b). Note, in this regard, that boredom occurring in free time is an uncoerced state, but it is not something that bored people want to experience. Therefore, it is not leisure; it is not a positive experience, as just defined. Kaplan (1960:22–25) lists several other qualities of leisure that build on this basic definition. As uncoerced activity, leisure is an antithesis of work as an economic function. Moreover, it carries a pleasant expectation and recollection; involves a minimum of involuntary obligations; has a psychological perception of freedom; and offers a range of activity, running from inconsequence and insignificance to weightiness and importance.

Two common elements in the standard definitions of leisure—”choice” and “freely chosen activity” (see, e.g., Kelly 1990:21)—have, obviously, been avoided in the forgoing definition. And for good reason, since the two have lately come in for some considerable criticism. Juniu and Henderson (2001), for instance, say that such terms cannot be empirically supported, since people lack significant choice because “leisure activities are socially structured and shaped by the inequalities of society” (p. 8) (see also Shaw 2001:186–87). True, experiential definitions of leisure published in recent decades, when they do contain reference to choice, tend to refer to perceived, rather than objective, freedom to choose (e.g., Kaplan’s list). The definers recognize thus that various conditions, many of them unperceived by leisure participants and unspecified by definers, nevertheless constrain choice of leisure activities for the first. Juniu and Henderson argue that these conditions are highly influential, however, and that defining leisure even as perceived choice tends to underplay, if not overlook, their true effect.

But what would happen to human agency in the pursuit of leisure were we to abandon mentioning in definitions of leisure the likes of “choice” and “freely chosen?” It would likely be lost were it not for the principle of lack of coercion. Behavior is uncoerced when people make their own leisure. Uncoerced, people believe they are doing something they are not pushed to do, something they are not disagreeably obliged to do. Emphasis is on the acting individual, which retains in the formula human agency. This in no way denies that there may be things people want to do but cannot do because of numerous constraints on choice (e.g., aptitude, ability, socialized leisure tastes, knowledge of available activities, accessibility of activities). In other words, when using our definition of leisure, whose central ingredient is lack of coercion, we must be sure to frame such use in proper structural, cultural, and historical context. This context is also the appropriate place for discussing choice and its constraints.

Lack of coercion to engage in an activity is a quintessential property of leisure. No other sphere of human activity can be exclusively characterized by this property. Having said this, I should nevertheless point out that some workers, including professionals, consultants, craft workers, small business people, and paid staff in volunteer organizations, find their jobs so profoundly fulfilling that they closely approach this ideal. They work at “devotee occupations” (Stebbins 2004).

Where does recreation fit in all this? It, too, has Latin roots and a modern-day French equivalent (la recreation), meaning literally to create again. In the contemporary experience, the word is often used as a synonym for leisure, though the latter is far more prevalent in the modern scientific literature. Consonant with this trend, I will deal largely with leisure. The idea of recreation is most distinctive when referring to activity done in free time, which, after work, refreshes and restores a person to return to work again (Godbey 1999:12–13). Of course, some leisure can accomplish the same thing, though the term fails to underscore this function as clearly as the term recreation. This may explain why “recreation” remains in the titles of a number of college and university courses as well as in those of the textbooks designed to serve their students, even while the subject matter there only sporadically touches on the recreational aspect.

In addition, the place of play in the leisure/recreation framework should be recognized. Following the orientation of Huizinga (1955), play is leisure or recreation that lacks necessity, obligation, and utility; it is undertaken with a disinterestedness that sets it as an activity apart from ordinary, real life. Players may dabble in activities that others pursue with seriousness, such as the occasional piano player vis-avis the rehearsed, amateur jazz pianist. Play is classified as a type of casual leisure (Stebbins 1997).

II. The Rise of Leisure in the West

In the following discussion of the rise of the idea and pursuit of leisure, the Protestant ethic serves as the principal orientation that, until the later part of the nineteenth century, inspired the dominant attitude toward leisure in parts of the West, particularly the United States. That orientation, as reflected in the Protestant ethic and the work ethic that succeeded it, was that, in general, leisure is to be scorned. In fact, the Protestant ethic was particularly strict:

The real moral objection is to relaxation in the security of possession, the enjoyment of wealth with the consequence of idleness and the temptations of the flesh, above all of distraction from the pursuit of a righteous life. In fact, it is only because possession involves this danger of relaxation that it is objectionable at all. For the saints’ everlasting rest is in the next world; on earth, man must, to be certain of his state of grace, “do the works of him who sent him, as long as it is yet day.” Not leisure and enjoyment, but only activity serves to increase the glory of God, according to the definite manifestations of His will. (Weber 1930:157)

Waste of time—sloth—be it in sociability, idle talk, luxury, or excessive sleep, was considered the worst of all sins. Bluntly put, unwillingness to work was held as evidence of lack of grace. Sport received a partial reprieve from this fierce indictment, but only so far as it regenerated physical efficiency leading to improved productivity at work (Weber 1930:167). That is, sport served as recreation.

By the mid-nineteenth century in Europe and North America, leisure had, with the weakening of the Protestant ethic, gained a margin of respectability. Gelber (1999) observed that “industrialism quarantined work from leisure in a way that made employment more work-like and non-work more problematic. Isolated from each other’s moderating influences, work and leisure became increasingly oppositional as they competed for finite hours” (p. 1). Americans, according to Gelber, responded in two ways to the threat posed by leisure as potential mischief caused by idle hands. Reformers tried to eliminate or at least restrict access to inappropriate activity while encouraging people to seek socially approved free-time outlets. Hobbies and other serious leisure pursuits were high on the list of such outlets. In short, “the ideology of the workplace infiltrated the home in the form of productive leisure” (p. 2).

Hobbies were particularly valued, because they bridged especially well the worlds of work and home. And both sexes found hobbies to be appealing, albeit mostly not the same ones. Some hobbies allowed homebound women to practice and, therefore, understand work-like activities, whereas other hobbies allowed men to create in the female-dominated house their own businesslike space— the shop in the basement or the garage. Among the various hobbies, two types stood out as almost universally approved in these terms: collecting and handicrafts. Still, before approximately 1880, before becoming defined as productive use of free time, these two, along with the other hobbies, were maligned as “dangerous obsessions.”

Gelber (1999:3–4) notes that although the forms of collecting and craftwork have changed somewhat during the past 150 years, their meaning has remained the same. Hobbies have, all along, been “a way to confirm the verities of work and the free market inside the home so long as remunerative employment has remained elsewhere” (p. 4). Gelber’s observations hold best for the United States.

If, in the later nineteenth century, the Protestant ethic was no longer a driving force for much of the working population, its surviving components in the work ethic were. Gary Cross (1990:87) concluded that, during much of this century, employers and upwardly mobile employees looked on “idleness” as threatening industrial development and social stability. The reformers in their midst sought to eliminate this “menace” by, among other approaches, attempting to build bridges to the “dangerous classes” in the new cities and, by this means, to transform them in the image of the middle class. This led to efforts to impose (largely rural) middle-class values on this group while trying to instill a desire to engage in rational recreation—in modern terms, serious leisure—and consequently to undertake less casual leisure (these latter two forms are discussed in the next section).

But times have changed even more. Applebaum (1992) writes that “with increases in the standard of living, consumerism, and leisure activities, the work ethic must compete with the ethic of the quality of life based on the release from work” (p. 587). And as the work ethic withers further in the twenty-first century, in the face of widespread reduction of work opportunities (see, e.g., Rifkin 1995; Aronowitz and Difazio 1994), leisure is slowly, but inexorably it appears, coming to the fore. In other words, leisure has, since mid-nineteenth century, been evolving into a substantial institution in its own right. At first leisure was poor and underdeveloped, standing in pitiful contrast next to its robust counterpart of work. But the dual ideas that work is inherently good and that, when it can be found, people should do it (instead of leisure) are now being increasingly challenged.

Ulrich Beck (2000) looks on the near future as a time when there will still be work to be done but a significant portion of which will be done without remuneration:

The counter-model to the work society is based not upon leisure but upon political freedom; it is a multi-activity society in which housework, family work, club work and voluntary work are prized alongside paid work and returned to the center of public and academic attention. For in the end, these other forms remained trapped inside a value imperialism of work, which must be shaken off. (P. 125)

Beck calls this work without pay “civil labor.” Some of it, however, especially club work and voluntary work, is also leisure, for it fits perfectly our definition of serious leisure set out below: the intensely fulfilling free time activity of amateurs, hobbyists, and skilled and knowledgeable volunteers.

This general history of leisure in the West will be augmented throughout with shorter statements on the early thought and research that undergird key developments in contemporary leisure theory and research. For instance, there is a long history of ideas bearing on the place of leisure in society.

III. Leisure in Society

The issue of the place of leisure in society is the oldest in this field; it is the most pervasive and the most enduring. Aristotle first weighed in favorably on the matter (leisure is the goal of work), and the concept has captivated philosophers ever since. It greatly worried the Puritans and, as noted, gained Weber’s attention. Thorstein Veblen (1899) introduced the dimension of leisure inequality in his famous analysis of the upper classes and their conspicuous consumption of leisure goods and services. Others conceptualized leisure as one of society’s several institutions. This social organizational approach was taken by, among others, Parker (1976:28–30) and Kaplan (1975: 28–31), and consists of identifying and describing, among others, the distinctive roles, norms, and values of this institution. In this regard, Pronovost (1998:27–29) describes two types of leisure values: “legitimization values,” or those that justify pursuing leisure, and “social motivations,” or those that justify engaging in a particular leisure activity.

Another analytic approach has been to critically examine the fit of leisure in society. Such analyses have tended to proceed from either a neo-Marxist or a cultural perspective or a combination of both. For example, Rojek (1985) and Clarke and Critcher (1986) viewed leisure as part of the hegemonic apparatus used by the ruling classes in capitalist society to the keep the rest properly attuned to their work roles. Later, Rojek (2000), in calling attention to the nature and extent of deviant leisure, challenged the conventional wisdom that leisure invariably conforms to social norms.

A. Time

Concern with the available amount of leisure time has, since the 1970s, been another enduring interest. One of the most pressing questions in this area has been whether, in ensuing decades, such time is increasing and, if so, for whom and in which areas of activity? As background for their own work, Cushman, Veal, and Zuzanek (1996:4–10) summarize five international comparative studies of time use. Dating from 1972 (Szalai 1972), such studies have been conducted exclusively in the West, inasmuch as developing countries lack resources for such research. Even in the West varying definitions of leisure have made it difficult to mount valid cross-national comparisons. In general, it may be concluded, nevertheless, that leisure time has increased up through the 1980s, with declines becoming evident in the 1990s. There is no clear trend in participation, with some activities becoming more popular and others becoming less so (Cushman et al. 1996:239). More particularly, Dumazedier (1988), from his position in France, discerned between 1968 and 1988 a Western trend toward increased cultural leisure, especially “educational activities,” broadly conceived of as any of the serious leisure activities.

Overall, research does support the claim that, in the United States, after-work time of many people has been growing both in amount and significance (Robinson and Godbey 1997). But, oddly, this research also suggests that some people feel more rushed than ever. Jiri Zuzanek (1996:65) provides the clearest statement of this paradox. In general, American time-budget findings parallel those of Canada, and provide additional evidence of the complexity of life in modern industrial societies marked, as it seems, by concurrent trends toward greater time freedom as well as “harriedness” and “time pressure.” And this general trend persists despite the present orientation in a number of industries for managers to extract extra hours of service from their full-time salaried and hourly rated employees. Yet the size of this group of reluctantly overworked employees is shrinking as more and more of their positions are lost in the nearly universal shuffle to organize as much work as possible along electronic lines.

B. Types of Leisure

Yet another way to treat leisure in society is to classify its many forms. The primeval typology has been, and remains in many quarters, the enduring dichotomy of work and leisure, which as part of a general warning about typologies in leisure research, Samdahl (1999:124) criticizes as oversimplistic. In fact, classifications of leisure itself are uncommon. The few efforts of this nature tend to be narrowly focused, usually revolving around classification of leisure lifestyles (see, e.g., Gunter and Gunter 1980; Kelly 1999:144–147). And yet the broader tendency to rely on undifferentiated lists of leisure activities—the prevailing way the field approaches its subject matter— masks the many ways activities can be lumped together for fruitful analysis and generalization. Obviously, watching television or taking a nap, on the one hand, and climbing a mountain or knitting a quilt, on the other, involve different motives, return different benefits to the participant, and take place in different social organizational milieu.

To avoid premature theoretical closure, all classifications should be grounded in ongoing exploratory research, which constantly checks their component types against the reality they claim to represent. This is precisely the empirical foundation of the most widely accepted classification of leisure activities at present, namely, the serious/casual/ project-based leisure perspective (Stebbins 1992, 1997, 2001, 2005a). In the spirit of the extensive exploration that underlies this perspective, its three forms are not claimed to encompass all possible leisure activities, since one or more new forms could be discovered or existing forms refashioned.

Serious leisure is systematic pursuit of an amateur, hobbyist, or volunteer activity that participants find so interesting and fulfilling that, in the typical case, they launch themselves on a (leisure) career centered on acquiring and expressing its special skills, knowledge, and experience (Stebbins 1992:3). The adjective “serious” (a word Stebbins’s research respondents often used) embodies such qualities as earnestness, sincerity, importance, and carefulness. This adjective signals the importance of these three forms of activity in the everyday lives of participants, in that pursuing the three eventually engenders deep self-fulfillment.

Casual leisure is immediately intrinsically rewarding, relatively short-lived pleasurable activity requiring little or no special training to enjoy it. It is fundamentally hedonic, engaged in for the significant level of pure enjoyment, or pleasure, found there. It is also the classificatory home of much of the deviant leisure discussed by Rojek (1997:392–393). Casual leisure is further distinguished from serious leisure by six characteristics of the latter: need to persevere at the activity, availability of a leisure career, need to put in effort to gain skill and knowledge, realization of various special benefits, unique ethos and social world, and an attractive personal and social identity.

Project-based leisure is a short-term, moderately complicated, either one-shot or occasional, though infrequent, creative undertaking carried out in free time (Stebbins 2005a). It requires considerable planning, effort, and sometimes skill or knowledge, but for all that neither is it serious leisure nor is it intended to develop into such. Nor is it casual leisure. The adjective occasional describes widely spaced undertakings for such regular occasions as arts festivals, sports events, religious holidays, individual birthdays, or national holidays, while creative stresses that the undertaking results in something new or different, showing imagination, skill, or knowledge. Though most projects would appear to be continuously pursued until completed, it is conceivable that some might be interrupted for several weeks, months, or even years.

C. The Meaning and Motivation of Leisure

What motivates people to participate in certain leisure activities rather than others has fascinated philosophers and social scientists from Aristotle to the present. This is an enormously complicated issue, which helps explain why it is still in the course of being examined. Sociology retains its generalized approach to leisure through studying the meaning of leisure for those who partake of it, an interest it shares with social psychology. There is a vast literature here, a substantial amount of it concerned with the idea of “leisure experience.” Such experience is commonly studied by examining its quality, duration, intensity, and memorability. Examining leisure satisfaction constitutes another way of assessing the meaning of leisure (Mannell 1999:235–252). Shaw (1985) applied the sociological conceptualization of meaning—the definition of the situation—in her influential study of the meaning of work and leisure in everyday life. She found that activities defined as leisure were freely chosen, intrinsically motivated, and related to the nonwork context of activity. Later, Samdahl (1988) argued that “leisure is a particular definition of the situation” (p. 29), with the leisure situation, visa- vis other types of situations, itself being distinct.

This concept of meaning relates to leisure in society, because meaning at this level is, in significant part, shaped by the role leisure plays socially as well as by the way society evaluates that role. For instance, an amateur orchestra provides the local community with classical music, an art form valued highly by many of those there who yearn for and appreciate this form of high culture. Moreover, knowing the meaning of a thing, activity, experience, or situation has for an individual is tantamount to understanding that person’s motivation. Sociologists have long treated such meaning as a key element in the motivation of behavior (see Stebbins 1975:32–35).

The sociology of leisure contributes further to the theory of leisure motivation by stating that such motivation also roots in a variety of organized social conditions. Here, as in most other areas of life, action is structured, or organized, in dyads, small groups, social networks, and grassroots associations, as well as in larger complex organizations and, still more broadly, in social worlds and social movements (Stebbins 2002). Each kind of organization structures in particular and unique ways the motivation and social behaviour of its members, making leisure motivation as much a sociological issue as a psychological one.

IV. Specialization in the Sociology of Leisure

Examinations of leisure from a sociological perspective were sporadic until approximately the beginning of the 1950s, the aforementioned work of Veblen being a notable exception. Later, Lundberg, Komarovsky, and McInerny (1969) mounted a study of leisure in an American suburb, which was to become the first of a handful of community studies in the United States in which leisure was a primary point of analysis. Other notable studies were conducted by Vidich and Bensman (1968) on small town leisure and by Hollingshead (1975) on youth and leisure in a small Midwestern city. The main goal in these studies was to describe the role leisure played in community life. In fact, they laid the foundation for the social organizational approach to leisure in society.

David Riesman’s (1961) observations on the decline of the work ethic in the United States and the rise there of the other-directed man depicted a person well in tune with the leisure interests of the mass crowd. His work ushered in an era of work-leisure comparisons as well as a lasting debate about this basic typology. Shortly thereafter, writings began appearing on mass leisure (see, e.g., Larrabee and Meyerson 1958) and on the ways work and leisure are related. For example, Kando and Summers (1971:83–86) formulated and tested two hypotheses relating to “spillover” or work is similar to leisure and “compensation”; that is, work that is separate or different from leisure, though neither was unequivocally confirmed (Kelly 1987:147–53). In Britain, Parker (1971) was writing about the future of work and leisure as they influence each other. Moreover, this line of analysis continues (see, e.g., Reid 1995; Haworth 1997; Stebbins 2004), for the relationship between the two is complicated and ever changing. And this in the present era where they are assuming equal importance as considered under the rubric of “work/life balance.”

Beginning in the early 1980s, the sociological study of leisure began to add various specialties, the most prominent being symbolic interactionism, feminist perspective, family studies, and life cycle and life course. They did not, however, eclipse the broader interest of leisure in society, which has continued.

A. Symbolic Interactionism

John R. Kelly is the most prominent and prolific representative of symbolic interactionism in the sociology of leisure and the interdisciplinary field of leisure studies. The fullest expression of Kelly’s interactionist perspective was set forth in 1983 (Kelly 1983), when he examined interaction in leisure activities as a main field for identity development throughout the life course. Using the example of amateurs, he observed that leisure can be most substantial, and that such leisure typically becomes the basis for a valued personal as well as social identity. Leisure in this sense—an amateur cellist, archaeologist, or baseball player—tends to become a central part of a person’s life, a true “central life interest” (Dubin 1992). In fact, this leisure identity may be as important to people as their work identity. But leisure identities, like identities in other spheres of life, are fashioned in interaction with likeminded folk. Still, the centrality of leisure for a person may change over the life course, owing to the magnitude of family- or work-related obligations as, for instance, during a period of retirement when leisure involvements and associated identities may flourish.

Kelly classified leisure interaction according to four types. The first, doubly casual, is low in both activity intensity and social interaction, as exemplified in watching with others a television program. In socially intense leisure, activity intensity is low, but social interaction is at a high level. A session of gossip after work about other employees illustrates this type. Activity-intense leisure, where the interactional component is either minimal or highly routine, is often solitary (e.g., painting, absorbing reading, long-distance running), but not exclusively so. Aspects of team sports, such as throwing a free throw in basketball or kicking a field goal, can be classified as activity intense. The fourth type—doubly intense leisure— is found in activity requiring high levels of action and verbal or nonverbal communication. Dancing in a ballet production, playing string quartets, singing barbershop, and performing in a play are all instances of this type of leisure. Kelly also looked at the many social situations in which leisure can take place, including its fleeting occurrences in the course of doing routine tasks like joking with colleagues at work or doodling on a piece of paper during a meeting.

Moreover, Kelly (1987:120) observed social interaction is itself a form of leisure. It is likely that most socially intense leisure can be seen in this light. In effect, Kelly was discussing Simmel’s (1949) “sociable conversation,” the essence of which lies in its playfulness, represents a quality enjoyed for its intrinsic value. Sociable conversation guarantees its participants maximization of joy, relief, and vivacity; it is democratic activity in that the pleasure of one person is dependent on that of the other people in the exchange. But, to the extent such interaction becomes instrumental, or problem-centered, as it may when work or some other obligation insinuates itself, its leisure character, if the obligation is disagreeable, fades in proportion.

B. Gender and the Feminist Perspective

Today, the gender and feminist perspectives constitute a lively and central part of leisure studies. Susan Shaw (2003:200) writes that research conducted during the 1970s touched on the gender issue by breaking down rates of leisure participation according to sex of participant. Enlightened by the feministic perspective, many female leisure researchers viewed this demographic approach as highly skewed in that woman’s unique experience of leisure and the unique problems she confronts were ignored. Other female leisure scholars pursued such issues as the gendered nature of leisure for both sexes and how leisure behavior influences gender beliefs and ideologies (Shaw 2003:202).

Both the feminists and the gender specialists share an interest in the constructionist approach to human stereotyping in the world of leisure. They have in common a mutual concern with identifying and explaining the constraints age, class, and geographic location impose on gender. Recognizing that constraints on leisure may be either personal or environmental, Harrington, Dawson, and Bolla (1992) studied a group of Ontario women to assess how women perceive such constraints. They found, for example, that the necessity to find childcare discouraged some women from participating in leisure activities.

In describing the initial feminist approach to understanding leisure, Henderson and Bialeschki (1999) note that “researchers focused attention on leisure and recreation issues for women and have provided ways to challenge the predominantly androcentric perspectives of leisure research prior to the mid 1980s” (p. 167). Examples include the work of Bella (1989), Glancy (1991), and Henderson (1990), who found that the feminist perspective differs from sociological research on women in that the former stresses social change to counter oppressive practices. This perspective draws heavily on the leisure experience tradition, while looking critically at such issues in a woman’s leisure lifestyle as its capacity for equality, liberation, and integrity. The perspective also stresses use of exploratory-qualitative methodology to enhance the female point of view unfettered by androcentric perspectives. This approach is guided by principles of inequality and personal integrity, which serve as sensitizing concepts (Van den Hoonaard 1997).

The feminist agenda in the sociology of leisure has led to resistance. Peter Donnelly (1988) says of resistance in female sport and exercise that some women resist dominant views (often shared by both men and women) of what is appropriate leisure for their sex. Accordingly, to show what they are really interested in and capable of, they intentionally try to excel at such traditionally male activities as the hobby of kayaking (Bartram 2001:10) and sport in general (Wearing 1992).

The soap opera also serves as a vehicle for resistance. Beyond the appeal of sociable conversation with family and friends on intriguing happenings in their favorite soaps lies what Brown (1994:161–176) calls the “pleasure of resistance.” That is, females find numerous opportunities to resist, through talk, the subtle oppression of the dominant, largely male culture. The culture of the home and women’s concerns are devalued in male culture, which includes a depreciatory estimation of soap opera itself, in part because the genre has been designed to appeal to the stereotyped female role. Soap opera fan clubs and gossip networks (some of which are now electronic) allow members to create personal meanings as they go about their daily lives, while the soap magazines bring additional grist to this mill. Brown found that, in these meanings, women are almost always dominant and in control.

C. Family

Since leisure is pursued with family members, it was only a matter of time before this dimension of leisure became a dominant focus. Research on family and leisure initiated during the 1970s and enhanced throughout the 1980s commonly focused on leisure and the married couple. Orthner (1975) identified three types of marital leisure activities: individual activities engaged in alone; joint activities requiring interaction such as a card game; and activities requiring little interaction such as watching a hockey game. Although children make a difference, it was unclear from Orthner’s research whether individual activities undermine marital satisfaction or whether joint activities foster such satisfaction. Nonetheless, more recent research has demonstrated that family leisure is consistently related to strength and bonding (Hawks 1991). Moreover, shared leisure experiences clearly build satisfying relationships.

More recently, Shaw and Dawson (2001) introduced the concept of “purposive leisure.” Such family leisure, even when involving one or both parents, is purposive leisure intended to benefit children with a special, familyenhancing purpose. The result is increased family bonding, communication, personal development, self-fulfillment, and, sometimes, health and fitness. In other words, through leisure activities the family can enhance moral values, personal well-being, and quality of life.

Kay (2003) holds that the family is a major arena in which self-identity, family roles, and gender relations are fashioned and experienced. Analysis of family leisure activities discloses patterns of gender inequality that may also enhance intimate marital relationships. This raises debates about work/life balance, as when members of the couple see that balance differently, perhaps through gender- colored glasses. Work/life balance is receiving more serious consideration today than in the work-oriented past, with leisure, family, and family leisure now touted as important counterweights to the job. One aspect of this balance that affects the family is the emphasis some people give to achieving an “optimal leisure lifestyle” (Stebbins 2002:14–15), defined as an ideal mix of casual, serious, and project-based leisure. In such a lifestyle ample opportunity exists for pursuit of self-fulfillment in free time while minimizing family conflict over the person’s use of that time.

D. Life Cycle/Life Course

The classic study of leisure and the life cycle was conducted in Britain by Robert Rapoport and Rhona Rapoport (1975), who reported that variation in leisure patterns according to life cycle stage is greatest among married partners, especially those with children. They observed further that many people live out their lives in three main areas—work, family, and leisure—and that in each they pass through four stages of the life cycle: adolescence, young adulthood, establishment, and later years.

Life course is also broader than its companion idea of family life cycle, in that the latter is limited to family matters. Additionally, family life cycle, although chronological as life course is, is not, however, essentially processual. Process, or a series of actions, events, and changes, is based on the assumption that these actions emerge from or are influenced by each other. Moreover, this influence may have a past (retrospective), present (immediate), or future (prospective) frame of reference. Life cycle, on the other hand, deals with historically arrayed, discrete slices of time, called phases, while within each, events and actions are typically treated as static. In short, life course offers a distinctive perspective on leisure as a social process.

Kelly’s (1983) work on the life course is also germane to the life cycle. Focusing on the final years of the life course, Kelly (1993) added to the commonly recognized prerequisites for satisfactory aging, namely functional health and viable level of financial support, two dimensions thought to enhance quality of living among the elderly. These are satisfactory relationships and regular engagement in activity, which for most retired people is leisure.

Examining the other end of the life course, youth and leisure, Roberts (1999:115–125) compared the leisure of contemporary youth with that of youthful leisure prior to the 1970s. He notes that modern youth face more uncertain futures and that their biographies are more individualized, a condition caused by the great variety of opportunities in postsecondary education and the workplace as well as by frequent periods of unemployment. Additionally, modern youth are more likely to feel responsible for their current situation and for shaping their own future.

Other sociological specialties in the study of leisure that exist have yet to achieve the same level of scholarly prominence as the foregoing. The most notable of these are deviant leisure, racial and ethnic dimensions of leisure, and the leisure of special populations or people with disabilities. Each of these is now beginning to attract significant attention. As Roberts (1999:192–220) notes, leisure lifestyles may engender distinctive identities as well as becoming differentiated along lines of age and social class. Rojek (1997) outlined the domain of deviant leisure, identifying the several areas of life in which it may occur, while Stebbins (1997) observed that most deviant leisure takes the form of casual leisure, though deviant belief systems in science, religion, and politics are complicated enough to amount to serious leisure for those attempting to learn and apply them. Rojek (2000) argues, however, that classifying deviant leisure in this manner can obscure its broader implications for social change. In both the field of race and ethnicity and that of special populations, the issues of access and inclusion have become objects of considerable research. These issues relate to delivery of leisure services (Dattilo and Williams 1999:451–466), as well as to inclusion and exclusion in formal and informal leisure groups (Patterson 2001; Taylor 2001).

V. The Future of the Sociology of Leisure

Although few academic units offer a leisure and recreation curriculum, cultural sociology has, in recent decades, become the center of the sociology of leisure, lending some credence to the claim that the sociology of leisure is alive and well. This claim is based on a misunderstanding of the nature of leisure, however, for much of leisure falls well beyond the scope of cultural sociology. That is, leisure is far broader than the consumption of fine and popular art, sports events, and the mass media of entertainment even while each forms an important part of the sociology of culture. Additionally, the professional production of such arts, events, and media is clearly not leisure-related activity. Indeed, much leisure activity cannot be conceived of as cultural sociology as seen in the pursuit of amateur, hobbyist, and volunteer interests, certain “noncultural” casual leisure activities such as napping and sociable conversation, and free-time short-term projects. For similar reasons, the sociology of sport cannot be regarded as a disguised version of the sociology of leisure.

So where, then, does the sociology of leisure hang its scholarly hat? It turns out that its vestiary is now almost exclusively departments and similar academic units variously named Leisure Studies, Leisure and Recreation, Recreation and Park Administration, Sport, Leisure, and Physical Education, Parks, Leisure, and Tourism Studies, and Recreation and Tourism Management. Sociologists in these units tend to identify with the interdisciplinary field of leisure studies. Indeed, sociology, psychology, and social psychology are the main disciplines in this hybrid field while geography, history, philosophy, forestry, management, physical education, and environmental studies are also well represented.

Furthermore, leisure studies has become an applied field of practice, with considerable research and application devoted to such practical matters as leisure counseling, leisure education, delivery of leisure services, and development and management of parks and recreational centers. There are also strong ties with tourism research and enterprise and, more recently, environmental studies. Leisure sociology helps inform these diverse applications and, of course, is further shaped by them.

The sociology of leisure since approximately the decade of the 1970s has, by and large, come of age theoretically and empirically within this interdisciplinary arena. The handful of leisure sociologists in sociology departments are inclined to publish in its journals and attend the more prominent of its conferences.

The sociology of leisure is nonetheless advancing. It has become a vibrant subdiscipline of its own, even if institutionally alienated from mainstream sociology. In the twenty-first century, as leisure gains more equal standing with work, as the issues pertaining to the issues relating to work/life balance, quality of life, and well-being grow in importance, it is unclear whether sociologists will again play a prominent role in an area of academic study that grew out of their discipline.

See also:


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