All Sources -
Updated Media sources (1) About encyclopedia.com content Print Topic Share Topic
views updated


Since 1930 the sociology of leisure in North America and Europe has not developed in a linear or cumulative fashion. Rather, research agendas, the accepted premises for research and theory, and the "common wisdom" of the field have been revised and challenged. Change did not come in one great overturning, but in a sequence of revisions. A dialectical model seems to be most appropriate to follow the sequence. Through the 1950s, there was an accepted consensus as to both issues and premises. This common wisdom was eroded as well as challenged by new research. The "revised consensus" expanded agendas for both research and theory without completely overturning earlier developments.

Since 1985, a more critical antithesis with multiple sources has emerged to subject the second consensus to a more thoroughgoing revision. The sources of this antithesis have included conflict or neo-Marxist theory, gender-focused critiques, non-Western perspectives, and various poststructural analytical approaches. Critiques are associated with concepts such as hegemony and power, commodification, cultural and social fragmentation, gender and patriarchical structures, imperialism, world views, symbol systems, ideologies, and existential action. Now a central question concerns the kind of synthesis that will be developed in the ongoing process.

The dialectical sequence provides a dynamic framework for a review of central areas in the study of leisure. Although many issues and lines of research can be identified, four have consistently been most salient. In a highly abbreviated form, we will summarize the dialectics of theory and research in relation to (1) work and time, (2) family and community, (3) aging and the life course, and (4) the nature of leisure.


Leisure and Work Domains. When sociologists turned their attention to leisure in the 1960s, three perspectives were adopted. The first, based on earlier community studies, approached leisure as a dimension of the social organization of the community (Lundberg, Komarovsky, and McInerney 1934; Dumazedier 1967). The second, exemplified by David Riesman and initiated at the University of Chicago, viewed leisure as social action that created its own worlds of meaning. The third, the one that came to shape domain assumption and research agendas, emerged from the sociology of work. Its fundamental premise was that economic institutions are central to the society and economic roles the primary determinants of other roles. Especially leisure was assumed to be secondary and derivative. As a consequence, various models of determination by work were proposed that modeled leisure as similar to work ("spillover" or identity), contrasting (compensation), or separate (Wilensky 1960; Parker 1971). The bias, however, was clearly toward some kind of determination rather than segmentation.

As research proceeded, the "long arm of the job" was found to be both shorter and less powerful than expected as only limited, modest, and sometimes inconsistent relationships were found between leisure styles and occupational level and type (Wilson 1980). In a fuller perspective, on the other hand, it was evident that economic roles are determinative of the social context of adult lives—schedules, control of resources, autonomy, and other basic conditions (Blauner 1964). Leisure is part of the reward structure of a social system with differential access to resources based largely on socioeconomic position.

A second revision of the common wisdom concerned time available for leisure. The longterm reduction in the average workweek from as high as eighty hours in the early days of the industrial revolution to about forty hours in the post–World War II period along with the five-day work-week and paid vacations for many workers had led to an unquestioned assurance that more and more leisure time would be the product of increased economic productivity. In the 1970s, however, the declining rate of the decrease moving toward stability produced a revised consensus suggesting segmented time scarcity and a variety of social timetables. Most recently, analysis of labor statistics indicates that workers in high-pressure occupations and some services may have average work-weeks much longer than forty hours (Schor 1991) even though time-diary research identifies a small overall increase in time for leisure (Robinson and Godbey 1997). Considerable attention has also been given to those impacted by the time scarcities of those, mostly women, with multiple work, household, and caregiving roles.

A next challenge to the early common wisdom was a recognition of leisure as a dimension of life with its own meaning and integrity. Leisure is more than leftover and derivative. It has its own place in the rhythm and flow of life. First, leisure came to be defined more as activity than as empty time. Among the themes emerging were relative freedom of choice, distinction from the obligations of other roles, and the variety of meanings and aims that might be sought in such activity. Just as important as the revised definition, however, was the identification of leisure as something more than a derivation of work. Social life could not be divided into a work versus leisure dichotomy, but consisted of multiple sets of intersecting roles. Leisure, although it has a particular relationship with the bonding of family and other immediate communities (Cheek and Burch 1976), had multiple contexts, connections, and meanings (Kelly 1981).

The Challenge of Critical Theory. The domain assumptions of functional sociology have been challenged by critical analyses with roots in neo-Marxist cultural studies (Clarke and Critcher 1986; Rojek 1985), historical study that focuses on power and the struggles of the working class, and social construction approaches that take into account the interpretive symbolic activity of social actors (Rojek 1995).

The central theme of the critical challenge is social control by ruling elites. Leisure is seen as a critical element in the hegemony of ruling elites in a capitalist society. In order to assure compliance in the routinized "Fordist" workplace, the political arena, and the marketplace, leisure has emerged as central to the capitalist reward and control system. Leisure is, from this critical perspective, a market-mediated instrument that binds workers to the production process and to roles that support the reproduction of the capital-dominated social system. Leisure is defined as a commodity that must be earned and is indissolubly connected to what can be purchased and possessed.

A number of themes are gathered in this critique. The power to enforce compliance is masked behind an ideology in which "freedom" comes to be defined as purchasing power in the marketplace of leisure. Such "commodity fetishism" (Marx 1970) of attachment to things defines life and leisure in terms of possessions. Leisure, then, becomes "commodified" as the consumption of marketed goods and services, entertainment in contrast with commitment to involving, challenging, and developmental activity (Kelly and Freysinger 1999). Social status is symbolized by leisure display (Veblen 1899). Absorption in mass media, especially low-cost and easy-access television (Robinson and Godbey 1997), legitimates consumption-oriented values and worldviews (Habermas 1975). What appear to be varying styles of leisure reflect the profoundly different conditions of work, family, and leisure assigned by class, gender, and race (Clarke and Critcher 1986).

A Prospective Synthesis. The fundamental presupposition of any sociology of leisure is that leisure is a thoroughly social phenomenon. It is a part of the culture and a product of the social system. Leisure is not separate and secondary, but embedded in the institutional structures, social times, and power allocations of the society. In a complex social system, both individual self-determination and institutional control differ by economic and social position. Leisure is not segmented, but woven into the system. Out of the current dialectic between the consensus and the critique, a number of issues call for attention.

The first agenda is to move beyond ideologies to examine the lived conditions of poor, excluded, and disinherited children, women, and men. Their struggles for life in the present, and their struggles for a future, are reflected in what they do to express themselves, create community, fill ordinary hours and days, and seek new possibilities.

The second issue is to identify the ways in which economic roles provide contexts, resources, limitations, and orientations for the rest of life—family and community as well as leisure. In a "post-Fordist" global economy with a loss of linear work careers and fragmented cultural schemes, the question is not the simple determination of life and leisure by work, but how determinative definitions of both the self and society are learned in a power-differentiated social context.

The third issue is meanings. Purchasing is not necessarily commodification and owning is not fetishism. What are the commitments, symbols, meanings, self-definitions, and worldviews that are the cognitive context of decisions and actions? What are the meanings and outcomes of leisure-related spending, media use, packaged entertainment and travel, and images of pleasure? Possession may be a way of life or an instrument of activity. Does leisure reflect a culture of possession? Or is there a deep paradox between alienation and creation that permeates the entire society?

The fourth issue revolves around time. It is necessary to discard misleading models about average workweeks and the "more or less leisure" argument. Rather, what are the actual patterns and varieties of time structure and allocation? How do these patterns and possibilities vary by economic role, gender, life course, family conditions, ethnicity and race, location, and other placement factors? Time remains a basic resource for leisure action, one that not only varies widely but is one index of the possibility of self-determination.


Leisure as a Context for Family Bonding. If leisure is not just activity determined by and complementary to work, then is there some other critical relationship to the social system? The evident connection is to family and other immediate communities (Roberts 1970). Most leisure is in or around the home. The most common leisure companions are family and other close friends and intimates.

The basis of the first common wisdom was the series of community studies beginning in the 1930s (Lundberg, Komarovsky, and McInerny 1934; Lynd and Lynd 1956). Leisure was found to be a web of ordinary activity, mostly social interaction and tied to the institutions of the community from the family outward to status-based organizations. From this perspective, the later work of Cheek and Burch (1976) argued that the primary function of leisure is to provide a context for social bonding, especially that of family and ethnic community.

An anomaly in family leisure began a revision to the first consensus. The family context was reaffirmed and the centrality of the family to leisure supported (Kelly 1983). Despite the traditional focus on freedom as the primary defining theme of leisure, activity with major components of obligation was found to be most important to most adults. The major theme was that leisure was closely tied to central roles, not separate from them.

Leisure, then, is bound to both the roles and the developmental requirements of life (Rapoport and Rapoport 1976). In fact, from this perspective it may be quite central to life, not residual or secondary at all. It is a primary setting for social bonding and expression as well as for human development. The implied issue, on the other hand, is the consequences for the nature of freedom and choice in leisure. No activity embedded in primary role relationships can ever be free of accompanying obligations and responsibilities (Kelly 1987a, chap. 6). Leisure might be more central but is also less pure and simple.

Power and Self-determination in Leisure Roles. First, there is the challenge posed by changing family patterns now that an unbroken marriage and family through the life course has become a minority probability. The most radical response and antithesis, however, begins with the suggestion that leisure, like other areas of life, has roles. That is, the expectations and power differentials that characterize family, work, and community roles are found in leisure as well. Currently the most salient source of this challenging antithesis is the focus on gender, especially from a feminist perspective (Henderson et al. 1996).

The critique calls for sociologists to go beneath the leisure rhetoric of freedom and self-expression to the realities of lives with limited power of self-determination. From this perspective, the history of the culture is characterized by male domination of women in profound and multifaceted ways that permeate every aspect of life (Deem 1986). Women have been repressed in where they are permitted to go and what they are allowed to do in leisure. Men have had the power to sexualize social contexts to objectify women and their bodies. Physical power and even violence have rendered many leisure times and places unsafe for women.

Even in the home, women's leisure is fundamentally different from that of men. It is usually women who are expected to do the work that makes "family leisure" possible. It is the "hidden work" of women that offers relative freedom to much of the leisure of men and children. Women both enable men's leisure and are leisure for men.

What, then, is the meaning of freedom and self-determination for any subordinate population segment? What about the poor, the racially and ethnically excluded, those cut off from opportunity in abandoned urban areas, and even many of the old? Again, many potential leisure venues in the inner city are unsafe, especially for children and the old. The resources of time, money, access, and autonomy are evidently unevenly distributed in any society.

In this antithesis, the connections of leisure to nonwork roles and resources, especially family and community, and the positive evaluation of how leisure contributes to development through the life course are brought up against a critical model of society. Leisure may indeed be indissolubly tied to family and community, but in ways that reflect social divisions and dominations as well as expressive action.

Leisure's Immediate Context: a New Agenda. Leisure takes place in its small worlds, but also in the larger scale of the society. Further, its actualization is in the midst of real life. Research may be based on premises of systemic integration and the benefits of leisure as well as challenged by critiques reflecting ideologies of subjugation and alienation. A new agenda for research, however informed, should be directed toward the actual lived conditions of decisions and actions, relationships and roles. In such an agenda related to community and family, several themes are highlighted by critiques of the common wisdom:

First, the realities of leisure as a struggle for action and self-determination in the midst of acute differences in power and access to resources will receive more attention. Especially gender, race, and poverty will reconstitute research strategies and frames past the easy assumptions that leisure is equally free and beneficial for all. The realities of family instability and crisis as well as of community divisions and conflicts will be taken into account as the immediate communities of leisure are reformulated.

Second, underlying the new agenda is the theme of differential power, not only power to command resources but to determine the course of one's life and what is required of others. In the action of leisure, there is both a relative openness for action and modes of repression that stimulate submission and resistence.

Third, the pervasiveness of sexuality, gender roles, and sexual orientation throughout life in society will gain greater prominence in leisure sociology. One set of issues revolves around sexuality and related emotions to leisure. Simple models of explanation based solely on rational action will be recognized as inadequate. Also, gender will be seen as negotiated identity and power of self-determination rather than a simple dichotomized category.

Fourth, the danger of leisure's becoming increasingly privatized, bound only to immediate communities and the small worlds of personal life construction, is a perspective that runs counter to the functional view of leisure as a context for social bonding. There may be a negative side to a focus on the family basis of leisure activity and meanings. As technologies increasingly make the home a center of varied entertainment, leisure could become more and more cut off from larger communities.

In general, leisure is surely not peripheral to the central concerns and relationships of life. That, however, does not lead simply to bonding without domination, to development without alienation, or to intimacy without conflict.


Continuity and Change in the Life Course. The earliest common wisdom was simply that age indexed many kinds of leisure engagement. In a simple model, age was even referred to as a cause of decreased rates of participation. It was assumed that something decremental happened to people as they aged. The rates of decline varied according to activity: rapid for sports, especially team sports; more gradual for travel and community involvement. Attention given to those in their later years, generally their sixties and seventies but sometimes their fifties as well, suggested that such "disengagement" might even be functional. Perhaps older people needed to consolidate their activity and recognize their limitations.

The revised common wisdom began by recasting age as an index of multiple related changes rather than an independent variable. Further, the revised framework became the life course rather than linear age (Neugarten 1968). A number of themes emerged:

First, in the Kansas City study of adult life, normative disengagement was replaced with activity (Havighurst 1961). Instead of making a necessary or desirable withdrawal from activity, older people were found to revise their patterns and commitments in ways that fit their later life roles and opportunities. Leisure was conceptualized as multidimensional in meaning as well as in forms. More recently, this approach has led to a discovery of the "active old," those before and in retirement who adopt lifestyles of engagement in a variety of leisure activities and relationships. Further, such engagement has been consistently found to be a major factor in life satisfaction (Cutler and Hendricks 1990).

Second, the model of inevitable decrement was challenged by research that failed to measure high correlations between age and functional ability. Rather, a model of aging that stressed continuity rather than loss and change was applied to leisure as well as other aspects of life (Atchley 1989). A return to earlier socialization studies provided a base for a revised model that identified lines of commitment rather than age-graded discontinuity. Especially the "core" of daily accessible activity and interaction remains central to time allocation through the life course (Kelly 1983).

Third, the life course also provided a perspective in which intersecting work, leisure, and family roles and opportunities were related to developmental changes (Rapoport and Rapoport 1976). Leisure is not a list of activities dwindling with age, but a social environment in which many critical issues of life may be worked out. Developing sexual identity for teens, expressing intimacy for those exploring and consolidating family commitments, reconstituting social contexts after midlife disruptions, and ensuring social integration in later years are all central requirements of the life course that are developed in leisure. Not only interests, but also significant identities are often found in leisure as well as in family and work (Gordon, Gaitz, and Scott 1976).

In the revised consensus, then, the life course with its interwoven work, family, and community roles was accepted as a valuable framework for analyzing both the continuities and the changes of leisure. Leisure was seen as tied not only to role sequences but also to developmental preoccupations. The life course was found to incorporate revisions and reorientations rather than being simply an inevitable downhill slide measured by participation rates in selected recreation pursuits.

An Integrated View of Life . . . and Leisure. The regular and predictable transitions of the life-course model, however, seem to gloss over many of the realities of contemporary life. A majority of adults in their middle or later years have experienced at least one disrupting trauma in health, work, or the family that has required a fundamental reconstituting of roles and orientations (Kelly 1987b). Further, conditions are not the same for all persons in a social system. Race, gender, class, and ethnicity designate different life chances.

In this perspective of continuity and change in a metaphor of life as journey, a number of issues call for attention. First, salient differences in life conditions are more than variations in starting points for the journey. Rather, deprivation and denial are cumulative in ways that affect every dimension of life. Second, individuals come to define themselves in the actual circumstances of life, not in an abstracted concept. Identities, the concepts of the self that are central to what we believe is possible and probable in our lives, are developed in the realities of the life course. Third, the structures of the society, including access to institutional power, provide forceful contexts of opportunity and denial that shape both direction and resources for the journey.

In this revised life-course approach, leisure remains as a significant dimension, tied to family, work, education, community, and other elements of life. Changes in one may affect all the others. Leisure, then, is distinct from the product orientation of work and the intimate bonding of the family, and yet is connected to both.

Leisure and the Life Course: New Agendas. From the perspective of the life course, research focusing on leisure now requires several revised issues. Among the most significant are:

First, leisure is woven through the life course. It is existential in a developmental sense. That is, leisure is action that involves becoming, action in which the actor becomes something more than before. For example, leisure is central to changing early socialization in the increased activity scheduling, electronic entertainment and interaction, and professional supervision of upper- and middle-class children. It is the main context for exploring sexuality and romance for teens and young adults.

Second, the developmental orientation of some leisure is highlighted by this perspective that recognizes lines of action as well as singular events and episodes. What has been termed "serious leisure" by Robert Stebbins (1979) is activity in which there is considerable personal investment in skills and often in equipment and organization. Such investment places serious leisure in a central position in identity formation and expression. Leisure identities may provide continuity through the transitions and traumas of the life course. Yet, how women and men define themselves and take action toward redefinition has been a subject of speculation more than research.

Third, what is the place of leisure in the schema of life investments and commitments? Further, how do those investments differ according to the life conditions of men and women as they make their way through the shifting expectations and possibilities of the life course? Xavier Gallier (1988) presents a model of the life course that emphasizes disruptions rather than linear progress. In an irregular life journey, work, family, and leisure may rise and fall both in salience and in the "chunks" of time they are allocated. He proposes that education, production, and leisure become themes woven through life rather than discrete sequential periods.


As already suggested, perspectives on the nature of leisure have changed in the modern period of scholarly attention from the 1930s to now. The change is not self-contained, but reflects shifts in theoretical paradigms as well as drawing from other disciplines, especially social psychology.

Leisure as Free Time and Meaning. Despite repeated references to Greek roots and especially Aristotle, the first accepted operational definition of leisure was that of time. Leisure did not require that all other role obligations be completed, but that the use of the time be more by choice than by requirement. How choice was to be measured was seldom addressed. Concurrently, international "time-budget" research quantified leisure as one type of activity that could be identified by its form (Szalai 1974). Leisure was assumed to be clearly distinguished from work, required maintenance, and family responsibilities.

The first consensus, although persisting in many research designs, did not endure long without amendment. To begin with, it was obvious that any activity might be required, an extension of work or other roles. Further, even such simple terms as "choice" and "discretionary" implied that the actor's definition of the situation might be crucial.

In the 1970s, the field claimed more attention from psychologists, who focused on attitudes rather than activities. Leisure was said to be defined by attitudes or a "state of mind" that included elements such as perceived freedom, intrinsic motivation, and a concentration on the experience rather than external ends (Neulinger 1974). Attention was directed toward meanings, but wholly in the actor rather than in definitions of the social context. Such psychological approaches were one salient influence on sociologists, who added at least three dimensions to the earlier time- and activity-known to common definitions.

First, in the 1950s, the Kansas City research (Havighurst 1961) along with the community studies tied leisure to social roles. The satisfactions anticipated in an activity involved meanings and relationships brought to the action context as well as what occurred in the time frame.

Second, the immediate experience might be the critical focus for leisure, but it occurs in particular environments that involve social learning, acquired skills and orientations (Csikszentmihalvi 1981), and interaction with components imported from other role relationships (Cheek and Burch 1976). Freedom is perceived, or not, in actual circumstances.

Third, although the dimension of freedom recurs in the literature, studies of experiences and activity engagements found that leisure seldom is monodimensional. The meanings, outcomes, motivations, and experiences themselves are multifaceted (Havighurst 1961; Kelly 1981).

Leisure, then, in the revised approaches is a more complex phenomenon than either the earlier sociologists or the psychologists proposed. In fact, the consensus broke down under the weight of multiple approaches that ranged from individualistic psychology to functional sociology, from presumably self-evident quantities of time to interpretive self-definitions and lines of action, and from discrete self-presentations (Goffman 1967) to actions embedded in life-course role sequences (Rapoport and Rapoport 1976).

Revolt against the Abstract. Antithetical themes came from several directions.

First, which is fundamental to accounting for life in society, the interpretive acts of the individual or the social context in which the action takes place (Giddens 1979)? Further, since the forms and symbols by which action is directed are learned and reinforced in the society, can action be prior to the context? The nature of leisure, then, is neither an acontextual nor a determined social role. Rather, it is actualized in processual action. And this process has continuities that extend beyond the immediate to personal development and the creation of significant communities (Kelly 1981).

Second, a number of critical analysts have raised questions about the positive cast usually given to leisure. Such positive approaches seem to presuppose resources, options, perspectives, and self-determination that are in fact unequally distributed in societies (Clarke and Critcher 1986). Do the unemployed and the poor have enough resources for discretion and choice to be meaningful concepts? Do histories of subjugation and life-defining limits for women in male-dominated societies make assumptions of self-determining action a sham? Such opportunity differences are most substantive in a market system of buying, renting, or otherwise acquiring resources. The real contexts of leisure are not voids of time and space, but are extensions of the structures of the society and ideologies of the culture. There is clearly an "other side" to leisure that includes many kinds of activity with destructive potential such as gambling, substance use, and sexual exploitation. There are also negative elements in other activities such as physical violence and racial stereotyping in sport, sexual violence in socializing, and even turning driving into a contest endangering others. All social forms of exploitation and exclusion are found in leisure (Rojek 1995; Kelly and Freysinger 1999).

Third, a consequence of this distorted and constricted context of leisure is alienation. Leisure is not entirely free, creative, authentic, and community-building activity. It may also be, perhaps at the same time, stultifying and alienating. It may separate rather than unite, narrow rather than expand, and entrap rather than free. It may, in short, be negative as well as positive. It is not a rarified ideal or a perfect experience. It is real life, often struggle and conflict as well as development and expression.

The dialectic between expression and oppression that characterizes the rest of life in society is the reality of leisure as well. Being role-based in a stratified society means being limited, directed, and excluded. The contexts of any experience, however free and exhilarating, are the real culture and social system. The multiple meanings of leisure include separation as well as community, determination as well as creation, and routine as well as expression. The former simplicity of leisure as essentially a "good thing" becomes alloyed by situating it in the real society with all its forces, pressures, and conflicts.

Leisure as a Dimension of Life. The question, then, is what does such extension and critique do to any conceptualization of the nature of leisure? Leisure encompasses both the existential and the social. It has myriad forms, locales, social settings, and outcomes. Leisure is neither separated from social roles nor wholly determined by them. Leisure has developed amid conflict as well as social development, in division as well as integration, with control as well as freedom. It may involve acquiescence as well as resistance, alienation as well as authenticity, and preoccupation with self as well as commitment to community. Leisure, then, is multidimensional and cannot be characterized by any single or simple element.

A further issue is whether leisure is really a domain of life at all. Is leisure clearly distinguished from work, family, community, church, and school: or is it a dimension of action and interaction within them all? In the Preparation period, leisure is a social space for the exploration and development of sexual identities as well as working out the issues of peer identification and independence from parents and the past. It also stresses the theme of expression that is central to developing a sense of selfhood, of personal identity among emerging social roles. In the Establishment period, leisure adds the dimension of bonding to intimate others, especially in the formation and consolidation of the family. In the Third Age, leisure has meanings tied to both integration with significant other persons and maintenance of a sense of ability when some work and community roles are lost (Kelly 1987b). Leisure, then, might be conceptualized as being woven into the intersecting role sequences of the life course rather than being a segregated realm of activity. Productivity is not limited to work, nor bonding to the family, nor learning and development to education, nor expression to leisure. Production, bonding and community, learning and development, and relative freedom and self-authenticating experience may all be found in any domain of life.

Yet there must also be distinguishing elements of leisure or it disappears into the ongoing round of life. Further, those elements should be significant in relation to central issues of life such as production and work, love and community, sexuality and gender, learning and development, emotion and involvement. Leisure should connect with the lived conditions of ordinary life rather than being an esoteric and precious idea to be actualized only in rare and elite conditions.

Leisure, then, may be more a dimension than a domain, more a theme than an identifiable realm (Kelly 1987a). That dimension is characterized by three elements: First, it is action in the inclusive sense of doing something, of being an intentioned and deliberate act. Such action is existential in producing an outcome with meaning to the actor. Second, this action is focused on the experience more than on the result. It is done primarily because of what occurs in the defined time and space. Third, leisure as a dimension of life is characterized by freedom more than by necessity. It is not required by any role, coercive power, or repressive ideology. Leisure is not detached from its social and cultural contexts, but is a dimension of relatively self-determined action within such contexts. Its meaning is not in its products as much as in the experience, not in its forms as much as in its expression.

The Sociology of Leisure in the Future. Leisure sociology, then, is not a closed book or a finalized product. Rather, central issues are currently being raised that promise to reform the field in its premises as well as conclusions. No common wisdom will go unchallenged, no consensus remain unchanged, and no theoretical formulation be above conflict. Yet, every challenge, every conflict, and every developing synthesis provides a new basis for at least one conclusion: Leisure is a significant dimension of life that calls for both disciplined and innovative attention. From this perspective, a number of issues are likely to receive greater attention in the new century (Kelly and Freysinger 1999):

The first issue is the ascendancy of the market sector as the primary leisure resource provider, with an estimated 97 percent of total spending. In a global economy, leisure including tourism is attracting more investment capital with a significant bias toward upscale markets, big-ticket toys, sport as business and spectacle, and entertainment with multiple entrance fees. This bias combined with media images of a commodified "good life" may underlie trends away from skill-based physical activity and "serious" leisure with high time costs. Is there a fundamental conflict between developmental and consumptive leisure?

The second issue is the emergence of a global culture. The dominant direction of the dispersal is currently from the West through the mass media. However, as communication links and business and cultural contacts become more common, both the concepts and the practices of leisure in the West will become more affected by other cultures.

Third, a focus on gender is leading away from male-oriented "reasoned action" modes of leisure decisions and toward the significance of emotions and especially sexuality. Since all social interaction is gendered and most has deep dimensions of sexuality, leisure will be understood more as a multidimensional process rather than a singular choice. Leisure, then, is both contextual and contested.

Fourth, leisure becomes more a part of "ordinary life" rather than segregated activities with special designations. In a more fragmented social milieu, elements of leisure may be located in almost any social context. Further, if work itself loses familiar continuities, then leisure may become more central to identities and persistent lines of meaning as individuals seek to make sense of their lives.

Fifth, there will likely be concerns over many negative aspects of leisure. Will easy entertainment lessen personal investments in challenging leisure? Will available and affordable electronics damage the social fabric of associations and intimate relationships? Will leisure increasingly become privatized at the cost of community exploitative of the poor and powerless? Will leisure become spectacular rather than engaging, violent rather than sharing, destructive of natural environments, and divisive rather than integrating?

The basic questions, of course, are those of the kind of society that is emerging and the kind of people who will live in it. It is clear, whatever is ahead, that leisure will be a significant dimension in a variety of forms and contexts.

(see also: Life Course, Gender, Social Class, Social Identity)


Atchley, Robert 1989 "A Continuity Theory of Normal Aging." The Gerontologist 29:183–190.

Blauner, Robert 1964 Alienation and Freedom: The Factory Worker and His Industry. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Cheek, Neil, and William Burch 1976 The Social Organization of Leisure in Human Society. New York: Harper and Row.

Clarke, John and Chas Critcher 1986 The Devil Makes Work: Leisure in Capitalist Britain. Champaign: University of Illinois Press.

Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly 1981 "Leisure and Socialization." Social Forces 60:332–340.

Cutler, Stephen, and Jon Hendricks 1990 "Leisure and Time Use across the Life Course." In R. Binstock and L. George, eds., Handbook of Aging and the Social Sciences, 3rd ed. New York: Academic Press.

Deem, Rosemary 1986 All Work and No Play: The Sociology of Women and Leisure. Milton Keynes, United Kingdom: Open University Press.

Dumazedier, Joffre 1967 Toward a Society of Leisure. New York: Free Press.

Gallier, Xavier 1988 La Deuxieme Carriere: Ages, Emplois, Retraite. Paris: Editions du Seuil.

Giddens, Anthony 1979 Central Problems in Social Theory: Action, Structure, and Contradiction in Social Analysis. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Goffman, Erving 1967 Interaction Ritual. New York: Anchor Books.

Gordon, Chad, C. Gaitz, and J. Scott 1976 "Leisure and Lives: Personal Expressivity across the Life Span." In R. Binstock and E. Shanas, eds., Handbook of Aging and the Social Sciences. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold.

Habermas, Jurgen 1975 Legitimation Crisis. Boston: Beacon Press.

Havighurst, Robert 1961 "The Nature and Values of Meaningful Free-time Activity." In R. Kleemeier, ed., Aging and Leisure. New York: Oxford University Press.

Henderson, Karla, M. Deborah Bialeschki, Susan Shaw, and Valeria Freysinger 1996 Both Gains and Gaps: Feminist Perspectives on Women's Leisure. State College, Pa.: Venture Publishing.

Kelly, John R. 1981 "Leisure Interaction and the Social Dialectic." Social Forces 60:304–22.

——1983 Leisure Identities and Interactions. London: Allen and Umwin.

——1987a Freedom to Be: a New Sociology of Leisure. New York: Macmillan.

——1987b Peoria Winter: Styles and Resources in Later Life. Lexington. Mass.: Lexington Books.

Kelly, John R., and Valeria Freysinger 1999. 21st Century Leisure: Current Issues. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

Lundberg, George, Mirra Komarovsky, and M. McInerney 1934. Leisure: A Suburban Study. New York: Columbia University Press.

Lynd, Helen, and Robert Lynd 1956 Middletown. New York: Harcourt Brace.

Marx, Karl 1970 The Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844. London: Lawrence and Wishart.

Neugarten, Bernice 1968 Middle Age and Aging. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Neulinger, John 1974 The Psychology of Leisure. Springfield, Ill.: C. C. Thomas.

Parker, Stanley 1971 The Future of Work and Leisure. New York: Praeger.

Rapoport, Rhona, and Robert Rapoport 1976 Leisure and the Family Life Cycle. London: Routledge.

Roberts, Kenneth 1970 Leisure. London: Longmans.

Robinson, John, and Geoffrey Godbey 1997 Time for Life: The Surprising Ways Americans Use Their Time. University Park: Pennsylvania University Press.

Rojek, Chris 1985 Capitalism and Leisure Theory. London: Tavistock.

——1995 Decentring Leisure. London and Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Sage.

Schor, Juliet 1991 The Overworked American. New York: Basic Books.

Stebbins, Robert 1979 Amateurs: On the Margin between Work and Leisure. Beverly Hills, Calif.: Sage.

Szalai, Alexander 1974 The Use of Time: Daily Activities of Urban and Suburban Populations in Twelve Countries. The Hague: Mouton.

Veblen, Thorstein (1899) 1953 The Theory of the Leisure Class. New York: New American Library. Wilensky, Harold 1960 "Work, Careers, and Social Integration." International Social Science Journal 12:543–560.

Wilson, John 1980 "Sociology of Leisure." Annual Review of Sociology 6:21–40.

John R. Kelly

views updated


Leisure is one facet of the quest for meaning that continues throughout life. From earliest cognition to dying breath, meaningful engagement and self-validation appear to be enduring attractors. Two trends speak to the probable importance of leisure. During the course of the twentieth century, there was a vast expansion in access to leisure. At the same time, social demographic changes already apparentextensions of life expectancy, improving health status, and economic currents altering the nature of work and retirementalso speak to leisure's prospect. It is not too much to assert that leisure lifestyles have become a way of life for many segments of the population.

No doubt a great deal of significance and satisfaction is derived from work-related or familial activities, but leisure also provides highly nuanced opportunities to express, explore, and confirm personal agency, identity, membership affirmation, and life stage. Over the course of life the primacy of most roles shifts and shifts again, transforming as perspectives change as new agendas emerge. What is considered significant at one point may be of lesser importance at another, replaced by priorities previously either nonexistent or relegated to the periphery. With the progression through the adult years, several such changes are possible and in each instance the meaning of leisure may be redefined.

In characterizing leisure as a cradle of meaning and as a significant realm of social engagement and participation, it is important to view it as more than simply activity or time left over from other obligations. Early analysts often spoke of leisure as a residual category: the converse of work, a period of recuperation, or time to be filled after work was done. No doubt such a perspective is valid, in part, but leisure is also an independent domain subject to many of the same forces that shape the rest of the life course. If changes in the way work is performed come to pass and patterns of lifelong employment built on explicit career ladders become less prevalent, then the delineation of socially defined passages previously provided by work will also diminish. If so, alternative sources of meaning may emerge, based on what they can contribute to normative definitions of age, structuring of the life course, and personal identity (Han and Moen).

Among the ramifications of the globalization of production and accompanying economic transformation is that the relative salience consigned to productive roles and other realms of activity may be adjusted under certain emerging scenarios. Specifically, as people find themselves less reliant on their work roles for satisfaction as the structure of the workplace changes, the relative importance of alternative sources of meaning will shift. For example, if internal labor hierarchies are flattened, work is not highly agestructured, retirement occurs earlier or intermittently, or contingent employment akin to spot labor markets becomes the norm, the intrinsic meanings derived from work will be abridged and alternative opportunities for self-agency will be sought (Henretta). Even absent such changes, the subjective value of intrinsic work rewards declines with age (Crimmins and Easterlin), depending on financial wherewithal. In addition, many people never did find significant gratification in what they did to earn a living, or were not active in the world of work in the first place.

Types of leisure activities

How do older persons spend their free time? In what types of activities do they participate? What forms of leisure pursuits are most popular? Data from a variety of sources give us a good glimpse into the daily lives of older persons and the types of leisure activities in which they are currently involved.

Contrary to images of older people spending the bulk of their later years in a rocking chair kind of existence, evidence points to a far more active lifestyle. The 1995 National Health Interview Survey, for example, queried persons about their participation in leisure-time physical activity (exercises, sports, physically active hobbies). By this measure, only 34 percent of Americans sixty-five years of age and older reported not being engaged in any of these types of activities during the previous two weeks, as having what might be termed a "sedentary" lifestyle, and this figure represented a decline from 40 percent in 1985 (Federal Interagency Forum on Aging Related Statistics, Table 20). Similarly, viewing older persons as "engaged" in social activities would be an apt characterization. Findings from the Second Supplement on Aging to the 1994 National Health Interview Survey showed that in the previous two weeks 88 percent of persons seventy years of age and older had contact with friends or neighbors; 92 percent had contact with relatives not living in the household; 50 percent had attended a religious service, 27 percent had attended a movie, sports event, club, or group event; 64 percent had gone to a restaurant. And over the previous twelve months, 16 percent reported performing volunteer work. The majority of older Americans also appear to be quite satisfied with their level of social activity; only 21 percent reported they would like to be more active than they are presently (Federal Interagency Forum on Aging Related Statistics, Tables 19A and 19B).

A different and more in-depth glimpse into the daily activities of older persons is provided by examination of "time budgets." These studies ask persons to keep detailed records of how they spend their time during a given interval, for example, during the previous twenty-four hours. Employing this approach, Robinson, Werner, and Godbey have estimated the average number of hours men and women ages sixty-five and older spend weekly in a variety of activities. TV viewing leads the list for both men and women (26.7 hours/week for men; 26.6 for women). Substantial amounts of time are spent traveling (8.8 hours/week for men; 6.6 for women), communicating (7.8 hours for men; 8.0 for women), reading (7.2 and 6.8 hours, respectively), visiting (6.5 hours for both), and in pursuing various hobbies (3.7 and 4.4 hours). Men are more involved in sports than women (3.7 vs. 1.2 hours), women spend more time in religious activities (1.4 hours for men; 1.9 for women), and both spend about the same amount of time participating in organizations (1.6 and 1.5 hours per week, respectively). Other activities, such as education, attending events, and listening to the radio or stereo took up an additional 2.5 hours per week for men and 1.5 hours for women.

Comparable data from a German study (Horgas, Wilms, and Baltes) using a "yesterday interview" approach confirm the contention that older persons spend a greater portion of their day engaged in leisure pursuits than in resting or doing nothing. Among these respondents seventy years of age and older, more than seven hours a day were devoted to a range of discretionary activities such as watching TV, reading, socializing, and "other" leisure activities (e.g., cultural, educational, creative, church, and political activities; sports; gardening; walking; excursions; writing; playing; listening to radio/tape/record). Time spent resting averaged less than three hours a day, although this varied considerably by ageless than two hours a day among persons in their seventies compared to four and a half hours a day for those in their nineties.

The portent of leisure

Leisure and consumption are closely intertwined (Kammen). The fiscal parameters of the leisure market provides valuable testimony to the emerging importance of leisure pursuits. From the Wild West shows fashionable at the dawn of the twentieth century, to the popularity of traveling circuses and mechanized amusement parks between the two world wars, to the opening of the first of the family theme parks in the mid-1950s, the scale of the leisure market has expanded exponentially, reflecting the legitimation of leisure and diversionary entertainment. By the beginning of the twenty-first century, personal expenditures for leisure, entertainment and other discretionary diversions were estimated by some to be as much as $1 trillion dollars annually (Kammen). Add to that the $21 billion spent in 1996 by local, state, and federal governments on parks and recreation (U.S. Bureau of the Census, Table 504) and the scope of the leisure market begins to become apparent. One thing is clear, leisure consumption is big business. To put the figures in perspective, they totaled more than either housing or health care expenditures on a per capita basis at the same point in time. It is also the case that expansion of the contingent labor pool in the service sector, especially in entertainment and recreation hiring, has grown far more quickly than the overall U.S. economy (U.S. Bureau of the Census, Table 678). Any way it is analyzed, the commercialization of the leisure market is substantial, yet leisure-related expenditures represent only part of the picture.

The symbolic value of leisure may be more portentous than its commercial promise, especially if it is understood as a subjectively defined expressive domain that is discretionary, providing intrinsic rewards calculated in terms of personal meaning systems (Dittman-Kohli and Westerhof). At its heart, leisure can be an opportunity for self-discovery, exploration, and affirmation (Cutler and Hendricks, 1990). The connection between leisure participation and physical and mental well-being has been widely documented. Enhanced self-esteem, morale, sense of control, and cognitive and physical functioning, along with lower risk of fracture and mortality, are all linked to leisure participation (Andersen, Schnohr, Schroll, and Hein; Herzog, Franks, Markus, and Holmberg; Kelly; Reitzes, Mutran, and Verrill; Stebbins).

Leisure in later life is often discussed in terms of where it takes place and whether it involves active or passive pursuits. Previous research has pointed to a negative slope between rigorous physical activity and age; however, there is no real rationale for assuming that pattern will hold for future cohorts of older persons. In recent years, continuing education and voluntary activity have been seen as components of leisure, and both have been demonstrated to continue into the ninth decade and perhaps beyond. Another change concerns how social class, hierarchical access, and gender roles play out in the realm of leisure (Cutler and Hendricks, 2000). Despite an evolving conceptual framework, leisure studies are not immune from what some have described as the "busy ethic," in which visible activity is more highly valued than seeming nonactivity (Ekerdt; Katz).

Defining age-appropriate leisure is fraught with risk, not only because much of the research has been cross-sectional, but also because better-educated and healthier cohorts will manifest new norms in years to come. It is also relevant to point out that in many instances, what is work for some may be leisure for others; gardening may be no more than a chore for one person but a source of meaning and pleasure for another. Rather than identifying specific activities as leisure pursuits, researchers should permit participants to define for themselves what constitutes leisure. One dimension of leisure that results in great satisfaction revolves around the perception of "challenge." Activities and pursuits that permit participants to explore one or another of their limitations may provide maximally meaningful opportunities for validation of their sense of self (Guinn; Stebbins). A related dimension of meaningful leisure engagement promotes solidarity through a leisure-based interaction.

Because of its symbolic relevance and its links to a sense of well-being, leisure will be promoted as a consumer good and the size of the leisure market will grow as more and more people seek gratification in alternative, expressive roles. Gerontology must also attend to the same potential and to how individuals of any age derive significance in their lives.

Jon Hendricks Stephen J. Cutler

See also Disengagement; Education; Volunteer Activities and Programs.


Andersen, L. B.; Schnohr, P.; Schroll, M.; and Hein, H. O. "All-Cause Mortality Associated with Physical Activity During Leisure Time, Work, Sports, and Cycling to Work." Archives of Internal Medicine 160 (2000): 16211628.

Crimmins, E. M., and Easterlin, R. A. "What Goals Motivate Individual Behavior." In Evolution of the Aging Self. Edited by K. W. Schaie and J. Hendricks. New York: Springer, 2000. Pages 159168.

Cutler, S. J., and Hendricks, J. "Age Differences in Voluntary Association Memberships: Fact or Artifact." Journal of Gerontology: Social Sciences 55B (2000): S98S107.

Cutler, S. J., and Hendricks, J. "Leisure and Time Use across the Life Course." In Handbook of Aging and the Social Sciences, 3d ed. Edited by Robert H. Binstock and Linda K. George. San Diego: Academic Press, 1990. Pages 169186.

Dittman-Kohli, F., and Westerhof, G. "The Personal Meaning System in a Life Span Perspective." In Exploring Existential Meaning. Edited by Gary Reker and Kerry Chamberlain. Newbury Park, Calif.: Sage, 1999. Pages 107122.

Ekerdt, D. "The Busy Ethic: Moral Continuity between Work and Retirement." The Gerontologist 26 (1986): 239244.

Federal Interagency Forum on Aging Related Statistics. Older Americans 2000: Key Indicators of Well-Being. Washington, D.C.: Federal Interagency Forum on Aging Related Statistics, 2000.

Guinn, B. "Leisure Behavior Motivation and the Life Satisfaction of Retired Persons." Activities, Adaptation & Aging 23 (1999): 1320.

Han, S.-K., and Moen, P. "Clocking Out: Temporal Patterning of Retirement." American Journal of Sociology 105 (1999): 191236.

Henretta, J. "Social Structure and Age-Based Careers." In Age and Structural Lag. Edited by Matilda W. Riley, Robert L. Kahn, and Anne Foner. New York: Wiley-Interscience, 1994. Pages 5779.

Herzog, A. R.; Franks, M. M.; Markus, H. R.; and Holmberg, D. "Activities and Well-Being in Older Age: Effects of Self-Concept and Educational Attainment." Psychology and Aging 13 (1998): 179185.

Horgas, A. L.; Wilms, H.-U.; and Baltes, M. M. "Daily Life in Very Old Age: Everyday Activities as Expression of Successful Living." The Gerontologist 38 (1998): 556568.

Katz, S. "Busy Bodies: Activity, Aging, and the Management of Everyday Life." Journal of Aging Studies 14 (2000): 135152.

Kammen, M. G. American Culture, American Tastes: Social Change and the 20th Century. New York: Knopf, 1998.

Kelly, J. R. "Leisure." In Encyclopedia of Sociology. Edited by Edgar Borgatta and Rhonda Montgomery. New York: Macmillan, 2001. Pages 15811591.

Reitzes, D. C.; Mutran, E. J.; and Verrill, L. A. "Activities and Self-Esteem: Continuing the Development of Activity Theory." Research on Aging 17 (1995): 260277.

Robinson, J. P.; Werner, P.; and Godbey, G. "Freeing Up the Golden Years." American Demographics 19 (1997): 20, 2224.

Stebbins, R. A. Amateurs, Professionals, and Serious Leisure. Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press, 1992.

U.S. Bureau of the Census. Statistical Abstract of the United States: 1999. 119th ed. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1999.

views updated


Definition of leisure

The sociology of leisure


Some authors hold that leisure has existed in all civilizations at all periods. This is not the view that will be taken in this article. Time-out is of course as venerable an institution as work itself. But leisure has certain traits that are characteristic only of the civilization born from the industrial revolution.

In the earliest known societies, work and play alike formed part of the ritual by which men sought communion with the ancestral spirits. Both these activities, although their functions differed at the practical level, had the same kind of meaning in the essential life of the community. Religious festivals embodied both work and play. Moreover, work and play were often combined. Conflict between them was either inconsequential or nonexistent, since play entered into work and became part of it. However, it would be going too far to view the shamans or witch doctors, who were exempted from ordinary labor, as a primitive form of “leisure class” in Veblen’s sense. Shamans and witch doctors undertake to perform magical or religious functions that are regarded as essential to the community. “Leisure” is not a term that can be applied to societies of the archaic period.

Nor was leisure, in the modern sense, to be found in the agrarian societies of recorded history.

The working year followed a timetable written in the very passage of the days and seasons; in good weather work was hard, in bad weather it slackened off. Work of this kind had a natural rhythm to it, punctuated by rests, songs, games, and ceremonies; it was synonymous with the daily round, and in some regions began at sunrise to finish only at sunset. After work came relaxation; but even then, it was hard to tell where one ended and the other began. In the temperate zones of northern Europe, during the long winter months, the period of hard work would give way to a kind of semi-active existence during which the struggle for survival was nearly always hard. The deadly cold was regularly accompanied by famine and disease. Inactivity, under such circumstances, was something to be endured; followed (as it too often was) by a train of misfortunes, it certainly had none of the characteristics of leisure as we understand it today.

The cycle of the year was also marked by a whole series of sabbaths and feast days. The sabbath belonged to religion; feast days, however, were often occasions for a great investment of energy (not to mention food) and constituted the obverse or opposite of everyday life. But the ceremonial aspect of these celebrations could never be disregarded; they stemmed from religion, not leisure. Accordingly, even though the major European civilizations knew more than 150 workless days a year, we cannot use the concept of leisure to analyze their use of time. Let us take the example of France. In his Projet d’une dime royale (a revolutionary proposal for impartial direct taxation, which was published in 1707 and immediately sup-pressed) Sebastien Le Prestre de Vauban used the term “unemployed” to denote these workless days; among them he singled out the “holidays” such days were often imposed by the church, against the will of the peasants and artisans, in order to promote the carrying out of spiritual obligations. Thus the poor man in one of La Fontaine’s fables (“Le savetier et le financier”) is made to complain that Monsieur le Cure “is always burdening us with a sermon on some new saint” (//. 28—29). In France at the beginning of the eighteenth century, there were 84 “holidays” of this sort, and to these should be added an average of about 80 days a year on which work was impossible because of “illness, frost, or personal business” (Vauban [1707] 1943, p. 18). Thus by the end of the seventeenth century, according to Vauban, French peasants and artisans (some 95 per cent of the labor force) had to reckon with 164 workless days a year. In those poverty-stricken times the majority of such days were not chosen; rather, they were imposed either by religious requirements or by lack of work.

Aristocratic and courtly leisure . Some authors, of whom de Grazia (1962) is representative, trace the origins of leisure to the way of life enjoyed by certain aristocratic classes in the course of Western civilization. But, in my opinion, neither the idle state of the ancient Greek philosophers nor even that of the gentry in the sixteenth century can be given the name of leisure. Such financially and socially privileged classes, cultured or not, paid for their own idleness with the work of their slaves, peasants, or servants. Such idleness cannot be defined in terms of its relation to work, since it neither complements nor rewards work but rather takes the place of work altogether. Of course, the aristocratic way of life has contributed in no small measure to the refinement of human culture; its ideal man was freed from work so that none of his capacities, physical or mental, should fail to be developed to the highest level. In ancient Greece, philosophers associated this ideal with wisdom; Aristotle himself argued that the work of slaves (that is, almost any form of manual labor) was incompatible with nobility of mind, and it is significant that the Greek word for having nothing to do (scholē) also meant “school.” The courtiers of Europe, after the end of the Middle Ages, both invented and extolled the ideal of the humanist and the gentleman. The idleness of the nobility never lost its connection with the very highest values of civilization, even though many of the nobles themselves might have been mediocrities or scoundrels. Nevertheless, “leisure” is not a suitable term for referring to the activities of these idle elites, since leisure in the modern sense presupposes work.

Modern leisure . For leisure to become possible in the life of the great majority of workers, two preconditions must exist in society at large. First, society ceases to govern its activities by means of common ritual obligations. At least some of these activities (work and leisure, among others) no longer fall under the category of collective rites but become the unfettered responsibility of the individual, even though the individual’s choice in the matter may still, of course, be determined by more impersonal social necessities. Second, the work by which a man earns his living is set apart from his other activities; its limits are no longer natural but arbitrary—indeed, it is organized in so definite a fashion that it can easily be separated, both in theory and in practice, from his free time.

These two necessary conditions exist only in

the social life of industrial and postindustrial civilizations; their absence from archaic and traditional agrarian civilizations means the absence of leisure. When the concept of leisure begins to infiltrate the rural life of modern societies, it is because agricultural labor is tending toward an industrial mode of organization and because rural life is already permeated by the urban values of industrialization. The same can be said of the agrarian societies of the “third world,” which are in the process of raising themselves to the pre-industrial level.

Definition of leisure

Having outlined the nature of leisure in general, we can now proceed to a more specific definition, since the numerous studies of leisure made during the last thirty years allow us to describe with some exactitude how the concept may and may not be applied. In the first place, leisure should be distinguished from free time, that is, time left free not only from regular employment but also from overtime and from time spent in travel to and from the work place. Free time includes leisure, as well as all the other activities that take place outside the context of gainful employment. The personal needs of eating, sleeping, and caring for one’s health and appearance, as well as familial, social, civic, and religious obligations, must all be attended to in one’s free time. Leisure, by contrast, will be described here as having four basic characteristics, two of which can be called negative, since they refer to the absence of certain social obligations, and two positive, since they are defined in terms of personal fulfillment. In a 1953 survey of concepts of leisure based on a sample of French laborers and white-collar workers, it was found that, in nearly every case, these four characteristics were closely associated in the mind of the respondent.

Freedom from obligations

Leisure is the result of free choice. To be sure, leisure is not the same thing as freedom, and it would be wrong to say that obligations have no part in leisure at all. However, leisure does include freedom from a certain class of obligations. It must, of course, be conceded that leisure, like other social phenomena, is subject to the operation of social forces. In the same way, since it is an activity, it must depend, like every activity, on social relationships and therefore on interpersonal obligations such as contracts or even agreements to meet at a certain time and place. It is likewise subject to the obligations that may be imposed by any of the groups and organizations, from athletic teams to film societies, that minister to its needs. But leisure does imply freedom from those institutional obligations that are prescribed by the basic forms of social organization. With respect to these institutional obligations, the obligations arising from leisure, considered as a form of social organization, always have a secondary character from society’s viewpoint, regardless of how heavy they may be. To employ a dialectical mode of reasoning, leisure both implies and presupposes the existence of the fundamental obligations that are its opposite; the latter must cease before the former can begin, and each can be defined only in terms of the other.

Leisure, then, consists first and foremost in freedom from gainful employment in a place of business; similarly, it implies freedom from study that is part of a school curriculum. Leisure also includes freedom from the fundamental obligations prescribed by other basic forms of social organization such as the family, the community, and the church. Let us call this class of institutional obligations “primary obligations.” Conversely, when a leisure activity becomes part of one’s job (like sport to an amateur turned professional), one’s studies (like a film show that all members of the school must attend), one’s family life (like a Sunday walk), or one’s religious or political obligations (like a political mass rally), then its nature, from a sociological point of view, undergoes a change even when its technical content has not changed at all and it affords the same satisfactions as before.


The disinterested character of leisure is the corollary, in terms of means and ends, of its freedom from primary obligations. Leisure is not motivated basically by gain, like a job; it has no utilitarian purpose, as do domestic obligations; unlike political or spiritual duties, it does not aim at any ideological or missionary purpose. True leisure precludes the use of any physical, artistic, intellectual, or social activity—in short, of any form of play—to serve any material or social end whatsoever, even though leisure, like any other activity, is subject to the laws of physical and social necessity.

It follows that, if leisure is governed in part by some commercial, utilitarian, or ideological purpose, it is no longer wholly leisure. Such leisure retains only part of its nature; we will therefore call it “semileisure.” Under these conditions it is as if the circle of primary obligations partially obscured the circle of leisure; semileisure is the area where the two circles intersect. This situation exists when the athlete is paid for some of his appearances, the angler sells part of his catch, the gardener with a passion for flowers plants a few vegetables for his own consumption, or the ardent handyman repairs his own house; it can even happen when someone attends a municipal function more for the show than the ceremony, or when an office worker reads a highbrow novel so that he can let the head of his department know that he has read it.

Leisure and diversion

We have defined what leisure is not by stating its relationship to the obligations and limits imposed by the basic forms of social organization. In order to define what leisure is, it is necessary to state its relationship to the needs of the individual, even when the individual fulfills these needs as a willing member of a group. In nearly all the empirical studies, leisure appears to be distinguished by a search for a state of satisfaction—a state that is sought as an end in itself. This activity is of a pleasure-seeking nature. To be sure, happiness is not simply a matter of leisure, since one can be happy while carrying out basic social obligations. But the search for contentment, pleasure, and delight is one of the fundamental characteristics of leisure in modern society. In this connection, Martha Wolfenstein (1951) has spoken of “fun morality.” When the desired state of satisfaction either passes or begins to wear off, the individual tends to give up the activity in question. Nobody is tied to a leisure activity by material need or by moral or legal obligations, as is the case with the activities of getting an education, earning a living, or carrying out civic or religious ceremonies. Although social pressure or habit may run counter to his decision to give up, the question of whether or not he is contented weighs more heavily with the individual in his leisure than in any other form of activity. The prime condition of leisure is the search for a state of contentment; it is enough to say “That interests me.” This state can consist in the denial of all tension, study, or concentration; but it can just as well consist in voluntary effort or even in the deferment of gratification. Whether the avocation involves battling against the elements, against a competitor, or against oneself, the effort of perfecting one’s performance or one’s wisdom can be greater than that spent on one’s regular occupation and may even approach the intensity of religious discipline. But it is an effort and a discipline that is chosen voluntarily, in the expectation of an enjoyment that is disinterested. The search for diversion is so fundamental to leisure that when the expected delight or enjoyment fails to materialize, leisure itself is denatured—a situation that is summed up by such remarks as “It was boring” or “It wasn’t entertaining.” Leisure, in such cases, is no longer wholly itself, but suffers impoverishment.

Leisure and personality. All the manifest functions of leisure, to judge from their effect on the persons concerned, answer to individual needs, as distinguished from the primary obligations imposed by society. Thus leisure is directly associated both with the possibility that the individual may deteriorate (for instance, if he becomes an alcoholic), and with the fact that the individual is free to defend the integrity of his personality against the attacks of an urban industrial society that is becoming less and less natural and more and more regimented and run by the clock. It is associated with the realization, whether encouraged or discouraged, of unbiased human potentialities —in short, with the whole man. Such realization, whether or not it accords with social needs, is conceived as an end in itself.

The positive functions of leisure can be summed up as follows. (1) It offers the individual a chance to shake off the fatigue of work that, because it is imposed, interferes with his natural biological rhythms. It is a recuperative force, or at least an opportunity to do nothing. (2) Through entertainment, whether of a sort permitted or forbidden by society, leisure opens up new worlds, both real and imaginary, in which the individual can escape from the daily boredom of performing a set of limited and routine tasks. (3) Finally, leisure makes it possible for the individual to leave behind the routines and stereotypes forced on him by the workings of basic social institutions, and to enter into a realm of self-transcendence where his creative powers are set free to oppose or to reinforce the dominant values of his civilization. Leisure in the truest sense of the word fulfills all three of these basic functions and satisfies the human need that corresponds to each. Leisure that fails to offer all of these three kinds of choice at any time is leisure that, with regard to the needs of the human personality in modern society, must be considered seriously defective.

The sociology of leisure

The importance of leisure in the development of our civilization was foreseen by social thinkers from the very beginning of industrial society. In some contexts Marx treated work in itself as the first need of man, but in others he qualified this statement by adding that work would become fit for man only when it had been transformed by collective ownership, automation, great increases in free time, and the transcending of the antithesis between work and leisure by the creation of the unalienated “whole man.” Comte and Proudhon differed from Marx in their conceptions of the society of the future, but all three attached great importance to conquering leisure by means of technological progress and social emancipation. And they all associated the growth of leisure with raising the workers’ level of education and increasing the part played by them in public life.

The realities of leisure in the twentieth century, as sociologists have observed them in both socialist and capitalist societies, have turned out to be more complex and less easily denned. The first modern pamphlet in favor of leisure for the worker was written in Europe by Paul Lafargue (1883), who was a militant socialist; its title was Le droit à la paresse (“The Right to Be Lazy”). But it was in the United States that the foundations were laid for the sociology of leisure by Thorstein Veblen’s The Theory of the Leisure Class (1899). Veblen analyzed the different types of idlers that he found among the bourgeoisie; he exposed the conspicuous consumption indulged in by the bourgeoisie in its quest for social status. But it was not until the 1920s and 1930s that there appeared, both in Europe and in the United States, the first empirical studies of leisure by sociologists. The introduction of the eight-hour day awakened both the hopes and the anxieties of social reformers, who wondered whether the extra free time would be used for self-improvement or for dissipation. In the U.S.S.R., the work of Strumilin (1925) inspired research on the “time budgets” of individuals, at the same time that the Soviet government developed an official policy on the organization of leisure. In 1924 the International Labor Office organized the first international conference on the free time of the worker; it was attended by 300 delegates from 18 nations. There was a general feeling that as the time spent on work decreased, leisure activities would have to become more organized (International Labour Review 1924). Research projects were launched in the United States; the most famous of them, by Robert and Helen Lynd (1929; 1937), devoted much space to the study of leisure activities, both traditional and modern, and to the way in which they were organized. In 1934 George A. Lundberg, in a study that has since become a classic, defined leisure as the opposite of those activities that are on the whole instruments to other ends rather than ends in themselves (Lundberg et al. 1934).

After World War II the sociology of leisure took on a new dimension and new levels of meaning. The United States was beginning to grapple with the problems of mass society, namely, mass consumption and mass culture. In this new context the paradox of leisure nourished a whole new crop of studies. In 1950 David Riesman’s The Lonely Crowd appeared, a work of which nearly one million copies have been printed and which has had a great influence not only in the United States but in every part of the world. Riesman argued in favor of the hypothesis that modern man, viewed in terms of his social character, has known only two revolutions. The first began with the Renaissance, when the “tradition-directed” man whose social character had been derived entirely from the community began to be governed by the norms and values of the family and so became “inner-directed.” Finally, about the middle of the twentieth century, the second of these revolutions appeared in those countries that had entered the stage of mass consumption and mass culture. In this period man has begun to be governed by the norms and values conveyed by the mass media of communication on the one hand and by peer groups on the other. Under such circumstances man becomes “other-directed.” Reflections on mass leisure were therefore central to Riesman’s theoretical perspective. A few years later there appeared the first collections of readings on the topic of “mass leisure” (Larrabee & Meyersohn 1958; Rosenberg & White 1957). Finally, decisive progress was made in the empirical verification of these new ideas on the relationship of leisure and culture in mass society (see especially Havighurst & Feigenbaum 1959; Wilensky 1964).

In Europe, during the same period, the sociology of leisure has made almost equally remarkable progress; the work of Georges Friedmann, in particular, gives a special place to the role of leisure in “relocating” man in a civilization dominated by technology. In England B. S. Rowntree and G. R. Lavers’English Life and Leisure (1951) has inspired a whole series of sociological monographs and research studies that have evoked considerable response in other countries, especially Holland. Large-scale public-opinion polling from 1954 onwards on the way in which young people spend their leisure is beginning to result in vigorous government programs stressing character building and the provision of facilities for leisure. With these problems in mind, in 1953 Joffre Dumazedier began the research that finally resulted in Vers une civilisation du loisir? (“Towards a Civilization of Leisure?” 1962) and in Le loisir et la ville (“Urban Leisure”) (Dumazedier & Ripert 1966).

In the socialist countries, likewise, the study of leisure has undergone expansion. For instance, in the U.S.S.R. during the period 1956-1962 the gradual replacement of the eight-hour working day by one of seven hours stimulated renewed inquiry, in the tradition of Strumilin, into time budgets and leisure-time activities (Prudenskii 1964; Petrosian 1965). The first empirical study of leisure in a socialist setting that made use of the very latest sociological research methods took place in Yugoslavia (Ahtik 1963). The empirical study of sociology has also taken remarkable strides forward in Poland, thanks to, the efforts of the Center for the Study of Mass Culture, which is affiliated with the Polish Academy of Sciences.


The sociology of leisure has made it possible, for the first time, to draw empirical comparisons between the working class culture of different or contrasting political and economic systems. In 1956 the first comparative study of leisure in Europe was launched, dealing with the leisure of workers in six European cities, each in a different country. The countries included in the survey were Yugoslavia, Poland, France, Finland, Denmark, and the German Federal Republic.

The vitality of the sociology of leisure has given rise to a number of problem-oriented approaches. Leisure has been studied in its relation to work (Friedmann 1958; Riesman 1964), the family (Scheuch I960; Anderson 1961), religion (Pieper 1948), politics (Upset et al. 1956), and culture (Kaplan I960; Dumazedier 1962; Wilensky 1964). It has been treated as a temporal framework (Prudenskii 1964; Petrosian 1965; Szalai 1966), a complex of activities (Littiinen 1962), a system of values (de Grazia 1962), and in several other ways.

The sociology of leisure also exhibits great methodological variety; it is not marked by adherence to any particular method, but by use of any and all available methods. Thus, although empirical studies are more common, we find a strong historical tradition, from Veblen to Riesman and de Grazia. The most important project now in progress concerns time budgets; it is a comparative study, using national samples from the German Federal Republic, Belgium, Austria, France, Hungary, Poland, and the U.S.S.R., directed by Alexander Szalai, a Hungarian scholar, under the auspices of the European Center for Coordination of Research and Documentation in the Social Sciences.

It is to be expected that in the future the different industrial and preindustrial societies will stand in increasing need of research, especially in order to: (1) measure the effective limitations of time, distance, money, and so on, that are preventing the transformation of free time into genuine leisure in the life of numerous classes and categories of workers; (2) evaluate the resources available for leisure in the cultural development of whole societies.

In the postindustrial societies now entering the phase of mass consumption, specific problems have arisen, and will continue to arise with even greater intensity. It is the ambivalence of leisure values in popular culture that will pose the greatest problems to sociologists. Will commitment to leisure values be balanced by commitment to occupational, associational, political, and spiritual values, or will leisure threaten all these other values, thus placing in jeopardy the active participation of citizens in directing the future of their society? Finally, since leisure values are themselves diverse, will the values of entertainment and unfettered personal development join forces to create a new ideal of individual happiness and social well-being? Or, on the contrary, will the values of entertainment, artificially hypertrophied by an irresponsible commercial system, come to play, in certain countries, the role of a new “opiate of the people,” while in certain other countries a unilateral and oppressive government policy for leisure activities risks truncating the complex phenomenon of leisure, encouraging boredom and malingering by way of reaction? In the last analysis, the whole future of man in industrial and postindustrial civilization is bound up with the answers to these questions. Today, they are the most important questions facing the sociology of leisure.

Joffre Dumazedier

[Directly related are the entries Labor force,article onhours of work; Time budgets.Other relevant material may be found in Automation; Communication, mass; Gambling; Industrial relations; Time; Workers;and in the biographies of Lundberg; Marx; Veblen.]


Ahtik, Vito 1963 Participation socio-politique des ouvriers d’industrie yougoslaves. Sociologie du travail 5:1-23.

Anderson, Nels 1961 Work and Leisure. New York: Free Press.

Caillois, Roger (1958) 1961 Man, Play and Games.New York: Free Press. → First published as Les jeux et les hommes.

DE Grazia, Sebastian 1962 Of Time, Work and Leisure. New York: Twentieth Century Fund.

Dumazedier, Joffre 1962 Vers une civilisation du loisir? Paris: Éditions du Seuil.

Dumazedier, Joffre; and Ripert, A. 1966 Le loisir et la mile. Paris: Éditions du Seuil.

Friedmann, G. 1958 Le travail en miettes: Spécialisation et loisirs. Paris: Gallimard.

Havighurst, Robert J.; and Feigenbaum, Kenneth 1959 Leisure and Life-style.American Journal of Sociology 64:396-404.

Huizinga, Johan (1938) 1949 Homo ludens: A Study of the Play-element in Culture. London: Routledge. → First published in Dutch.

International Labour Review [1924], 9, no. 6.

KAPLAN, MAX 1960 Leisure in America: A Social Inquiry. New York: Wiley.

Lafargue, Paul (1883) 1917 The Right to Be Lazy, And Other Studies. Chicago: Kerr. → First published as Le droit a la paresse.

Larrabee, Eric; and Meyersohn, Rolf (editors) (1958) 1960 Mass Leisure. Glencoe, Ill.: Free Press.

Lipset, Seymour M.; Trow, Martin A.; and Coleman, James S. 1956 Union Democracy: The Internal Politics of the International Typographical Union. Glencoe, Ill.: Free Press. → A paperback edition was published in 1962 by Doubleday.

Littünen, YrjÖ 1962 Activity and Social Dependence. Unpublished manuscript. → Paper delivered before the World Congress of Sociology, Fifth, Washington, D.C., September 2-8, 1962.

Lundberg, George A. et al. 1934 Leisure: A Suburban Study. New York: Columbia Univ. Press.

Lynd, Robert S.; and Lynd, Helen M. (1929) 1930 Middletown: A Study in Contemporary American Culture. New York: Harcourt. → A paperback edition was published in 1959.

Lynd, Robert S.; and Lynd, Helen M. 1937 Middletown in Transition: A Study in Cultural Conflicts. New York: Harcourt. → A paperback edition was published in 1963.

Marx, Karl; and Engels, Friedrich (1875-1891) 1959 Critique of the Gotha Programme. Moscow: Foreign Languages Publishing House. → Written by Marx in 1875 as “Randglossen zum Programm der deutschen Arbeiterpartei.” First published with notes by Engels in 1891.

Petrosian, G. S. 1965 Vnerabochee vremiia trudiashchikhsia v SSSR (The Leisure Time of Workers in the USSR). Moscow: Ekonomika.

Pieper, Josef (1948) 1960 Leisure:. The Basis of Culture. New York: Pantheon. → First published as Musse und Kult.

Prudenskii, German A. 1964 Vremia i trud (Time and Work). Moscow: Mysl.

Riesman, David 1950 The Lonely Crowd: A Study of the Changing American Character. New Haven: Yale Univ. Press. → An abridged paperback edition was published in 1960.

Riesman, David 1964 Abundance for What? And Other Essays. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday.

Rosenberg, Bernard; and White, David M. (editors) 1957 Mass Culture: The Popular Arts in America. Glencoe, Ill.: Free Press.

Rowntree, Benjamin S.; and Lavers, G. R. 1951 English Life and Leisure: A Social Study. London: Long-mans.

Scheuch, Erwin K. 1960 Family Cohesion in Leisure Time.Sociological Review 8:37-61.

Strumilin, Stanislav G. 1925 Problemy ekonomiki truda (Problems of Labor Economy). Moscow: Izdatel’stvo “Voprosy Truda.”

Strumilin, Stanislav G. 1961 Problemy sotsializma i kommunizma v SSSR. Moscow: Izdatel’stvo Ekonomicheskoi Literatury.

Szalai, Alexander 1966 Trends in Comparative Time-budget Research.American Behavioral Scientist 9, no. 9:3-8.

Vauban, SÉbastien Le Prestre de (1707) 1943 Projet d’une dime royale. Paris: Guillaumin. → Published in English in 1708 as A Project for a Royal Tythe, or General Tax.

Veblen, Thorstein (1899) 1953 The Theory of the Leisure Class: An Economic Study of Institutions.Rev. ed. New York: New American Library. → A paperback edition was published in 1959.

Wilensky, Harold L. 1960 Work, Careers, and. Social Integration.International Social Science Journal. 12: 543-560.

Wilensky, Harold L. 1961 Social Structure, Popular Culture and Mass Behavior: Some Research Implications.Studies in Public Communication 3:15-22.

Wilensky, Harold L. 1964 Mass Society and Mass Culture: Interdependence or Independence?American Sociological Review 29:173-197.

Wolfenstein, Martha (1951) 1960 The Emergence of Fun Morality. Pages 86–96 in Eric Larrabee and Rolf Meyersohn (editors), Mass Leisure. Glencoe, Ill.: Free Press.

views updated


Between 1820 and 1870 changes in the nature and structure of American labor simultaneously transformed the practice and the concept of leisure in the United States. At the beginning of the antebellum period, when the majority of Americans still lived on farms or in small towns, leisure activities were predominantly rural, communal, and improvisatory, and the line separating leisure from work was often blurred. Over the next half-century, however, as more Americans moved to cities and as wage-centered industrial employment with its omnipresent time clock displaced both rural and artisanal work rhythms, labor and leisure became increasingly separate realms. Although the pace of change differed by region, the nature of leisure shifted as well, becoming, like labor, more routinized, specialized, and commodified. There were benefits to these changes: for the first time, new forms of commercial leisure and spectator entertainments were within the reach of working-class Americans. But there were drawbacks as well. Fault lines in the wider culture separating genders, classes, and ethnic groups often formed in the world of leisure, resulting in exclusions and hierarchies. In the South, at least until the 1860s, the leisure activities of an entire class depended on the forced labor of black slaves.

Under the pressure of these changes, disagreements over the "proper" use of leisure, which had been common since the colonial period, became more vocal and sometimes violent. Injunctions against idleness and profligacy appeared with renewed vigor, particularly early in the period, and many middle- and upper-class Americans sought to stamp out or reform what they considered disreputable or even dangerous amusements. At the same time, the monotony and tediousness of industrial labor, fast becoming an inescapable reality for many in the United States, helped steer a profoundly work-oriented culture toward a halting but ultimately affirmative embrace of play. Class-based debates over leisure did not wholly abate; but alongside such disputes there emerged a growing appreciation for the restorative, character-building, and even morally uplifting dimension of time productively spent away from work. This trend, which would evolve into an even more emphatic "gospel of play" by the end of the century—propelled in part by mid-century health reform movements and the spread of active outdoor sports—was one of the most important of the era.

American writers participated in these revaluations of work and play in myriad ways. Not only did literary texts frequently depict and comment on scenes of leisure, but reading itself, through the dramatic expansion of affordable newspaper, journal, and book publishing, also became a prominent—and to some minds, freshly dangerous—leisure activity. Nineteenth-century American literary works thus inculcated new ideals of play, challenged existing or emerging ideologies of leisure, and probed the cultural divisions exacerbated or initiated by new forms of, or new ideas about, recreation and amusement.

A brief note on terminology: although during this period the terms "leisure," "play," "recreation," "sport," and "amusement" were sometimes used interchangeably, each also developed its own nuances of meaning. "Leisure" tended to refer to free time most broadly, "play" to the activities of children, "recreation" to actions that refreshed or rejuvenated, "sport" to organized games or events, and "amusement" to paid entertainments.


Although foreign visitors to the United States in the early nineteenth century often complained that Americans were too consumed by business to take leisure seriously, anyone traveling widely through the country in the early 1820s would have been witness to a diverse range of leisure activities. Often varying by region, these activities also differed in purpose, scale, and level of participation. On the western frontier of Illinois or Michigan, for example, one would likely have encountered preindustrial forms of recreation, including barn raisings, corn huskings, quilting bees, and other communal activities that introduced an element of fun into the large-scale tasks often necessary in farming societies. One might also have found ample attention paid, particularly among men, to such blood sports as cockfighting, which were popular not just in rural areas but in towns and cities around the country as well. Rat baiting, in which spectators typically wagered on the number of rats a dog could kill within a given period of time, became a popular leisure activity among working-class men in New York City, among other places, in the 1830s.

Other spectator sports operated on a grander scale. In 1823 perhaps as many as seventy thousand people—including northerners, southerners, whites, blacks, and men and women from all classes—gathered at Union Course, Long Island, to watch the northern thoroughbred, Eclipse, defeat its southern challenger, Sir Henry, in a twenty-thousand-dollar match race. Although such huge crowds remained rare in the largely preprofessional antebellum era, prominent bare-knuckle prizefights, rowing matches, and even walking races (known as "peds," short for "pedestrian" races) at times drew similarly large audiences and wagers.

Americans also pursued more private recreations. In towns and cities, voluntary societies, such as those founded by immigrant groups to preserve cultural and linguistic ties, often sponsored musical, theatrical, or athletic gatherings for their members. Many Americans seeking to connect anew with the natural world were drawn to such field sports as hunting and fishing, which, especially in nonrural areas, had only recently become recreational rather than subsistence activities. Along the East Coast in particular, inspiration for such pursuits might have come indirectly from the Romantic poetry of writers such as William Cullen Bryant or, a bit later, from reflections on nature's regenerative spiritual power by such transcendentalists as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Margaret Fuller, and Henry David Thoreau.

More broadly, though in equally diverse ways, rhetorics of leisure, recreation, and sport often played significant roles in the works of many of the most popular early-nineteenth-century American authors. In "Rip Van Winkle" (1819–1820), a story by Washington Irving (1783–1859), for example, although the easygoing Rip will uncomplainingly help his neighbors complete even the most arduous of tasks (and is always prominent at work frolics and bees), he scrupulously avoids all activity that resembles profitable labor. Rip is not punished for his dilatory ramble into the Kaatskill Mountains, when an afternoon of leisurely squirrel hunting turns into a twenty-year nap—he even snoozes through the American Revolution—but is instead rewarded with an old man's immunity from responsible work. Other writers, particularly those who set their fiction on the frontier, also championed an ethic of play over busyness. The best-selling Leatherstocking novels (1823–1841) by James Fenimore Cooper (1789–1851) are a case in point. Drawing on the already mythologized image of the wilderness hunter epitomized by Daniel Boone (1734–1820), Cooper's novels not only depict frequent scenes of frontier sport (as well as unsporting frontier waste, as proto-industrial modes of mechanized slaughter mock the sportsman's code of honor and restraint), but they also transform his character Natty Bumppo—also known as Deerslayer, Pathfinder, and Hawkeye—into a nearly mythic figure of sporting fair play.

Related yet distinct literary traditions buttressed regional notions of leisure and play. Southwestern humorists, for example, countered Cooper's heroic sporting myth with the outlaw figure of the backwoods gamesman, whose role was to outwit an unsuspecting genteel opponent—or better yet, another backwoods con man. Among the plantation romancers of the American South, by contrast, the respectable leisure and spirited play of the landed class was offered as proof of the superiority of southern culture. Swallow Barn (1832), a novel by John Pendleton Kennedy (1795–1870), though in certain ways ambivalent about planter class values, helped link the genre of plantation fiction to the idea of the distinctiveness of southern, predominantly male, leisure. These traditions also had their own implicit and explicit critics. In her 1839 novel of the Michigan frontier, A New Home—Who'll Follow?, for example, Caroline Kirkland (1801–1864) challenged many of the classic motifs of the frontier sporting tradition with a deflating irony. Recollections of a Southern Matron (1837), by Caroline Howard Gilman (1794–1888), minimizes masculine honor and sporting culture in favor of domestic attentiveness and feminine compassion. Southern black autobiographers such as Frederick Douglass (1818–1895) depicted the powerful communal bonds forged among slaves during moments of temporary relaxation from toil while simultaneously critiquing the planter's common contrivance of providing intermittent leisure to bondsmen and bonds-women, particularly at Christmastime, to defuse the threat of revolt.

Americans seeking to read about diverse leisure activities could look to journalism as well as literature. The first national sporting magazines appeared in the 1810s and multiplied in each of the next five decades. Among the most influential was Spirit of the Times, launched in 1831 by William T. Porter (1809–1858) and marketed to sporting gentlemen. Reaching a national circulation of over 40,000, Porter's paper provided not merely sporting but also theatrical news and humorous sketches. Those who could not afford the ten-dollar annual subscription fee to Spirit of the Times could turn instead to the penny press, which offered, in addition to sports news, salacious reporting on crime and scandal. Women readers had their own leisure magazines, most prominently Godey's Lady's Book, first published in 1830 and reaching as many as 150,000 subscribers at its peak before the Civil War. An illustrated national monthly best known for printing sentimental literature, advice columns, and water-color engravings of women's fashions, Godey's provided its readers with a dynamic mix of information and entertainment, as well as spiritual, moral, and aesthetic uplift.


Nowhere were the changes taking place in American leisure more visible or controversial than in U.S. cities. To many middle- and upper-class moralists—weaned on a nineteenth-century evangelicalism that judged idleness and intemperance even more censoriously than had their Puritan forebears—the persistence of blood sports, the pervasiveness of gambling, and the proliferation of working-class dance halls, theaters, and saloons were all signs of irredeemable spiritual and social degradation. Where possible, reformers tried to control working-class leisure. Using moral suasion and regulation, they succeeded, for example, in placing modest constraints on liquor sales. Attempts to shape workers' free time more drastically, however, met with opposition or indifference from workers themselves, who continued to patronize "Bowery" entertainments (typically the only affordable alternatives for working-class men and women) or simply ignored genteel injunctions against, for example, alcohol consumption and boisterous play in such new leisure venues as urban parks.

Literary responses to the rise of reformist energies varied. Capitalizing on both the reformers' zeal for condemning the misuse of leisure and the public's thirst for titillating narratives, popular novels that grimly illuminated the depths to which the unsuspecting leisure abuser might fall often became massive best-sellers. These included George Lippard's The Quaker City; or, The Monks of Monk Hall (1845) and Timothy Shay Arthur's Ten Nights in a Bar-Room (1854). Respectable national magazines such as Harper's Weekly periodically satirized such popular urban pleasure grounds as Jones's Woods on the east side of Manhattan, which featured bowling alleys, dancing stands, and beer halls, as well as space for picnics, sporting events, and festivals. Accompanying one such editorial from 1859 was an engraved illustration showing a densely packed exurban scene, at the center of which appeared an anxious young mother. In the near background leer bearded, heavy-jowled men; on the right margin an eager young man—identified in the editorial as the woman's husband—takes aim at targets in a shooting gallery, forgetful of his family (indeed, according to the editorial, he will soon be swindled by gamblers who con him into wagering on his next shots); on the far left two men, one of them an aproned African American, perhaps taking a break from work, quaff beer. In the top right corner of the engraving, above the forgetful husband's head, three apprehensive figures momentarily defy gravity on the vertiginous upswing of a ballistic ride, while above the whole scene teeters an insouciant high-wire performer, his face plastered with an inane grin.

Literary critics have differed in their assessment of the degree to which American writers partook of the reformist, or conversely, the resistant, attitude toward mid-century attempts to control leisure. Some have argued that in his writings, with the exception of The Scarlet Letter (1850), Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804–1864) stages the repeated defeat of play at the hands of sin and death. Others discern in Hawthorne's work a deep ambivalence toward contemporary reform culture and its susceptibility to the very immoralities it professed to correct. In the case of Thoreau (1817–1862), scholars generally agree that his major works, particularly Walden (1854), offer the paradoxical ideal of earnest play as life's most important work. But some have also noted that Thoreau's ideal pointedly excludes from its otherwise capacious imaginings such new Americans as the Irish immigrants crowding Walden's shores in the middle of the century. According to some critics, Herman Melville's work subverts reform ideology; for others it is suffused with, and enriched by, a dark reformist rhetoric. The fact that Melville (1819–1891), along with Irving, signed the inflammatory elite petition that helped trigger the Astor Place Opera House riot of 1849—in which the city's militia, anxious to protect the upper-class Opera House from working-class demonstrators protesting elite support for a despised British actor, shot into a crowd of thousands, killing at least twenty-two—highlights how deeply mid-century conflicts over leisure touched many Americans, famous and obscure.


Beginning around 1850, a few formerly rabid critics of leisure broke ranks to speak out on behalf of beneficial play and repose. The Reverend Henry Ward Beecher (1813–1887), Harriet Beecher Stowe's younger brother, was one such figure. Barely ten years after Beecher had published his fiery sermons against idleness, Seven Lectures to Young Men (1844), which would remain one of the best-selling American advice books for at least another generation, the influential minister unexpectedly shifted his position and offered praise for the restorative effects of rest and relaxation. Part of the impetus behind this shift was Beecher's own move to Brooklyn from Indianapolis. Away from the relative deprivations of the Midwest, Beecher gradually embraced the new ideology of repose taking shape in thriving middle-class suburbs such as Brooklyn. Surplus and rest, well used, might bring joy rather than dissipation, Beecher argued. He also found himself influenced by the new mid-century reform emphasis on health and exercise. Alarmed by the pale, sickly bodies of overworked Americans, some Christian reformers embraced physical improvement as a necessary part of mental and spiritual uplift. In his important 1858 essay, "Saints, and Their Bodies," Reverend Thomas Wentworth Higginson (1823–1911)—later a Civil War colonel and also an interlocutor of Emily Dickinson—argued that only a more "muscular" Christianity would be "manly" enough to confront the multiple dangers of the age.

Under the influence of spiritual and intellectual leaders such as Beecher and Higginson, the idea that leisure, sport, and recreation—rightly managed—might actually build character rather than destroy it, slowly took hold. This timely ideological shift not only validated the new middle-class practice of taking planned vacations from work; it also encouraged the expansion of nascent, male-dominated outdoor sports such as baseball, cricket, and rowing while simultaneously rehabilitating older, less reputable indoor pastimes such as tenpin bowling and billiards. In the proper setting, almost any formerly vicious pursuit could be rendered wholesome. Other activities and recreations that instilled or rewarded Victorians' sense of healthful discipline, order, and self-control, such as calisthenics and gymnastics (a staple program of many German immigrant fraternal organizations), found new participants, not only in cities but eventually on college campuses and in the schools. By 1870 many of the bureaucratic and organizational structures that would underlie modern sports and recreation were firmly in place, including the first professional baseball associations, city and regional athletic clubs, and both the Young Men's and Young Women's Christian Associations. Less formal and more social recreational activities, including ice skating, sledding, croquet, and an entire class of private "home entertainments," thrived during this period as well and encouraged mixed-sex play. Although this new ideology of leisure was theoretically available to all, and while its broad cultural success eventually helped suppress some of the working-class activities most objectionable to middle-class reformers, in the last decades of this era most leisure activities, especially commercial pursuits, were deeply stratified by economic status. In addition, women's participation in the new leisure culture, while expansive in many ways, was limited in others, particularly as male-oriented sports drew an ever-larger share of cultural attention. And while the importance of the freedom conferred by emancipation on black Americans cannot be underestimated—for the first time, most blacks ostensibly controlled their work and leisure time—a postwar color line frequently prevented full participation in America's new sporting ethic.

American writers continued to shape and critique the new ideas about play emerging after 1850. In Leaves of Grass (first published in 1855), for example, Walt Whitman (1819–1892) seems fully to share the reformers' newfound respect for productive relaxation and a healthy body, repeatedly celebrating the freedom and exhilaration of a vigorous "manhood." In Ragged Dick (1867), the first of Horatio Alger Jr.'s massively successful serial novels, Alger (1832–1899) imagines a working-class bootblack addicted to low pleasures and commercial entertainments who is pulled out of the Bowery and into the middle class by his own newly awakened desire for respectability in both work and play. Conversely, Herman Melville's "The Paradise of Bachelors and the Tartarus of Maids" (1855) and Rebecca Harding Davis's (1831–1910) Life in the Iron Mills (1861) both provide dark portraits of the class and gender stratifications that continued to structure labor and leisure despite the presence of these new ideas, whereas domestic satirists such as Fanny Fern (Sara Payson Willis Parton, 1811–1872) called attention to the particular labors of working women, a class largely overlooked by leisure reform. Finally, African American activists and writers such as Sojourner Truth (c. 1797–1883) and Frances Ellen Watkins Harper (1825–1911), through their speeches, poems, and stories, similarly critiqued the seemingly endless toil of black workers who all too frequently had no margin for rest, relaxation, or play. After 1870, although free time and disposable income would finally begin to increase for most American workers, regardless of class, region, race, or gender, the larger questions attending leisure not only failed to disappear—they grew, if anything, thornier and more vexed.

See alsoCircuses and Spectacles; Health and Medicine; Labor; Manhood; Reform; Urbanization


Primary Works

Alger, Horatio. Ragged Dick; or, Street Life in New York with the Boot-Blacks. 1867. Introduction by David K. Shipler. New York: Modern Library, 2005.

Davis, Rebecca Harding. Life in the Iron Mills and OtherStories. Rev. ed., edited by Tillie Olsen. Old Westbury, N.Y.: Feminist Press, 1985.

Douglass, Frederick. Narrative of the Life of an American Slave. Boston: Anti-Slavery Office, 1845.

Irving, Washington. "Rip Van Winkle." In The CompleteTales of Washington Irving, edited by Charles Neider. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1975.

Kennedy, John Pendleton. Swallow Barn; or, A Sojourn in the Old Dominion. Edited by Lucinda H. MacKethan. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1986.

Kirkland, Caroline M. A New Home, Who'll Follow? or,Glimpses of Western Life in the West. 1839. Edited by Sandra A. Zagarell. New Brunswick, N.J., and London: Rutgers University Press, 1990.

Thoreau, Henry David. Walden and Resistance to CivilGovernment. Norton critical edition. Edited by William Rossi. New York: Norton, 1992.

Whitman, Walt. Leaves of Grass: Comprehensive Reader'sEdition. Edited by Sculley Bradley and Harold W. Blodgett. New York: New York University Press, 1973.

Secondary Works

Braden, Donna R. Leisure and Entertainment in America. Dearborn, Mich.: Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village, 1988.

Butsch, Richard, ed. For Fun and Profit: The Transformation of Leisure into Consumption. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1990.

Click, Patricia C. The Spirit of the Times: Amusements inNineteenth-Century Baltimore, Norfolk, and Richmond. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1989.

Dawson, Melanie. Laboring to Play: Home Entertainment and the Spectacle of Middle-Class Cultural Life, 1850–1920. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2005.

Gleason, William A. The Leisure Ethic: Work and Play inAmerican Literature, 1840–1940. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1999.

Gorn, Elliott J., and Warren Goldstein. A Brief History ofAmerican Sports. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2004.

Grover, Kathryn, ed. Hard at Play: Leisure in America,1840–1940. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1992.

Lehuu, Isabelle. Carnival on the Page: Popular Print Media in Antebellum America. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2000.

Oriard, Michael. Sporting with the Gods: The Rhetoric of Play and Game in American Culture. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1991.

Reynolds, David S. Beneath the American Renaissance: TheSubversive Imagination in the Age of Emerson and Melville. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1989.

Rogers, Daniel T. The Work Ethic in Industrial America,1850–1920. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1974.

Spears, Betty, and Richard A. Swanson. History of Sport andPhysical Activity in the United States. 3rd ed. Edited by Elaine T. Smith. Dubuque, Iowa: Wm. C. Brown Publishers, 1988.

William Gleason

views updated


The family has been, and continues to be, important to the study of leisure. Conversely, research on leisure provides valuable insights in understanding families and how they function, However, although family leisure is a concept studied around the world (Freysinger and Chen 1993; Dijk, Betuw, and Kloeze 1993; McCabe 1993; Samuel 1996; Wearing and McArthur 1988), there has long been controversy in defining the concept (Shaw 1997). This entry reviews the research on family and leisure focusing predominantly, but not solely, on scholarship conducted within the field of leisure studies in North America.

Meanings of Leisure

Leisure in Western cultures has been defined in many ways, most commonly as time, activity, and a state of mind (Kelly and Freysinger 2000). Central to each of these definitions is the concept of freedom or choice: leisure is discretionary time (time when one is free from obligation). Leisure is activity that is not required. As a state of mind, leisure is the perception of choice or of the freedom to choose. Concomitant with this freedom is the perception that leisure is positive or beneficial to the individual and/or society. This notion of leisure has its roots in ancient Greece, where leisure was seen as both freedom from the necessity of ponos (work or sorrow) and freedom for engagement with paideia (culture). Engagement in leisure would allow man to develop virtue or his full potential and in so doing, prepare him to be a good citizen and wise and just leader. Ignored for the most part in discussions of the history of leisure was the fact that leisure as freedom was available primarily to a group of elite males and was possible only because of a slave economy and the subjugation of women.

Since the 1980s in the West, the notion of leisure as freedom has been continuously challenged by feminist, Marxist, cross-cultural, and critical sociological scholarship. Research in these areas suggests at least three problems with defining leisure as freedom of the individual:

  1. This is a conceptualization that does not apply to most of the world but rather reflects a specific culture (Western) and its development, economy, and ideologies (industrial/post-industrial capitalism, individualism).
  2. This notion of leisure is androcentric and ignores the gendered experience of leisure, everyday life, and aging across the life cycle.
  3. This is a predominantly social psychological (and North American) conceptualization of leisure that emphasizes individual experience and ignores social relationships and structures, cultural practices, and historical context.

Thus, more recent scholarship defines leisure as legitimated pleasure, a social construction and means of social reproduction (Rojek 1996), but also as a place where individuals may resist, challenge, and even transform oppressive or constraining social relations (Henderson et al. 1996).

This changing understanding of leisure in Western scholarship was influenced by research in North America and Great Britain on family leisure and differences in girls', boys', women's, and men's experiences of family and leisure (e.g., Henderson et al. 1996; Wimbush and Talbot 1988; Lynd and Lynd 1929; Rapoport and Rapoport 1975). However, despite the fact that the family has always been the major context of leisure, leisure was predominantly studied and defined in relationship to paid employment or work. In the aftermath of the Civil Rights and Women's Rights movements in the United States in the 1960s, the social roles of females and males started to change (e.g., a broader spectrum of women pursued higher education and/or paid employment) and research began to be directed towards the lives of women and girls. Such changes in girls' and women's opportunities, and thus in their family roles and leisure activities, has occurred more recently in other cultures as well (e.g., India and Korea) (Robertson 1995), though hegemonic patriarchal patterns in family and leisure continue to dominate in some countries (e.g., Bangladesh) (Khan 1997), and continue to exist in all countries. In countries where Women's Rights movements have altered educational and employment opportunities, sociology of leisure and leisure studies has increasingly focused on the family, and important insights have been gained about leisure, family, gender, and their interrelationships.

Family's Influence on Leisure

Family is the major context of leisure (Shaw 1998). When asked about most important leisure, individuals, regardless of age or culture, typically indicate that time spent or activities pursued with family are most valued. It is within families that individuals learn leisure skills, interests, attitudes, and behaviors, and research has indicated continuity of recreation and leisure interests learned in childhood and adolescence across the life course. In addition, family and family members are common or frequent leisure companions throughout the life cycle. Families also construct time and opportunities for leisure, as well as constraints. However, the family's influence on leisure is often distinguished by gender, social class, age, race/ethnicity, and culture.

Parents have a strong influence on children's and adolescents' play and recreation. They facilitate, constrain, and shape children's development of leisure skills, interests, and participation in numerous ways: through their own leisure activities, the toys made available, economic support for lessons and equipment, and transportation to and from practices, activities, and events. For example, in Canada and the United States mothers have been found to be important to children's ability to participate in recreation. Mothers, even when employed outside the home, are often the ones who actually transport (or organize the transportation of children) to various activities, events, and entertainment venues (Henderson et al. 1996). Research in Canada suggests, however, that children, in particular adolescents, do not passively accept leisure constraints imposed by parents. Rather, many adolescents negotiate constraints (e.g., parents' unavailability for transport) in ways that allow continued participation in valued leisure ( Jackson and Rucks 1995). Further, the extent to which parents influence children's recreation and leisure, and how and why they do, varies by gender, social class, and/or race. Daughters are often more dependent than sons on parental approval and support for recreational activities; middle-class children have more independence and freedom from parents in their leisure than working-class children (e.g., McMeeking and Purkayastha 1995; Zeijl et al. 2000). Race and ethnicity are also important in shaping family's influence on children's leisure. For example, racial minority parents in the Netherlands and United States have been found to have concerns with children's leisure activities related to racism and being unwelcome that racial majority parents do not have (Phillip 1999; Zeijl et al. 2000). At the same time, recreation and leisure are also seen as ways to celebrate and pass on valued cultural and racial identities to children. The cultural values that shape racial and ethnic groups' leisure are not static, however. For example, Susan Juniu (2000), in a study of South American (Mexican or Hispanic) immigrants to the United States, found that cultural values surrounding work, social interaction, perceptions of time, and appropriate recreational activity changed with immigration, though this was mediated by the social class of the immigrants.

Adults' leisure is also strongly influenced by family. Much adult leisure is role determined (Kleiber 1999), that is, roles such as spouse, worker, parent, or caregiver have a tremendous influence on time, energy, economic resources, companions, and opportunities for, as well as the meaning of, leisure. The birth of the first child in particular—and the presence of dependent children in the home generally—has a dramatic impact on parental leisure. There is typically a shift from personal or joint (spouse/partner only) leisure to child-centered leisure. Women's leisure is especially affected by marriage and/or presence of dependent children. Research in Canada, the Netherlands, China and the United States suggests that women are more likely than men to give up personal leisure and to give priority to children's and/or spouse's (or partner's) leisure interests and engagements (Freysinger and Chen 1993; Shaw 1998). For example, in the Netherlands, despite research in the 1970s that suggested the family was becoming more symmetrical or plastic in terms of women's and men's roles, Simone van Dijk, Annita van Betuw, and Jan W. te Kloeze (1993) contend that such family structures exist in theory but not in practice. This is true regardless of age of the child (or children) and the mother's employment status. Further, based on her study of Canadian families' experiences of Christmas, Leslie Bella (1992) found that women are most often the organizers and providers of family leisure. This gendered construction of family and leisure has resulted in women experiencing family leisure (particularly when dependent children are involved) as semi-leisure whereas men are more likely to experience the same interactions as pure leisure. This does not mean that family has an absolute or only a negative impact on women's leisure. Rather, women also negotiate family constraints to leisure, report important satisfactions from family leisure, and may derive different meanings from their leisure than do men. Further, in Canada, the United States, and Bangladesh, gender has been found to intersect with other identities such as race, social class, sexual orientation, and able-bodiedness in shaping family's impact on both women's and men's leisure (Allen and Chin-Sang 1991; Bialeschki and Pearce 1997; Henderson et al. 1995; Khan 1997; Tirone and Shaw 1997). Further, research in Canada, Great Britain, the United States, and other countries indicates the experience and impact of family on leisure changes with age, as the demands of and activities in family and other social roles shift and developmental changes occur (e.g., Bialeschki 1994; Dupuis and Smale 2000), and across time as cultures are altered by economic, social, and political changes. For example, changing family structures in Korea at the end of the twentieth century has led to decreased intergenerational and interfamilial activities and increased intrafamilial activities (Robertson 1995). In France, Nicole Samuel (1996) has documented changing notions of vacation time for French families.

In summary, the family shapes leisure meanings and participation across the course of life and time in a myriad of ways. Family is both a source of leisure opportunity and constraint, reflecting the tension between individual wants/selfdetermination and societal norms/expectations of others. This tension is perhaps best illustrated in the gendered experience of family leisure and in cultural differences in perceptions and notions of leisure. At the same time, individuals negotiate family constraints to leisure and report finding freedom or leisure within constraint. Finally, how and why family is important to individuals' experiences of leisure differs across cultures and changes across age and time as family roles, responsibilities, and structures change, development occurs, and societal norms and cultural practices are challenged.

Leisure's Influence on Family

In addition to investigating the impact that the family has on children's and adults' experiences of play, recreation and leisure, researchers have also examined the impact that leisure interests and participation has on family satisfaction, family interaction, and family stability or cohesion. Although a popular belief is that "the family that plays together stays together," the research in this area indicates that leisure can serve to both facilitate and undermine family satisfaction, interaction, and cohesion.

Leisure is a way through which the parental role is enacted. Although mothers and fathers do not enact the parental role in the same way, both mothers and fathers report that leisure is an important context for the development of children. By teaching their children how to use free time constructively or by providing challenging and stimulating recreational activities, parents feel that they are facilitating the learning and growth of their children (Freysinger 1995). Further, leisure is seen as a context for the affirmation of family. Leisure with one's children and/or spouse provides a common interest and a context for interaction and is perceived by adults to strengthen bonds between family members and to provide a sense of family (Freysinger 1995; Orthner and Mancini 1990). At the same time, leisure interaction with children has been found to have a different impact on mothers' and fathers' satisfaction with being a parent. A study by Valeria Freysinger (1994) in the United States found that although mothers had more leisure interactions with their children than fathers, these had no effect on mothers' parental satisfaction. Other research (e.g., McClanahan and Adams 1987) indicates that mothers report both greater satisfaction with and stress from being a parent than fathers, which is one possible explanation for Freysinger's findings. On the other hand, leisure interaction with children was positively related to fathers' parental satisfaction. For both, however, marital satisfaction was the strongest and a positive predictor of parental satisfaction.

Indeed leisure has been found to positively related to marital satisfaction and stability and these relationships seem to be true across cultures (Orthner and Mancini 1990). Although preferences for joint or shared, parallel, and individual leisure vary over the marital career and differ somewhat by gender, in general the research suggests that the time spent in joint or shared activities is positively related to marital satisfaction for both husbands and wives. However, it is not just spending time together that is important to marital satisfaction. Rather, it seems to be the amount of communication that occurs during time together that is positively related to marital satisfaction.

Children affect the amount of leisure interaction spouses have with one another. Couples with children in the home tend to have less leisure interaction and that negatively affects satisfaction with the spousal/couple relationship. At the same time, children's effect on parental leisure is not uniformly negative. Children may provide new leisure interests and social networks for their parents. For example, adults with children involved in sport and physical activity are more likely than adults with no children or nonphysically active children to stay involved in recreational physical activity.

As suggested above, leisure may also be a source of tension or conflict within families. This may be because leisure connotes a freedom of choice that may contradict expectations that family members have of one another or that may challenge authority relations in some families. For example, in her study of the leisure of mid-life women and men, Valeria Freysinger (1995) found that leisure was a source of dissatisfaction with one's spouse and marriage when different leisure interests limited time for interaction. Some of the divorced men in this study reported that the different leisure interests they and their ex-wives had contributed to the dissolution of their marriages. Other reasons leisure may be a source of family conflict include inappropriate use of leisure or free time, changing leisure patterns, and conflicting circadian rhythms (i.e., a night person and a morning person) (Orthner and Mancini 1990).

In summary, leisure is both a source of family satisfaction and cohesion as well as dissatisfaction and instability. The relationship between leisure and family satisfaction, interaction, and cohesion is complex. A number of other factors (e.g., presence, number, and age of children, educational and employment status, stage of the marital career) likely mediate these relationships. For example, Deborah Bialeschki (1994) found that although leisure interruption was a common experience of U.S. women with children at home, once children left the home and active mothering demands decreased, a focus on self through leisure re-emerged in a process she called full-circle leisure. Stephen Goff, Daniel Fick, and Robert Oppliger (1997), in a study of "serious runners" and their spouses, found that leisure-family conflict was moderated by spouses' level of support for running. Such factors must be considered when seeking to understand the significance of leisure to family.

Emerging Issues and Unanswered Questions

This review of the extant research on family and leisure points to a number of issues, questions, and directions for future scholarship in this area including:

  1. Leisure and family are historically situated concepts that cannot be separated from culture and society; that is, one's experience and understanding of leisure and family are constantly being constructed and reconstructed, challenged and transformed in the interactions of individuals and contexts. It will be important for future researchers to be aware of the diversity of people's experiences of leisure and family and to explore this diversity in the way the research is conceptualized, the questions that are asked, and the populations that are studied (e.g., Acock and Demo 1994; Cheal 1991).
  2. Jennifer Mactavish, Stuart Schleien, and Carla Tabourne (1997) in their study of patterns of recreation in families with developmentally disabled children, asked the question, "Who is involved in family recreation most of the time?" They found that family leisure participants included both immediate family members and extended family members, all members of the family and subgroups (e.g., children only, parents only, one parent and all children) of the family. The most common pattern was subgroup leisure activity. However, much research on family leisure does not ask who is involved and in not asking this question what is meant by family leisure and the importance of family leisure is obscured.
  3. Most of the research on leisure and family has focused on adult perceptions and experiences. In one of the few studies that asked both parents and children about their perceptions of family leisure, Reed Larson, Sally Gillman, and Maryse Richards (1997) found that adolescent children experienced lower intrinsic motivation and less positive affect than parents during family leisure. Future research needs to further explore children's perceptions of family leisure, why they hold the perceptions that they do, and the developmental consequences of their experiences of family leisure.
  4. Although research has documented the interactive relationship between leisure and family, there has been little exploration of leisure as the expression or the creation of family. Research on serious leisure has revealed that in such leisure small worlds are created which provide individuals with a valued sense of identity and community (Stebbins 1992). An interesting question is to what extent leisure is pursued to create family—or whether families are created as a consequence of leisure. This question may become particularly relevant as 1) divorce, never marrying, and not having children become recognized as choices that people make rather than misfortunes that befall them; and 2) life expectancy continues to be extended and years not living within one's family of procreation increase.

See also:Computers and Families; Division of Labor; Marital Quality; Parenting Styles; Retirement; Television and Families; Time Use


acock, a. c., and demo, d. h. (1994). family diversity and well-being. thousand oaks, ca: sage.

allen, k. r., and chin-sang, v. (1990). "a lifetime of work: the context and meanings of leisure for aging black women." gerontologist 30:734–740.

bella, l. (1992). the christmas imperative. halifax, canada: fernwood.

bialeschki, m. d. (1994). "re-entering leisure: transition within the role of motherhood." journal of leisure research 26:57–74.

bialeschki, m. d., and pearce, k. d. (1997). "'i don't want a lifestyle, i want a life': the effect of role negotiations on the leisure of lesbian mothers." journal of leisure research 29:113–131.

cheal, d. (1991). family and the state of theory. toronto: university of toronto press.

dijk, s. van; betuw, a. van; and kloeze, j.w. te (1993). "familia ludens: a literature study focused on the netherlands." world leisure and recreation 35:10–14.

dupuis, s. l., and smale, b. j. a. (2000). "bittersweet journeys: meanings of leisure in the institution-based caregiving context." journal of leisure research 32:303–340.

freysinger, v. j., and chen, t. (1993). "leisure and family in china: the impact of culture." world leisure and recreation 35(3):22–24.

freysinger, v. j. (1994). "leisure with children and parental satisfaction: further evidence of a sex difference in the experience of adult roles and leisure." journal of leisure research 26:212–226.

freysinger, v. j. (1995). "the dialectics of leisure and development for women and men in mid-life: an interpretive study." journal of leisure research 27:61–84.

goff, s. j.; fick, d. s.; and oppliger, r. (1997). "the moderating effect of spouse support on the relation between serious leisure and spouses' perceived family-leisure conflict." journal of leisure research 29: 47–60.

henderson, k. a.; bedini, l. a.; hecht, l.; and shuler, r. (1995). "women with physical disabilities and the negotiation of leisure constraints." leisure studies 14:17–31.

henderson, k. a.; bialeschki, m. d.; shaw, s. m.; and freysinger, v. j. (1996). both gains and gaps: feminist perspectives on women's leisure. state college, pa: venture.

jackson, e. l., and rucks, v. c. (1995). "negotiation of leisure constraints by junior-high and high-school students: an exploratory study." journal of leisure research 27:85–105.

juniu, s. (2000). "the impact of immigration: leisure experience in the lives of south american immigrants." journal of leisure research 32:358–381.

kelly, j. r. (1993). "leisure-family research: old and new issues." world leisure and recreation 35:5–9.

kelly, j. r., and freysinger, v. j. (2000). 21st centuryleisure: current issues. needham heights, ma: allyn and bacon.

khan, n. a. (1997). "leisure and recreation among women of selected hill-farming families in bangladesh." journal of leisure research 29:5–20.

kleiber, d. (1999). leisure experience and human development: a dialectical interpretation. new york: basic books.

larson, r. w.; gillman, s. a.; and richards, m. h. (1997). "divergent experiences of family leisure: fathers, mothers, and young adolescents." journal of leisure research 29:78–97.

lynd, r. s., and lynd, h. m. (1929). middletown: a study in american culture. new york: harcourt and brace.

mactavish, j.; schleien, s.; and tabourne, c. (1997). "patterns of family recreation in families that include children with a developmental disability." journal of leisure research 29:21–46.

mccabe, m. (1993). "family leisure budgets: experience in the u.k." world leisure and recreation 35:30–34.

mcclanahan, s., and adams, j. (1987). "parenthood and psychological well-being." annual review of sociology 5:237–257.

mcmeeking, d., and purkayastha, b. (1995). "i can't have my mom running me everywhere: adolescents, leisure and accessibility." journal of leisure research 27:360–378.

orthner, d. k., and mancini, j. a. (1990). "leisure impacts on family interaction and cohesion." journal of leisure research 22:125–137.

phillip, s. f. (1999). "are we welcome? african american racial acceptance in leisure activities and the importance given to children's leisure." journal of leisure research 31:385–403.

rapoport, r., and rapoport, r. n. (1975). leisure and thefamily life cycle. boston: routledge and kegan paul.

robertson, b., ed. (1995). "factors impacting leisure in middle aged adults throughout the world." world leisure and recreation 37:30–38.

rojek, c. (1996). decentring leisure. london: sage.

samuel, n. (1993). "vacation time and the french family." world leisure 35:15–16.

samuel, n., ed. (1996). women, leisure and the family in contemporary society. wallingford, uk: c.a.b. international.

shaw, s. m. (1997). "controversies and contradictions in family leisure: an analysis of conflicting paradigms." journal of leisure research 29:98–112.

shaw, s. m. (1998). "family activities and family leisure." in canadian families, ed. l. c. johnson. toronto: thompson.

stebbins, r. (1992). amateurs, professionals and seriousleisure. montreal: mcgill-queen's university press.

tirone, s. c., and shaw, s. m. (1997). "at the center of their lives: indo canadian women, their families and leisure." journal of leisure research 29:229–244.

wearing, b., and mcarthur, m. (1988). "the family that plays together stays together: or does it?" australian journal of sex, marriage, and family 9:150–158.

wimbush, e., and talbot, m., eds. (1988). relative freedoms. philadelphia: milton keynes.

zeijl, e.; te poel, y.; du bois-reymond, m.; ravesloot, j.; and meulman, j. j. (2000). "the role of parents and peers in the leisure activities of young adolescents." journal of leisure research 32:281–302.


views updated



Leisure is not an essential human characteristic or pursuit. Yet it has a history and a variety of cultural manifestations (in language, rituals, and recurring occasions and events) determined by a variety of historical settings. Through its bewildering array of forms, leisures only constant is its relation to work. Work and leisure are a mutually defining pair in their origin and through their historical development. Indeed, as work changed, so did leisure.

Originally, and still today among hunters and gatherers, humans had no abstract, general word for subsistence-related activities. The concept of work emerged with humans ability to control other humansprimarily with slavery. As humans recognized work as a distinctive cultural reality, so too did they begin to recognize freedom from work and control as leisure.

The combined human concept of work and leisure as figure and ground (as a mutually defining, historical pair) is demonstrated by some of the first words for the pair: The Greek word for work (a-scholia, meaning not leisure) was defined by its negative relation to leisure (scholê ), just as the Latin neg-otium (not leisure) was defined in relation to otium (leisure).

In the classical age and the medieval world, leisure was the basis of cultureit represented the privilege of the few founded on the slavery of the many. As Aristotle famously noted, for the rich and powerful, the purpose of work and economic concerns was the freedom to become more fully human by doing those activities that were more complete in themselves, such as the liberal (free) arts, philosophy, politics (including all forms of free civic engagement), contemplation, and celebration. Over the centuries, leisure became so identified with learning and culture that the Greek word for leisure (scholê ) developed as the etymological root of words for school and scholarship in many modern languages.

The positive view of leisure as works purpose and fulfillment persisted in the West until the Reformation, when, as a variety of scholars beginning with Max Weber recognized, the cultural valuations of leisure and work became reversed. Weber understood that the modern view of worksummed up as one does not work to live; one lives to workrepresented an historical revolution (Pieper 1952, p. 40).

After the sixteenth century, what Hannah Arendt called the modern glorification of work, and Joseph Pieper described as the rise of the world of total work progressively eclipsed leisure as the basis of culture. The spread of capitalism and the marketplace commodified and rationalized leisure as well as work. More and more kinds of previously free activities were drawn into the marketplace, and various products were being produced to be bought and sold.

In the modern age, leisure is no longer widely valued among the newly emerging business classes or their socialist critics as the freedom to realize human potential. Writers such as Thorstein Veblen and Friedrich Engels, defining humanity as Homo Faber (man-the-worker/tool maker) insisted that work was the essential human characteristic. Veblen saw leisure as an example of the conspicuous consumption of the rich, a dangerous example for society that tempted its productive members to forget that work was the foundation of human morality and solidarity.

Increasingly, residents of the West have tended to turn from leisure to work as the time to realize their humanity, as the glue that holds humans in society, and as the fundamental moral imperative. However, all have not been true believers in the Protestant work ethic; its later secularized version, the spirit of capitalism; or socialist work-utopias. Early in the nineteenth century, as labor was increasingly rationalized and brought into the marketplace, working classes in Europe and America began a struggle for shorter working hours that lasted over a century and cut work time nearly in half.

The primary motive driving this process, one of the longest and most broadly based social movements in the history of the Western world, was workers desire to have more leisure to spend with family, friends, and neighborsand, according to a popular nineteenth-century doggerel, to do with as we will. At the beginning of the labor movement in the United States, Philadelphia journeymen carpenters, after striking for a ten-hour work day in 1827, resolved that all men have a just right, derived from their Creator, to have sufficient time each day for the cultivation of their mind and for self-improvement. Union leaders regularly repeated these sentiments for over a century, fully expecting that the progressive shortening of the hours of labor would eventually elevate leisure to lifes center, reducing human labor to its lowest terms (Hunnicutt 1988, p. 322).

Ever since the founding of the United States, myriad believers in progress agreed that industry and the free market must eventually provide all people with enough necessaries, as well as the steadily increasing leisure to enjoy them. As early as 1794, the U.S. inventor Samuel Hopkins foresaw a two- or three-hour work day, an expectation repeated regularly until the 1920s and 1930s, when influential scientists and economists such Julian Huxley and John Maynard Keynes confidently predicted, on the basis of a century-long economic trend, that the marketplace would soon provide everyone with all that they might rationally need in exchange for two or three hours of work a day. Before the twentieth century ended, it was believed, leisure would replace the economy as mankinds primary concern.

Clearly, such predictions were wrong. Instead of the progressive shortening of the hours of labor, there has been little or no increase in leisure since the years of the Great Depression. In the early 1990s, the sociologist Juliet Schor presented a persuasive case that leisure had been declining over the previous three decades in the United States. These changes have coincided with the commodification and trivialization of leisure. More importantly, the nineteenth-century and early twentieth-century vision of the expansion of life beyond the pecuniary realm as a logical part of industrial progress has been forgotten.

Instead of following the lead of sociologists, educators, and economists of the early part of the twentieth century, who were trying to prepare the nation for the worthy use of leisure, social scientists now assume that leisure is valuable mainly because it contributes to recreational spending, and because it allows people to recuperate for more work and to adjust to the pressure of modern life. The millennia-long belief that as humans get enough of the things that money can buy they might then live a fuller and happier life by moving up to freer and better things has been obscured by the modern credo that eternal economic growth and perpetual work expansion and job creation are humanities summa bona. The concept of work without end has replaced the old dream of expanding leisure as humanities final challenge.

SEE ALSO Sports; Veblen, Thorstein; Weber, Max; Work; Work Day; Working Day, Length of


Arendt, Hannah. 1958. The Human Condition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Aristotle. 1981. The Politics. Trans. Benjamin Jowett and Jonathan Barns. London: Penguin.

Hunnicutt, Benjamin. 1988. Work Without End: Abandoning Shorter Hours for the Right to Work. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.

Pieper, Joseph. 1952. Leisure, the Basis of Culture. Trans. Alexander Dru. New York: Pantheon Books.

Schor, Juliet. 1991. The Overworked American: The Unexpected Decline of Leisure. New York: Basic Books.

Veblen, Thorstein. [1899] 1994. The Theory of the Leisure Class. New York: Dover.

Weber, Max. 1930. The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. Trans. Talcott Parsons. London: Allen and Unwin.

Benjamin Hunnicutt

views updated



USES OF LEISURE, 1900–1950

Time free from work and other life- or family-sustaining activities changed dramatically across the twentieth century. Although regional and social distinctions, established long before this epoch, continued to shape leisure activities, a series of political, technological, and economic changes both expanded and transformed the use of leisure time.


Free time varied by class and occupation in 1900. While seasonal religious festivals had declined in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in rural areas, especially in southern Europe, leisure time depended on the weather, hours of daylight, and lulls in the agricultural work cycle and the saints' days that often coincided with such lulls. In areas in which industrial and modern commercial conditions predominated, leisure was fixed by the factory and shop hours (mostly set at ten hours per six-day week). In skilled, textile, and white-collar trades in Britain and more rarely on the Continent, a Saturday half-day prevailed, making possible an afternoon for club activities, shopping, and the development of the Saturday tradition of spectator sports (especially football, that is, soccer). Few hours free from work and, as important, slow and inadequate public transportation, limited leisure activities among wage earners. Drinking, games, and conversation at neighborhood bars dominated male leisure time, though in larger cities cheap theater was available. Despite efforts of reformers (including trade unionists, socialists, and Catholics) to promote alternative leisure pursuits such as gardening and family outings, especially on Sunday, drink was often a refuge from the family hearth.

In 1900 few wage earners had the opportunity for annual vacations. While some trades (especially northern English textile and related workers) had established holiday savings clubs to facilitate treks to seaside resorts such as Blackpool during annual one-week factory shutdowns, this was rare even in Britain. Most seasonal factory or shop closures were simply times of unemployment or of seeking alternative work—for example, in harvesting or food processing. Professionals, business owners, and a few privileged white-collar workers had paid annual leaves. This assured that seaside resorts and holiday touring was predominantly bourgeois. By 1900, travel agencies such as Thomas Cook of England booked holiday packages for the English middle class to Switzerland, France, and northern Italy especially. Resorts for gambling and genteel pursuits had long developed on the French and Italian Riviera and at San Sebastián on the Basque coast of Spain. Major cities were centers of middleclass shopping and entertainment (sometimes combined as when bourgeois women visited Paris to get measured for clothing and went to the theater while waiting for delivery).

Demand for increased leisure time had been central to European labor movements even before the Second (Socialist) International called for the eight-hour workday in 1889. This goal was supposed to stabilize employment (diminishing seasonal irregularities in work and forcing businesses to increase their staff to compensate for reduced work hours), but it also was intended to establish a human right to time free from labor. Leisure in this sense was the same as liberty. Labor and progressive politicians across Europe insisted not only that increased productivity made increased leisure time an economic possibility, but also that more free time compensated for the increased pace of modern industrial and commercial work. In the decade before World War I, shop clerks agitated in Britain and France for laws against Sunday commerce. Reformers also argued that Saturday afternoons free from wage work would provide fathers the opportunity to spend time with their children and that paid vacations would restore the spiritual unity of the family that had been undermined by the modern economy's division of the family unit during work (a view embraced also by the Right). Early in the twentieth century, organized workers resisted two- or three-shift systems, especially in textiles where women predominated. The ideal was not merely a short, but also a compressed, workday to free longer blocks of time for private life, especially for meeting the needs of coordinating family schedules.

The eight-hour day became a nearly universal concession only during the labor upsurge that accompanied the closing years of World War I and its unsettled aftermath (1917–1919), extending in principle from Bolshevik Russia to Britain. The two-day weekend (and forty-hour workweek) became a goal of labor movements in France and Britain in the 1930s. This standard became law in France in June 1936 during the strikes that accompanied the beginning of the leftist Popular Front government. Business, however, bitterly opposed this apparent unilateral disarmament of the French economy and military, and it was revoked in late 1938. Many wage earners in Europe won the weekend/forty-hour week only after World War II (for example, in 1958 in West Germany).

The movement for the paid annual holiday also intensified in the interwar period. Between 1919 and 1925, legislation provided paid vacations in six eastern and central European countries. The movement peaked in the mid-1930s with the widespread support for the two-week paid vacation in France in 1936 and a week's holiday in many British industries in 1938. In the generation after World War II, the vacation became the leisure concept of choice for most Europeans: The one- or two-week holiday expanded to three or more weeks in the prosperity of the 1950s and 1960s. By the 1980s, 80 percent of West Germans enjoyed six weeks of vacation.

Before 1945, the democratization of leisure threatened economic and social elites on multiple fronts. In the view of businesspeople, increased leisure would raise labor costs and reduce future economic expansion. Cultural conservatives were anxious that the masses would invade traditional bourgeois resorts (a fear raised during the French Popular Front period, for example) and worried that free time meant dissipation for a working class still unprepared for uplifting leisure. Intellectuals such as the French industrial sociologist Georges Friedmann argued that without meaningful work, leisure became mere escapism and passive excitement in pleasure. The so-called Frankfurt School, a group of neo-Marxist German sociologists in the interwar period, developed an even more pessimistic view of what they called the "culture industry." In pursuit of profit, the pleasure industry manufactured a leisure time of pseudochoice and illusory freedom. Sigmund Freud doubted that civilization could withstand any significant liberation from work. The growth of free time in the early twentieth century, however, produced more optimistic points of view. One largely British and French school of thought argued that increased leisure would produce a more egalitarian culture and even more sympathetic people. John C. Hammond, C. D. Burns, and Bertrand Russell advanced the idea of a progressive democratization of leisure.

USES OF LEISURE, 1900–1950

Between the wars, the pub or bar remained the center of male working-class leisure in Europe. At the heart of bar culture was the reciprocity of "treating" for drinks. A British study of pub life in the late 1930s likened the Saturday night pub habit to a Sabbath meeting—a liturgy of group drinking and "treating" and a litany of verbal exchanges. While "respectable" women increasingly appeared in pubs by the 1930s, the age of pubgoers also rose because the young were more attracted to the cinema or dance hall. The pub owner continued to perform the complex role of social mediator, banker, and participant in the nightly round of gossip, drinking, singing of familiar music hall numbers, and bar games. In addition to providing insurance benefits, clubs provided rooms for moderate drinking, darts, billiards, and singsongs, and occasionally fund-raising in card games. Boxing, prostitution, and other male pastimes were on the decline in the interwar years. But the male-oriented and casual leisure of the mechanical gaming arcade flourished in the cities. The most notable development in working-class leisure in the twentieth century was the growth of offsite gambling.

Women's daily leisure was considerably more constrained because of the demands of housework and child-tending as well as wage work. Socializing over the washing-line, at the corner shop, and with nearby relatives was supplemented by the occasional visit to the cinema or hour with her husband at his bar or club. By the 1910s, movie houses were accommodating women (62 percent of the audience in one British survey of the 1930s), often as part of regular shopping trips. By the 1930s, home-based work was eased by the radio. There were ten times more radios in Britain in 1931 than in France. By 1939, 71 percent of households in Britain held a radio license. But those women who held jobs outside the home had scarcely two hours of their own per day because of domestic chores waiting them.

In the wake of the eight-hour day, a wide range of movements for public recreation emerged across Europe. Government grants for adult education expanded in Britain and elsewhere in the 1920s, though these efforts were limited by budgetary constraints and then by cutbacks during the depression of the 1930s. British groups such as the Holiday Fellowship (founded in 1913) organized hiking and camping trips, while the Youth Hostel Association (1929) and what is now the Ramblers' Association (1931) promoted cheap, open-air holidays. Although these groups were mostly composed of clerical and skilled workers, some attracted manual laborers with their promise of relief from the bleakness of the industrial landscape. And, the nonprofit holiday camp, which had roots in the 1890s, grew especially in the 1920s.

The organized vacation was advanced by ideologues of the Right and Left. Both the Italian Fascist dopolavoro (recreational club) and the Nazi Kraft durch Freude (Strength through Joy) organized holiday tours, festivals, and tours to instill loyalty to the regime. The Left attempted to create alternatives to commercial spectator sports and to the sports press and clubs patronized by employers or the Catholic Church. Where possible, communists organized sports and cultural groups, hoping to appeal to members' families and to create a more fun-loving image of the cause. The French Popular Front government of 1936–1937 opted for a less political form of mass tourism. Its minister for sports and leisure, Léo Lagrange, cajoled railway companies into accepting a program of inexpensive tickets for family excursions, built 653 sports arenas, introduced physical education in almost half the French schools, and advocated autonomous municipal leisure clubs, independent of political patronage. But Lagrange also believed that French visits to national historical sites and travels to meet fellow citizens in different regions and walks of life would lead to deeper patriotic sentiments.

Public recreation movements often failed to compete successfully against commercial leisure. British travel and holiday camp cooperatives lacked capital and managerial skill and were co-opted by commercial efforts such as Billy Butlin's holiday camps, which from 1937 offered much of the camaraderie of the Holiday Fellowship without the excessive seriousness and cliquishness that often bedeviled the nonprofit and volunteer holiday movement. It was easier and often more desirable to participate in a club organized by an outside commercial impresario than by a group of the participants themselves.

In 1900 commercialized entertainments were already well established in the form of traveling and annual fairs, music halls, spectator sports, and gambling. The amusement park dating from 1843 in Copenhagen was expanded to Vienna and elsewhere in the 1890s. The introduction of the cheap electric streetcar in the 1890s and subway slightly later made it possible for even wage earners to escape the neighborhood bar to traverse the city and its environs for the anonymous pleasures of mass entertainments. The seaside holiday was another commercial leisure. By the early twentieth century, Blackpool and its many imitators had become well-established sites for perfunctory sea-bathing and a vast range of amusements—from gypsy fortune-tellers, pinball boards, and roller coasters to music hall programs and rides up the Blackpool Tower (built in 1895).

Despite the European origins of the automobile (invented by the German Carl Benz in 1885 and manufactured soon thereafter by the French), the car played a relatively small role in European leisure before World War II. Europeans failed to develop low- and midpriced automobiles as did the American Henry Ford. The industry's concentration on the luxury vehicle and on military uses of internal combustion engines before World War I meant that in 1929, for example, there was one car for every 4.5 Americans but only one for every 42 British. In the interwar years, the auto brought picnicking, camping, and touring to the smart set with elite auto touring guides provided by the French tire company Michelin. The open-air bus, or charabanc, was available for pub crawling (the original "magical mystery tour"). But most wage earners were confined to the fixed routes of the rail.


Following on the movements of the 1930s, post-war efforts to organize leisure increased dramatically in postwar France with the building of local youth and cultural centers, children's holiday camps, and sports facilities. Numbers of sports clubs rose 2.6 times in France in the 1960s and 1970s. By 1984, there were about 150,000 sports clubs in France enrolling some 12 million members. From 1960 to 1984, cultural clubs increased even more dramatically, from 600 to 4,116. French promoters of popular arts and recreation stressed wide participation, and many eventually lost their political or religious character to emphasize instead the democratization of culture. Government facilities and educators have contributed to the growth of amateurism in music and the other arts. In Britain, agencies such as the Arts Council (1946), national parks (1949), and the Ministry of Sport (1962) subsidized public recreational facilities of all kinds. Sociologists found in the mid-1980s that middle-class people in particular still readily joined groups around a wide variety of "enthusiasms" (caving, morris dancing, lace making, and lapidary, for example). Such organizations stressed group solidarity, and often did so with a militant opposition to commercialization as if in protest of the profit motive of sellers and passivity of buyers. In Germany, East and West, local sports, leisure, and arts facilities were built after the war, though in the East, the lack of opportunities for travel and access to new commercial forms of leisure probably contributed to the popular uprising of 1989 and decision to reunite with the Federal Republic in 1990.

Yet again commercialized leisure predominated. Following the austerity of postwar reconstruction, increased incomes allowed for new and expanded forms of leisure. Television was slower to enter the home than in the United States (in 1959, when over 90 percent of American households contained a TV, only 66 percent of British households did; in 1963, only 30 percent of French homes had TVs). This changed rapidly: TVs were in 90 percent of British homes by 1970 and 86 percent of French homes by 1976. A British study in 1974 found that half of leisure time was spent watching the screen; and by 1980 TVs were on 2.3 hours per day in French homes. Only 51 percent of French watched TV daily in 1967, but 82 percent admitted to doing so by 1987. Still, over the same period the percentage who read a book in the course of a month scarcely changed (going from 32 to 31 percent), and the rate of attending museums rose from 10 to 32 percent.

Increasingly, European families spend larger portions of their income on their homes and furnishings, suggesting a domestication of leisure. While in 1950 food comprised 49 percent of the average French family budget and housing absorbed merely 14 percent, by 1985 food decreased to 19 percent and housing costs rose to 26 percent of family income. Suburbanization and detached houses gradually supplanted the traditional urban apartment living, and with these changes came new domestic leisure endeavors, especially the do-it-yourself movement. Automobile ownership also rose sharply, from 10 percent of French households in 1950 to 75 percent by 1980. The popularization of the family car transformed tourism. Blackpool's Central Station, the great railway hub of tourist arrivals as recently as the early 1950s, closed in 1964, reflecting the rising importance of the bus as well as the private car. Even more, the car facilitated holiday trips to quieter or sunnier climes in southwest England or on the European continent. It also increased the popularity of heritage tourism to ancient estates and castles.

Economic change after World War II broke up many old neighborhoods, especially in England, fostering new gang-based leisure styles among youth. For example, the amphetamine-driven and clothes-conscious "mods" of the early 1960s protested, through "rituals" of consumption, the dead-end jobs that they knew to be their collective fate. Groups such as the skinheads in the 1960s retained a tough macho image associated with the working class. Some protested their loss of territory by attacking immigrants and through gang violence at or near football (soccer) matches.

The most dramatic leisure trend in Europe is the growth of vacations and tourism. Whereas Americans tended to use their affluence to accumulate goods and activities around the home, Europeans spent much of it on holidays. In the 1990s, Americans had an average of only 13 days of vacation per year as compared to 35 in Germany and 42 in Italy. By the end of the century, tourism accounted for 5.5 percent of the European Union's economy, with twice that share for Spain and France. Especially enthusiastic tourists were the Germans, who in 1986 accounted for 20 percent of European recreational travelers (compared to the French, 11.8 percent, and the British, 9.9 percent). Moreover, the car became the vehicle of tourist choice: in 1985, 68 percent of European tourism was by automobile, compared to only 14 percent by train and 13 percent by plane. Despite resistance from cultural purists, even Euro Disneyland (1992) near Paris became successful with lowered prices and more thrill rides (along with a name change in 1994 to Disneyland Paris). Because of the advent of cheap air flights and packaged tours, northern Europeans shifted their tourism from nearby resorts (such as Blackpool in England) to the warmer climes of Spain, Greece, and elsewhere on the Mediterranean. While the Club Meds (self-contained resorts located in North Africa and elsewhere, originating in 1950) appealed primarily to a young and affluent population, especially from France, less elaborately themed resorts on the Mediterranean became very popular by the 1980s, making this broad region the destination of one-third of world tourism by the 1990s. The result was a rise in annual tourist visits to the Mediterranean region from 86 million in 1975 to 200 million in 1990.

Although economic downturns produce temporary declines in vacationing, leisure has become a central activity and perhaps life purpose of many Europeans. This is no surprise considering that the annual hours devoted to work dropped from about 3,000in1900to1,731intheUnitedKingdom, 1,539 in France, and 1,397 in the Netherlands (compared to the 1,957 in the United States) in 1998.

See alsoCinema; Football (Soccer); Television; Tourism .


Bramham, Peter, Ian Henry, Hans Mommas, and Hugo van der Poel, eds. Leisure Policies in Europe. Wallingford, U.K., 1993.

Cross, Gary. A Quest for Time: The Reduction of Work in Britain and France, 1840–1940. Berkeley, Calif., 1989.

——. Time and Money: The Making of Consumer Culture. London, 1993.

Cross, Gary, ed. Worktowners at Blackpool: Mass-Observation and Popular Leisure in the 1930s. London, 1990.

de Grazia, Victoria. The Culture of Consent: Mass Organization of Leisure in Fascist Italy. Cambridge, U.K., 1981.

Hoggett, Paul, and Jeff Bishop. Organising around Enthusiasms: Patterns of Mutual Aid in Leisure. London, 1986.

International Monetary Fund. France: Selected Issues. Washington, D.C., 1998. Country Report 98/132.

Koshar, Rudy, ed. Histories of Leisure. Oxford, U.K., 2002.

LeMahieu, D. L. A Culture for Democracy. Oxford, U.K., 1988.

MacCannell, Dean. The Tourist: A New Theory of the Leisure Class. New York, 1976.

Mass-Observation. The Pub and the People. London, 1943.

Pimlott, J. A. R. The Englishman's Holiday. London, 1947. Reprint, New York, 1976.

Rabinbach, Anson. The Human Motor: Energy, Fatigue, and the Origins of Modernity. New York, 1990.

Rojek, Chris. Capitalism and Leisure Theory. London, 1985.

Walton, John K. The British Seaside: Holidays and Resorts in the Twentieth Century. Manchester, U.K., 2000.

Gary Cross

views updated


Leisure is an analogous term, for its import changes from person to person and from culture to culture. The leisure of a university professor, for instance, no doubt differs from the leisure of his young student. The term, however, has similar resonances for both: joyful feelings of freedom, fulfillment, and significance. Both intuitively recognize the truth of Aristotle's dictum that men are unleisurely only to gain leisure (Ethica Nicomachea, 1177 b).

An examination of the leisure-time pursuits of different cultures makes the analogous nature of leisure even more apparent. Although the resonances of freedom, fulfillment, and significance remain, the concrete embodiments of these sentiments vary widelyan afternoon in a Manhattan art gallery differs both in tone and content from a native religious festival. Leisure, then, is not a simple essence but rather a category of activity defined by a society's view of what constitutes man's true happiness. It can be examined in its richest context only when it is related to all other values of a society. This is best done by viewing leisure in its social function, i.e., by considering what leisure does for society and how it is related to each major social institution (the family, the state, the economy, etc.). The relationship between leisure and the institutions that universally arise to meet society's recurrent problems of continuity, cooperation, and survival will be seen more easily after leisure has been functionally defined and located within the Western humanistic tradition.

Relation to Work. Leisure is often defined functionally as the opposite of labor, but this definition is inadequate for two reasons. First, the word has received a modicum of clarity by being distinguished from mere recreation (the renewal of energies for more efficient work) and from free time (any time set apart from the exigencies of toil). Although the worker receives no pay for his use of free time or recreation, these two concepts actually stand in close relation to work itself. Recreation and free time find their justification as propaedeutics for work. From a purely business point of view, Sunday worship and the coffee break are qualitatively the same: they both contribute to making better workers for the enterprise.

The second reason that leisure cannot expeditiously be defined as the opposite of work is that the actual boundary between labor and leisure is sometimes difficult to fix. Philosopher Yves Rene Simon speaks of how work is meant to be a delight rather than toil when he says "work is essentially joyful but it involves the permanent foundation of the possibility of pain." When a carpenter goes about his daily tasks he indeed labors. But may a lawyer who makes artistic cabinets for his own pleasure be categorized as a man of work or as a man of leisure? It is an observable fact that some men expend more energy at their so-called leisure activities than they do at their jobs. Expenditure of energy, then, cannot be the criterion. Nor, in the light of the example, can the activity in itself be the norm for distinguishing work from leisure.

This refractoriness to definition is rooted in the fact that labor is also socially defined. Since the same activity can be labor in one situation and not in another, one must conclude that labor is a concept that does not refer merely to the nature of human activity, but also to the social structure in which this activity is performed. Since the labor structure changes in the course of history, the meaning of the word labor changes with this development. The underlying characteristic of all the various manifestations of labor is that labor is always incorporated into a system of services done with a certain regularity. The performance of these services does not depend solely upon the freedom of the working individual.

Transcendent Character. Leisure, on the other hand, is of an entirely different order. It enables man to transcend the social matrix of economic production and routine social duties so that he can consider the significance of things and perform significant acts. Such a social category is possible because society itself, through its hierarchy of values, can recognize and decree that man has a dignity transcending the ordinary demands of social interaction. Thus J. Pieper includes within the comprehension of the term leisure "the philosophical act, the religious act, the aesthetic act, and, of course, the effect of love and death, or some other way in which man's relation to the world is convulsed and shakenall these fundamental ways of acting belong naturally together, by reason of the power which they have in common of enabling a man to break through and transcend the workaday world" (Leisure 95).

Leisure, then, is time spent in activities intimately and causally connected with the highest powers of man (see perfection, ontological). These activities have no other purpose than the individual's fullest self-realization. What this human perfection involves concretely and what activities further its achievement are matters of cultural definition. At the sociological level, therefore, the important consideration is that norms of human perfection are operative in any society, whether Christian or Marxist, for example, and the time available for uninterrupted and single-minded pursuit of the ideal norm is leisure time.

Commentators usually portray the Greek tradition of leisure, for example; as highly intellectualist with a heavy emphasis on contemplation and a bias against action. This linking of intellect and leisure is understandable in the light of the Greek linking of the intellect with man's perfection. Aristotle concluded that the life of the intellect is the best and most pleasant for man because the intellect, more than anything else, is the man (see intellectual life). He stressed that all noncontemplative activities are encased in a productive system: they are means used to gain further goals. But contemplation frees man from any instrumental system and is "loved for its own sake; for nothing arises from it apart from the contemplating, while from practical activities we gain more or less apart from the action" (Ethica Nicomachea, 1177b).

In modern society contemplation is not considered the highest realization of man's powers nor the pinnacle of knowledge and thus, even in the Greek sense, it can no longer be considered as the only act worthy of the term leisure. Science, for example, as Werner Heisenberg and others point out, is innately a form of activity in which the answers to questions in nature are not simply found, but provoked by the active attitude of the investigators. Even before the impact of science, the Christian emphasis on love of neighbor and the priority of deeds over words, the stress on the unity of thought and action, did much to shift the Western perspective on the perfection of man from a primarily intellectualist to a more integral conception.

Universality. Although the Greeks reflected on leisure more than any other people, leisure was not unknown outside their tradition. In fact, leisure is a cultural universal. Even non-industrial peoples are capable of producing some excess of goods over the minimum demands of necessity. The ceremonial exchange of goods and the extension of credit by one tribesman to another show that not only entire groups, but individuals within these groups, may possess surpluses over immediate needs. They translate their economic surpluses, however small, into social leisure that is enjoyed primarily but not entirely by the members of the community who are supported by this excess wealth. Besides this, from the standpoint of the depth and intangible richness of a human life, it is not hard to see that non-industrialized people of the past, or present, provided they are not penurious and not involved in dehumanized work, may in their daily life enjoy more constant leisure than those in industrialized and technological societies. Heidegger says that the tendency in these latter groups has been "to look upon the world primarily as a fund of energy." This has produced a shallowness of meaning and an understanding of leisure as mere diversion. Similarly, Gabriel Marcel has said apropos the often technocratic modern world that "a great tragedy with the world today is that life is no longer loved but taken as something to be gotten through."

The empirical fact of the universality of leisure can be intelligibly explained by a systematic functional analysis of society. Viewed as a whole, any successful society must solve four major functional problems: (1) adaptation to its environment, accomplished for the most part by economic institutions; (2) goal setting, the task of political institutions; (3) management of the tension generated by the possible conflict between an individual's desires and capabilities and society's demands and requirements, a contribution made largely by the family and other primary groups; and (4) the integration or harmonization of all the different institutions that are meeting the problems of adaptation, goal setting, and management of tension. The integrative function is performed when the social system, through a religion or ideology, explains itself to itself. There must be a broad general consensus as to the worth of the system and the justness of its demands, if relatively smooth interaction is to be possible. The implications of this analysis are apparent: if the integrative function is necessary for a society, as both theoretical analysis and empirical findings indicate, then much leisure is necessary for some members of the society, and some leisure is necessary for all members. The formulation of values and their effective transmission to the population and, equally important, the internalization of these crucial values demand at least some degree of freedom from toil.

Leisure, then, appears in every society precisely because it is a prerequisite for the formation and survival of a society. Some have seen the development of a leisure class simply as a parasitical growth undermining the efficiency of a society. Historically, leisure has frequently been twisted into a shield of privilege. Analysis confined to these phenomena, however, is inadequate to the explanation of leisure. First, consensus makers and transmitters of values are functionally required by all societies. Second, leisure can never be entirely limited to one social class, for the members of a society must, to some degree, have the time and opportunity to internalize the core values of the society. Because of the plasticity of the human organism, internalization is never merely passively receptive but rather a dynamic process of acceptance and ratification. Rejection of values is also a possibility and, under certain conditions, is one of the important sources of social change.

Acceptance or rejection of values involves necessary reference to an ego-ideal, and it is this reference to some standard of human perfectibility that roots the functional analysis of leisure well within the traditional conception of the term. Thus the foregoing analysis of the integrative function of leisure, with its concomitant emphasis on values and concept of human perfectibility, turns out to be very Greek in its theoretical structure. The concrete results in application to a specific society can nevertheless be very non-Hellenic. A society could channel most of its energies into solving one functional problem, such as economic adaptation, and give relatively little consideration to the problem of explaining the significance of this productive activity and its relation to the perfection of its citizenry.

American Patterns. For example, most commentators observe that American leisure patterns are competitive in tone and pervaded with puritanical doubts that are resolved only by justifying leisure as earned by work or as necessary for continued work. Many Americans fear retirement not because of economic worries but simply because of a gnawing fear that their idleness will lower their prestige in a work-oriented society that confers status only on active producers. In a word, leisure in America can be viewed as strongly affected by economic functions and characterized by the need for mere tension release rather than engagement in significant activity. Leisure's relation to the integrative function is less pronounced. This analysis is in tune with the often heard remark that America is long on means but short on ends. Still, this tendency has been reducing in American society in the last 50 years, as evidenced by a 2001 IPSOS poll contrasted with one taken by Gallup in 1955. The recent poll shows considerably less interest in work itself and in leisure for the purpose of resting one for work and correspondingly more interest in leisure as contributive of meaning and wellness in one's life. One may wonder, of course, how much this developing appreciation for leisure is a refinement of self-occupied pleasures and health and how much it represents a greater openness to spiritual joy and to an embracive generosity to other persons.

Despite America's poor history with regard to the social evaluation of leisure, some observers are optimistic about future leisure patterns. Although American leisure is strongly influenced by economic values, the economic sphere itself is undergoing radical change. With the spread of automation and the increase of managerial jobs, work can become more of an expression of human creativity and initiative. If this is the case, then leisure and work can be identified on the deepest level: the achieving of human perfection. For if work is increasingly characterized by intelligence, initiative, and responsibility, it will become more an expression of human creativeness and will be very close to those activities that the Greeks termed leisure. This is, of course, highly conjectural. Work, since it does to some degree tie one to a system, can never be an expression of complete initiative and responsibility. Work and leisure will perhaps be closer partners in the future, but they will remain, to some degree, distinct. According to traditional Western philosophy, this distinction is rooted in the very nature of man. For it is man's nature to be part of a social system, to be an individual member of a species, and yet to transcend the system as a person, as an end in himself.

Philosophical Remarks. In a more philosophical and spiritual vein, leisure can be viewed as a sense of deep restfulness in and presence to life: to nature, other persons, one's self, and God. It can become a contemplative act in which one realizes that in spite of the hustle and bustle of life there is time to learn, love, laugh, and enjoy. Like every virtue it is ultimately both a gift from God and an expression of our freedom. Its presence in daily life draws us beyond mere toil and goal-fixation, beyond perfectionism and toward real perfection and sanctity. It carries us beyond all forms of acquisitiveness and lust, mere egoistic planning and daydreaming, and needless worry into briefer and longer periods of delight in the ordinary and innocent pleasures of body and soul, in the expression of our creative energies, and in the contemplation of God. In this deepest, truest, and most humane form of leisure we are enabled to step out of the tyranny of worldly tasks and goals into a foretaste of eternity. In Charles Pèguy's poem "Sleep" God says to the worker who resents the need to sleep that "I have it against you a little because you have it against my creature sleep. The world has told you never to put off till tomorrow what you can do today. But I, God, tell you: Never do today what you can put off until tomorrow. Blessed is he who puts off."

Bibliography: aristotle, Ethica Nicomachea, j. peiper, Leisure: The Basis of Culture, tr. a. dru (New York 1952; rev. 1964), invaluable speculative introductions s. de grazia, Of Time, Work and Leisure (New York 1962). p. teilhard de chardin, The Divine Milieu (New York 1960). h. arendt, The Human Condition (Chicago 1958). t. veblen, Theory of the Leisure Class (London 1898; pa. New York 1954). n. anderson, Work and Leisure (New York 1961). h. durant, The Problem of Leisure (London 1938),e. o. smigel, ed., Work and Leisure (New Haven 1963). r. denney and m. l. meyerson, "A Preliminary Bibliography on Leisure," American Journal of Sociology 62 (195657) 602615. w. kerr, The Decline of Pleasure (New York 1962). g. marcel, Being and Having, tr. k. farrer (London 1949). t. winnifrith and c. barrett, eds., The Philosophy of Leisure (New York 1989).

[j. r. kelly/

r. e. lane]

views updated


new time
the vacation
leisure and gender
mobility and democratized leisure

The historical development of attitudes toward leisure mirrored many of the larger currents of change witnessed by Europeans in the epoch separating the French Revolution from World War I. Indeed Europe's industrializing economy, shifting contours of class identity, rising sense of national consciousness, and commodifying market and cultural forces shaped the world of "free time" just as markedly in the long nineteenth century as they did the everyday worlds of work and domestic life. Almost without respect to geography or social position, what villagers, city folk, and anyone in between would have done—or certainly dreamt of doing with leisure—by 1914 was fundamentally far removed from what would have been the case in 1789.


Voltaire's (1694–1778) "age of Enlightenment" had cajoled its citizens in the direction of the cultivated garden, both metaphorically and literally. Still, for country people and urban artisans alike, when the pressing calendar of work relented—whether because a day was marked off as one of the many allocated to forms of festive recreation or simply because a raucous weekend was so often followed by a Saint Monday's hangover—it was the familiar rhythms of hearthside and well deserved time with one's mates that structured leisure far more than anything offered by the philosophes as counsel regarding the rational use of time away from work. In this order of leisurely things, which Samuel Smiles (1812–1904), Mathew Arnold (1822–1888), Émile Zola (1840–1902), and so many other nineteenth-century commentators of varying ideological persuasions would see as slothful and even degenerative, humble workers of the land and their artisan counterparts were scarcely without aristocratic peerage. Blessed with abundant leisure as compared to their toiling contemporaries, the socially privileged of eighteenth-century Europe hardly excelled in avoiding what later moralists of the middle class would decry as an over-interest in measuring up to some very Bacchanalian standards. As the rules of social conduct and comportment posted at Bath in the generation before the novelist Jane Austen's (1775–1817) visits there reveal, not only was the gentry's leisure deemed needful of a reformation, but indeed its practitioners were themselves largely willing to cede over governance of their time at the spa to Beau Nash (Richard Nash; 1674–1762), the English gamester and social arbiter, and to the town's other well-known social figures.

The quest for a transparent, ideological purity, installed briefly by the radical phase of the French Revolution, sought to reform and in some cases eradicate practices of leisure long associated with the different strata of social life in France and wherever else the tenets of 1789 and after held sway. But if political club meetings and a new calendar of festive days could be culturally installed or govern-mentally decreed, no political mapping of reformed ideas about leisure onto social life could alter fundamentally the salient and inherently conserving attributes of ideas and experiences of leisure: that people tended to travel very little; that they tended to be their own performers and entertainers; that they took their cues and clues about leisure from church, village, guild, and regional patterns; and that their great, great grandparents would have felt just as much at ease living their descendant's leisure as they had lived their own.

new time

The industrialization and urbanization of Europe during the nineteenth century—exhaustively chronicled by contemporaries and only more intensely scrutinized since by scholars—ushered in a changed encounter with the concept of time. Long pegged to an agrarian calendar and the routines of seasonal farm and proto-industrial labor, conceptions of time were already being infused with the new imperatives of the industrial clock by the later 1820s. Not only did workers now need to devote a predetermined and agreed on amount of time to their jobs, but also the steady rise of mechanized production brought with it efforts to calibrate very precisely how much work a given producer could be expected to accomplish in a given day of labor. Being on time for work now mattered, just as a new hierarchy of bosses and factory rules combined to zealously monitor comportment, productivity, and the time allotted for pausing from one's work.

Even more generally, however, cultural forces well removed from the economic dictates of the factory helped to frame a new sense of time. Clocks were installed on town halls and churches all over Europe, just as the pocket watch would become to the bourgeoisie of the 1840s and after what Zola's working-class would later see in the bureau clock: a symbol of success, self control, and thrift.

The rise of factory time and the ubiquitous timepiece were matched in social importance by

other alterations in the way that people lived with time. The full festive calendar of days off from work, by the decades around the middle of the nineteenth century, had been replaced by a very few vacation days for most workers. England's five bank holidays represented a more curtailed version of this change than Continental Europe's Catholic and less quickly industrialized countries would see early in the era, but the constricted experience of holidays was a reality everywhere. Replacing the traditional array of feast and rest days were new arguments for a day away from work. Birthdays, anniversaries, honeymoons, and other personal uses for leisure were placed on the new time's calendar coincidentally with days that the state deemed critical for rest, reflection, or festive participation.

the vacation

Aristocrats had always had access to an experience of extended leisure that might be rightly called the proto-vacation. So did to some degree the pilgrims who sojourned all over Europe to visit Rome, Santiago e Compostela, Canterbury, and other sites of devotional interest. But new conceptions of time in the nineteenth century joined together with the rising force of the industrializing economy to mark a radical shift in who could vacation, how it was that vacationers did what they did, and where it was that they went. Improved transportation was paramount in opening up the possibilities of the vacation. Carriage travel from Paris to the watering places and spa towns favored by the seventeenth and eighteenth-century aristocracy was a venture that took days to execute. The arrival of the railroad altered this fact dramatically and immediately.

England's Blackpool and Brighton were just two of many cities whose explosive growth in the middle decades of the nineteenth century bore witness to what the railroads could efficiently deliver by way of day tripping or weekending passengers. London's Sunday trains, already by the early 1840s, were packed to Brighton and back with working-class and middle-class trippers who eagerly sought the distractions of Brighton and its famous seaside piers over another day spent in the congestion of the city. The capacity to choose a day in Brighton, whether that meant entering one of its rickety bathing machines to be dragged some distance from the shore for a trap-door drop into the cold waters or just a lazy day taking in the sights and the odd entertainers who flocked to the coast, the seaside town was something nobody's parents had grown up being able to easily visit.

Meanwhile, the more affluent, who could pay for taking longer trips away from home, flooded the great spa towns of Europe, where civic leaders fought to secure train connections and build better train stations than their rivals could boast. It was not just improved transportation, however, that drove the growth of the vacation industry in the nineteenth century. The dream of the vacation and the things one would do while vacationing had first to be crafted and well inculcated in the mentality of those who would travel for leisure. Hardly a simple matter, this, considering the negative and even terrible associations some of Europe's greatest vacation destinations had historically endured. The great Mont Blanc, for example—whose ardent English admirers would spur a veritable cult of alpinist worship that would more or less chronologically match the great dates of Romanticism as a literary and artistic genre (1795–1840)—was only "discovered" in the eighteenth century, when scientifically minded explorers tamed the mountain's fierce isolation first by mapping and measuring and then, only late in the century, by conquering the giant itself.

The same processes would colonize, safeguard, and then popularize the many beaches, including those on the French Norman coast and the Côte d'Azur, and inland watering places—or spas—of Europe. Long understood as a treacherous borderland between the safety of the shore and the turbulence of the otherworldly sea, beach areas enjoyed a tremendous cultural reformation, compliments largely of doctors, whose writings about the health benefits of sea bathing helped spur local developers to build hotels and other amenities. Not only did this partnership of doctors and developers create resort towns, but also it gave order and a cultural imperative to what one did while at these places. Would-be vacationers among Europe's bourgeoisie, in particular, had largely internalized their century's mantra of productivity by its middle decades. In the highly medicalized organization doctors gave to the beach vacation, travelers experienced a rejuvenating stay by the sea whose rhythms were carefully calibrated to produce a more healthful and hence productive person. All the while, of course, any mystery related to what one would do while on vacation was replaced by the certainty of medical authority. Spas were likewise developed by alliances between medical authorities and civic leaders, partnering guidebook writing with cleaned up bathing facilities, carefully scripted water cures, and the pleasures of exciting casinos and verdant walking parks. The success of these efforts was obvious to any observer by 1900, a year when more than half a million people in France alone were employees of the spa industry. Around the same time, more than a million annual visitors went to Lourdes on its pilgrim trains, and slightly fewer than that went to spas.

leisure and gender

If experiences of leisure varied across the social spectrum, gender was also a categorical organizer of time-off for Europeans. For women and men of the working classes, leisure was more equally understood than was the case among the bourgeoisie and middle class. Factory employees had cafes, pubs, public parks, and the emerging places of mass cultural amusement—such as the wax museum and the café concert—where men and women were welcomed, even if even sympathetic writers like Zola would take literary pains to point out how drinking and working-class lives could intersect with tragic results. For women of the middle class and bourgeoisie, however, it was a social ideal by midcentury and after not to be associated with work outside of the home on a remunerative basis. Charity work and the almost endless tasks of making the home a representative attribute of a family's claims to social standing and respectability were taken to be more than enough work indeed. Piano playing, novel reading, working on hand-crafts, hosting social functions, and embarking on well supervised spa trips loomed large among the more accepted performances of leisure among these women. So, in the latter decades of the century among the younger women of this group, did the burdensome role cast for them as invalids whose physiology as women was said to leave them prone to hysteria and other disabling nervous maladies. While tubercular beauty was depicted in countless canvases hung on the walls of bourgeois homes and made manifest in the sick rooms set up for girls of this class, the last years of the century also witnessed a pronounced interest on the part of many younger women in enjoying the social spaces and cultural places of the modernizing city. The so-called new woman—whether she went to a spa for three weeks with her girlfriends and a domestic servant as chaperone or otherwise sought out the fun of society in public with her peers—was eager to enjoy the life that her family's money and her own leisure could support.

mobility and democratized leisure

If the long nineteenth century was ushered in to the sound of plodding horse hooves and a view of the world that for most people was limited to a farmstead, a hamlet, or a particular city, the years before World War I echoed with the hiss of steam engines taking people to the mountains, the sea, and everywhere in between. Mobility had been fused together with dreams of seeing new places and doing new things with leisure. Among workers, the great cry for "eight hours for what we will" was already current, even if the reality of the tripartite day—eight hours for work, and eight each for sleep and leisure—was still years away. Horse-racing, tennis, golf, and the bicycle would all come to compete for the leisure not just of affluent Europeans but also—over time—that of the middle class and its working counterparts. Auto racing, national bicycle contests, and the like were quickly becoming important spectator sports, together with football matches and sundry other ways of watching professionals perform either in sport or as entertainers. Package tours of southern France or the Scottish Highlands or the German Black Forest would become an international business, complete with tour brokers and veteran leisure enthusiasts from all classes who had been to places or done things with their time away from work that their grandparents might have understood but that would have seemed inexplicably strange to anyone from generations earlier.

See alsoBourgeoisie; Industrial Revolution, First; Railroads; Seaside Resorts; Secularization; Tourism.


Bailey, Peter. Leisure and Class in Victorian England: Rational Recreation and the Contest for Control, 1830–1885. London, 1978.

Baranowski, Shelley, and Ellen Furlough, eds. Being Elsewhere: Tourism, Consumer Culture, and Identity in Modern Europe and North America. Ann Arbor, Mich., 2001.

Cunningham, Hugh. Leisure in the Industrial Revolution, c. 1770–c. 1880. New York, 1980.

Mackaman, Douglas Peter. Leisure Settings: Bourgeois Culture, Medicine, and the Spa in Modern France. Chicago, 1998.

Douglas P. Mackaman

views updated

leisure The release of the body from the tension and strain of work may be understood as a natural physical response to fatigue. Yet relaxation as a regulated right of human labour in the Western world emerged only in the nineteenth century, and ever since has been repeatedly checked by anxieties about mass leisure and by the dynamics of economic growth.

Many cultures share a 7-day cycle of 6-days' work with one day's rest and societies break up routinized labour with festivals. In medieval Europe, 100 holidays per year was common. Over time, holidays were extended with the addition, for example, of half-day ‘preparations’ preceding feast days. Workdays varied in length with daylight, weather, and the task to be done. The average was probably about 10 hours. As late as the eighteenth century, economists assumed that workers would work less if given increased wages, preferring more leisure to higher incomes.

Yet this image of a pre-industrial ‘leisure ethic’ must be qualified. Most festivals corresponded to lulls in seasonal work cycles, usually tied to agriculture. This explains, for example, the long season of holidays between October and February. Even holidays like midsummer (late June) and the English Wakes' Week (August) coincided with breaks in the farming work cycle. These holidays did not conform to the need of the body for rest. And many work-free saints' days and even Sunday were more of a privilege than a right, bestowed on the skilled and politically powerful urban male trades.

The growth of markets and mechanized production gradually undermined the traditional leisure culture but also established conditions for regular relaxation as a right. Religious reformers attacked both the length and unruly practices of festivals like Mardi Gras, especially from the second half of the sixteenth century. During the 1650s, English Puritans attempted to replace the irregular festival calendar with the weekly and subdued Sabbath rest. The attempt of the first French Republic in 1793 to create a 10-day week to replace the ‘Christian’ 7-day week and festival calender was merely an extreme example of a common effort of market-oriented reformers to increase the regularity of work. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, long festival seasons (like the week between Christmas and New Year) were reduced to single holidays. Employers also suppressed the informal practice among mostly privileged male trades of ‘Saint Monday’ — extending the Sunday rest into Monday. By the 1820s, by taking advantage of gas lighting, employers lengthened workdays in textile factories to 12 and 14 hours. They increased working hours in order to meet competition and to make efficient use of expensive machinery.

The demands of a market/mechanized economy for a more disciplined workforce led élites to attack the anarchic character of much of festival leisure. They opposed the release of physical and psychological tensions in bursts of boisterous play (drinking, gambling, and violent sport) that was common in the festival play of the popular classes. Wealthy English gradually withdrew their patronage of local festivals and even blocked access to popular sports fields and walking paths. Authorities outlawed violent, chaotic inter-village sporting matches and tried to license ale houses and other drinking places in hopes of reducing gambling, blood sports like cock fighting, and too-ready access to drink.

By the 1830s, more positive notions of relaxation were beginning to appear when reformers (doctors, clergy, politicians, and even some factory owners) began to recognize the social, biological, and cultural costs of overwork. The revival of the Anglo-American Sabbatarian movement was an attempt to prevent work and the market from invading the sanctity of Sunday rest and religious observance. And by the 1850s, factory owners in Britain were beginning to grant women workers a Saturday half-holiday in hopes that this would give them time to shop and clean in anticipation of a restful family Sunday.

In the 1830s and 1840s, reformers found the increased intensity, regularity, and length of worktime in mechanized textile jobs to threaten the education and growth of children. Long, exhausting hours for women seemed to undermine the female's ‘duty’ to produce children and to care for the family. These concerns culminated in the English 10-hour day law of 1847 for women and children in textile factories. American and European employers and governments only grudgingly granted the right to leisure, applying it in stages, first to children, then to women, and then to men in dangerous or especially fatiguing trades (like mining).

Victorian reformers also promoted new forms of leisure in ‘rational recreation’. The ideal was a leisure designed to restore the body, improve the mind, and compensate for the loss of domestic life due to the separation of work from home caused by industrialization. Among its many forms were the public parks intended to encourage family promenades on Sundays, the home-like atmospheres of YMCA reading rooms, and even ‘rationalized’ sports like soccer controlled by strict rules and referees that minimized injury and violence.

These ideas about recreation emerged from the middle classes. Although they trickled down to labourers, working-class leisure retained many aspects of the traditional festival culture. Rational recreation was best expressed in the suburban ideal of the bourgeois family home that had clearly emerged by 1850. There, parlour board games, oral reading of new family magazines, and outdoor sports like croquet could bind the family, sheltered from the disorder of the urban crowds.

Despite the success of the Ten-Hour Law, intellectual and business élites continued to fear that a legal limit to the workday would force businesses into costly investments in machinery and inventory, make industry less competitive in expanding markets, and undermine employers' social control over workers. Late Victorian and early twentieth-century intellectuals like Le Bon, Durkheim, and Freud were obsessed that freedom from work would unleash the passions of urban crowds.

Still others argued that regular relaxation should be a fruit of increased productivity and a necessity of more intense work. Scientific management, pioneered by the American Frederick Taylor in the 1890s, found that new pay and work methods and reorganized factories could increase individual output and make it possible to reduce daily working hours. Especially after 1912, trade unionists and reformers proposed a trade off of more intense and strictly managed work for an 8-hour workday. Beginning with Herman von Helmholtz in the 1860s, scientists began to understand the working body as a ‘motor’ with a measurable capacity for work and the need for regularly spaced rest. This concept challenged the view that the natural ‘laziness’ of workers could be overcome only by applying external discipline. Work scientists like Angelo Mosso believed that output could be optimized if exhaustion was avoided. Overwork reduced longevity, decreased fertility, stunted the growth of youth, produced insomnia and nervousness, and encouraged alcoholism and torpor. Efficiency in the human motor required daily and weekly rest breaks and even regularly spaced rests within the workday. The sophistication of work science grew during World War I, providing a powerful support for the 8-hour, 6-day week which became common in 1919.

In the 1930s, Western European workers won an annual paid holiday and Americans won a 2-day weekend. After World War II, these reductions made possible working-class tourism (especially in Europe) and suburbanization (especially in the US). In the postwar generation, a ‘perfect’ balance of work and leisure seem to have been achieved in the US, ideally based on wage-earning husbands working 40 hours a week supported by a homemaking wife in the suburbs.

Since the 1970s, complex economic and social trends have reversed the historical trend toward increased leisure time. Increased speed of communications and transport along with the rise of global competition have created the 24-hour economy and, with it, work at all hours. Economic maximizing and consumerism have induced workers not only to opt for overtime but to choose timesaving devices to aid in their leisure. This has meant a saturation of free time with leisure goods and their maintenance, thus creating what Staffan Linder calls a ‘harried leisure class’ of consumers. Decline in the rates of growth in the West from the 1970s and the rise of the Pacific Rim economies, where leisure time still does not match Western standards, has weakened the influence of Western labour and efforts to reduce worktime. The more than doubling of the rate of married women in the workforce since the war (from 25% to 61% between 1950 and 1981 in Britain) has undermined the domestic culture upon which family leisure was formerly based and has created serious pressures on women to stretch time between wage and caring work. Many two-income couples, especially those unable to purchase personal services, have experienced a ‘domestic speedup’ when the traditional realms of personal life — family care and leisure — are crammed into shorter periods of the week. Relaxation is an elusive goal, despite the increases in productivity that should make it attainable for all.

Gary Cross

See also relaxation; sport.