Leisure, Theory of

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The study of leisure presents interesting theoretical challenges. The first challenge exists because leisure has both an empirical and a normative dimension, each present at the same time. Borrowing from ethical theory, leisure contains both an is and an ought: One can observe leisure as it is in the world and one can also say what leisure ought to be. The leisure ome observes exists in specific activities; leisure as ought to be exists in norms and ideals. People experience something of this in their own lives as a contrast between the leisure they have and the leisure they wish to have, or between how they actually use their leisure and how it should be used. Leisure is something people both have and aspire to have. The extent to which leisure's empirical and normative dimensions are congruent—the fit between what people do in their leisure and what they should do, the leisure they have and the leisure they aspire to have—is always an open question, but there can be little doubt that these dimensions are closely intertwined. One task for theories of leisure is to articulate leisure's empirical and normative dimensions, examine their congruence (or lack of it), and explore the implications this has for us as individuals and as a society.

A second theoretical challenge exists because leisure is never merely abstract. People are familiar with leisure in ways they are not familiar with quarks, fractals, or the time shift continuum. They have first-hand experience of leisure as participants and observers, because leisure is part of their daily lives. Yet precisely this familiarity raises barriers to a fuller understanding of leisure. When people are familiar with something, they often take it for granted, regarding it as given or unproblematic. In the case of leisure, this tendency is reinforced by sociocultural influences, which have been particularly strong in the United States, that reduce leisure to a supposedly marginal element of people's lives, making it less likely that leisure's complexities and importance will be recognized. Somewhat paradoxically, then, a second task for theories of leisure is to rescue leisure not from obscurity, but rather from the consequences of its very familiarity.

A third theoretical challenge arises because despite being part of daily life, people often experience or think about leisure in very different ways. This point has not always been fully appreciated. Modern social science, of which leisure research is a part, was built on the twin convictions that (a) human behavior has common denominators (b) which it is the purpose of social science to uncover. These convictions were especially strong in the United States from about the mid-1950s to the mid-1980s.

Theories of Leisure: A Quick Survey

With this background in hand, it is possible to survey some of the theories of leisure that have been influential. This survey cannot do justice to the complexities some of these theories involve, but it can suggest the range of such theories along with the characteristic questions they address.

A good deal of the most influential research on leisure has been primarily descriptive and organized around definitions of leisure. This has an important consequence, namely, it increases the difficulty of evaluating any propositions derived from these definitions without also challenging the descriptions on which they are based. This has created a tendency to accumulate successive descriptive accounts of leisure rather than developing these accounts into theoretically refined statements. Descriptions of leisure commonly include references to the presence of choice or, alternatively, the absence of compulsion; the presence of intrinsic rather than extrinsic motivations, and the absence of internal or external constraints on carrying individual preferences into action. These elements are in turn often bundled together under the broad and therefore imprecise label of freedom. Most research of this sort in the U. S. has, however, concentrated on individual choices and preferences, and has thus neglected important historical, sociocultural influences affecting the structure and content of individual action, not least during leisure. These issues will recur throughout the following survey, which begins with a look at two individuals whose theories of leisure are most widely recognized.

Weber: The Protestant Ethic Max Weber, one of the towering figures in modern sociology, made foundational contributions in numerous fields of sociological analysis. Among them was the study of religion's influences on social norms and individual action. This is the context within which Weber's classic study The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (1904-1905/1930) took shape. Weber understood modern capitalism as an ongoing quest for gain in itself. Profits are accrued not so they may be spent but so they may be reinvested to accrue still further profits. The continuous process of systematic labor, gain, and reinvestment distinguishes modern capitalism from all other economic and social systems. Yet Weber also believed such sustained labor and self-denial run against human nature, making some incentive necessary to overcome this hitherto limiting barrier. Weber observed that although capitalism appeared in various forms and places earlier in history, it developed most thoroughly, both economically and socially, only in those parts of Western Europe and North America that were dominated by Protestantism. Why?

Weber's answer was the Protestant ethic, a distinctive set of social norms that evolved from changes in religious doctrine during the Reformation (roughly 1500 to 1650). Weber argued that the Protestant ethic encouraged the asceticism and provided the incentives necessary for capitalism to overcome the constraints of tradition. Asceticism—defined as stringent self-discipline, austerity, abstinence—was essential to reinvesting rather than spending profits, a key element in modern capitalism. The incentives for such future-oriented self-denial were originally religious, eternal salvation and the glorification of God through diligent work. When the religious doctrines underlying these incentives weakened, as they did in the U. S. beginning no later than the mid-eighteenth century, the ascetic character traits encouraged by the Protestant ethic were becoming secular social norms. The incentives were also becoming secularized. Diligent work earned the individual a reputation for having an upright character, for being self-supporting and reliable. Considerable importance was attached to personal reputation, in business and in society, so there remained strong incentives for conforming to the Protestant ethic in its secularized form. If it was no longer associated with eternal salvation, the Protestant ethic did point the way to earthly success.

The Protestant ethic did not exclude leisure, but it did insist on leisure of a very particular sort. Leisure was not to obstruct fulfilling the duties of one's calling or diligent work. Idleness or mere amusement was not to be tolerated. Leisure was for rejuvenating the mind and body, not enjoyment for its own sake. Not only did excess or indulgence threaten diligence, they revealed a weak character. Proper leisure, according to the Puritan minister Benjamin Colman (1707), is properly "grave, serious, and devout, all of which it may be and yet free and cheerful" (p. 1). Such leisure is "sober mirth" that both knows and keeps it bounds.

Weber's theory has two significant weaknesses. The first of these is that he misread the history of capitalism and perhaps also misunderstood Catholic doctrine. The second is his failure to provide an adequate explanation of the Protestant ethic's transition from a body of religious doctrine to secular social norms. Nonetheless, Weber's The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism is undoubtedly the most widely known and discussed theory of leisure, one whose influence must be reckoned with to this day.

Veblen: Conspicuous Consumption Thorstein Veblen's The Theory of the Leisure Class (1988/1931) may be the only serious rival to Weber's The Protestant Ethic as the most widely known theory of leisure. The two theories take quite different approaches. Weber believed the emergence of modern capitalist society depended on the special circumstances created by the Protestant ethic. Veblen regarded modern capitalist society as the result of universal economic processes that are the basis of all human culture.

In Veblen's theory, two distinctions are fundamental to human social organization. The first distinction is between two forms of labor, industry and exploit; the second is between those who labor and those who do not. The structure of any society, however simple or complex, is derived from these basic distinctions. Industry is the making of something new, from scratch, giving raw materials form and purpose. Exploit is the turning to one's own ends something made by someone else, the results of someone else's industry. (Note how Veblen has loaded the dice by his choice of terms here.) Class distinctions began as differences between those engaged in industry and those engaged in exploit. Since industry was regarded as ignoble and exploit as honorable, exploit soon became associated with higher social standing. Eventually it became a mark of social distinction that one did not need to work at all in order to satisfy the everyday needs of life.

The origins of the leisure class lie in the transition from class distinctions based on type of labor to class distinctions based on ownership of goods and property. Economic growth accelerates this transition by enabling more and more people to acquire goods beyond a bare minimum. The usual assumption is that people acquire goods in order to use them in some fashion, but according to Veblen this assumption holds only so long as conditions of scarcity apply. Veblen argued instead that emulation is the real reason people acquire goods. Emulation is a natural process by through which people guide their behavior by making social comparisons between themselves and others. Ownership of goods and property lends itself especially well to such comparisons. It allows an "invidious distinction" (p. 26) to be drawn with precision among members of society according to their relative "pecuniary strength" (p. 86), that is, their ability to acquire and to display goods and property. Leisure is thus doubly valuable. It signifies that an individual need not work while providing an opportunity to display pecuniary strength. For the leisure class, this is a way of life.

Veblen was critical of the leisure class as it existed in the United States. Yet his theory is misunderstood if treated only as an expression of his disapproval of the leisure class's profligacy and disdain for productive labor. The true social significance of the leisure class lies in its role as the target of emulation by members of other classes. People want what remains just beyond their grasp, not what is beyond the range of possibility. Their reference is the standard of acquisition and display prevailing at the next level above them in society. Through an ongoing process of "invidious comparison" (p. 103) between people at one level with those at the next, the standards of acquisition and display among the leisure class trickle down from one level to the next. All standards of acquisition and display, argues Veblen, may be "traced back by insensible gradations to the usages and thought of the highest social and pecuniary class—the wealthy leisure class" (p. 104).

Perhaps the greatest weakness in Veblen's theory is his assumption of a unified leisure class, whose members share similar backgrounds and outlooks. Studies of the wealthy indicate this assumption does not hold, particularly when the distinction between earned wealth and inherited wealth is made. Veblen's theory also does not account for the power of marketing or the mass media to shape standards of popular taste and consumption.

Sociological Theory A considerable amount of sociological research on leisure was conducted during the second half of the twentieth century, most of it within one of three macro theoretic frameworks. Recall that a macro theory addresses society as a whole, its process and formation. Researchers work within macro theoretic frameworks to investigate more specific but possibly still quite broad questions.

The three frameworks will be addressed in roughly chronological order. The first of them is functionalism, which focuses on the integration of the different elements in a society into a cohesive whole. There are certain universal functions that must be performed for this to happen in any society, for example, status allocation, conflict reduction, or legitimation of authority. Although these functions must be performed in every society, they are not necessarily performed in the same ways or by the same structures. Functionalist leisure researchers ask what contributions leisure makes to performing these functions and thus contributing to societal integration and cohesion. A number of answers were offered, among them leisure as reward for work, as a "pressure valve" for release of individual and group tensions, and as a distraction from possible economic or social inequities.

The second macro theoretic framework is structuralism, which emphasizes the organization of a society into structured patterns of interaction. Families, friendship networks, race, social class, and formal organizations are examples of such structures. People occupy social roles within or because of these structures. A relatively fixed set of expectations is attached to each social role independently of the occupants in that role, and no matter what each occupant's skills might be, that occupant is expected to comply with the role. Structuralist leisure research, therefore, examines the influence of social structures on leisure; among the most frequently examined structures have been occupation, socio-economic class, gender, race, and age.

The third macro theoretic framework is post-structuralism, whose influence became more pronounced during the century's last thirty years or so. Post-structuralism recognizes and works with many of the same categories as structuralism, but it denies that those categoreies aer permanent, Instead, it treats them as more fluid, more ambiguous, and contingent, and therefore less fixed or permanent. Social roles are the consequences of boundary negotiations that are rather fixed according to location within a specific structure. Another difference is post-structuralism's recognition that individuals can fill multiple social roles simultaneously; structuralism, on the other hand, tends to restrict analysis to one social role at a time. Above all, post-structuralism rejects the universalism in functionalism and some forms of structuralism.

The existence of several theoretical frameworks, plus a wide range of questions addressed and methods applied, makes it difficult to summarize sociological theories of leisure (for evidence, see the leading textbook by Kelly & Godbey, 1992). As a result, two examples must suffice here.

The British sociologist Stanley Parker contributed significantly to analyzing the relationship between leisure and work. He regarded modern leisure as a reaction to modern work, fueled by increasing individual freedom in industrial society and the growth of social institutions specifically associated with leisure. Parker also thought modern leisure might develop sufficiently to become "an alternative source of ethical values" (1976, p. 29) challenging the primacy of work-based values. Yet Parker also argued that the distinction people make between leisure and work in their daily lives must not be overestimated. He challenged the value of conventional definitions of leisure as freely chosen activity. Though activities can be arranged on a continuum from compulsory to freely chosen, people may freely chose work as well as leisure.

Parker mixed structuralism with functionalism, which was not uncommon. The most powerful influences on leisure were, according to Parker, occupation, sex, and social class. Leisure has micro level and macro level functions: for individuals, it provides "relaxation, entertainment and personal development"; for society, it contributes to "maintaining the social system and achieving collective ends" (1983, pp. 33, 41). The most important factor in fulfilling these functions is the relationship between leisure and work.

Parker identified three dimensions in that relationship: involvement, activities, and attitudes. That is: the extent of one's work involvement may affect the extent of one's leisure involvement; one's work activities may influence one's choice of leisure activities; one's attitudes toward work may shape one's attitudes toward leisure. Each dimension of the leisure-work relationship can take three forms, which Parker labeled identity, contrast, and separateness. At the individual level, the identity relationship would mean that one's leisure and work activities are similar, that one is roughly equally involved in both, or that one has the same attitudes toward both. The contrast relationship reverses the pattern: One's leisure and work activities, involvement, or attitudes are different. Parker notes that these differences are deliberate and often quite sharp. The separateness relationship entails differences between leisure and work activities, involvement, or attitudes, but these differences are not deliberate. The individual distinguishes between leisure and work, but does not define them in terms of each other.

Parker drew several conclusions based on the then-existing research. He was noncommittal about the effects of work involvement on leisure involvement, but believed evidence suggested that work activities affected leisure activities. The clearest case was the contrast relationship between physically demanding work and physically inactive leisure. Occupation also had a distinct effect on the relationship between work and leisure attitudes. Managers and professionals reported that work was their central life interest, an identity relationship; industrial workers located their central life interests outside work, a contrast or separateness relationship.

Joffre Dumazedier, a French sociologist, contributed a number of early empirical studies that formed the basis of his subsequent speculations on the future and meanings of leisure in industrial society. Like Parker, Dumazedier was interested in the leisure-work relationship, but unlike Parker, Dumazedier had post-structural tendencies. Finally, again like Parker, Dumazedier believed modern leisure was decisively shaped by modern work, but Dumazedier also thought that the modern leisure-work relationship was changing in ways making its continuation unlikely. He thought a new leisure ethic of self-fulfillment was likely to replace it.

Dumazedier (1974) characterized leisure as "a periodical release from employment" (p. 15). He insisted that leisure was created by the structure of modern work and is a phenomenon "born of the industrial revolution" (p. 13). Two features of modern work were essential in the creation of leisure. First, work had to become freestanding, independent of traditional social statuses and the obligations attached to them. Second, paid work had to become the dominant form, creating the distinction between paid work time and nonwork time. The roots of modern leisure as "a periodical release from employment," something done after one's paid work obligations are fulfilled, lie in this distinction. For Dumazedier, leisure's subsequent development was an extension of its origins in the changing social structure of work.

Dumazedier conceptualized leisure in strongly individualist terms. Leisure is something the individual pursues of one's "own free will" for purposes separate from one's work, family, or social duties (1960, p. 527). In his view, modern leisure reflects the continued weakening of "a whole series of mediating [social] institutions" (1974, p. 39), leaving individuals steadily more dependent on themselves but also increasing their available time with no obligations and their control over it. Time previously allocated to fulfilling the obligations of traditional social statuses or to "rest and recuperation" for work could now be devoted to "the self-fulfillment of the individual" (p. 40). Dumazedier did not doubt that free time available for leisure would continue to increase, or that as people became more and more independent of social institutions and the obligations they imposed, people would use their leisure for the "creation and re-creation" of their individual personalities (p. 41). This was his "central hypothesis" (p. 43), that out of this process a new leisure ethic would develop, no longer oriented around workplace, family, or society, but instead around individual self-fulfillment and self-expression simultaneously.

Social Psychological Theories of Leisure

During the 1970s, partly in response to the fragmentation of sociological leisure research, there was an increasingly strong interest in the social psychological analysis of leisure. This became the dominant approach during much of the next thirty years. Social psychology had several attractions for leisure researchers, foremost among them a seemingly powerful conceptualization of leisure entailing three propositions: 1) Leisure consists of freely chosen activities, 2) participation in these activities is intrinsically motivated, that is, these activities are chosen for their own sakes, and 3) the individual has a sense of control over their outcome. The ease with which these propositions could be operationalized for use in empirical research was a further attraction.

The most influential social psychological theory of leisure was John Neulinger's (1981). Neulinger argued that the "one and only one essential criterion" for explaining leisure is the "condition of perceived freedom" (p. 16), which he defined as a state in which one "feels that what he/she is doing is done by choice and because one wants to do it" (p. 15). Significantly, Neulinger insisted that "any activity" meeting this criterion "may be associated with the experience of leisure" (emphasis added; p. 16). Asserting that "everyone knows the difference" between choosing to participate and being forced to participate in an activity, Neulinger blithely dismissed any need to explore the complexities of defining freedom. Going still further, he dismissed the distinction between "true freedom" and the "illusion" of freedom as "irrelevant" (p. 15). What matters, he believed, is the perception of freedom, not its reality. "Perceived freedom," which Neulinger readily admitted might be illusory, became the core criterion of his theory. It remains one of the most frequently used terms in leisure research.

A second social psychological theory of leisure was developed by Seppo Iso-Ahola (1980) using the concept of optimal arousal. Arousal is a response to stimulation; psychological arousal is one such response. Levels of psychological arousal are affected by such factors as the familiarity or novelty of the stimulation, its intensity, the presence or absence of threat, and an individual's perceived competence. Whenever psychological arousal levels are too high or too low, the result in an uncomfortable psychological state. Thresholds vary among individuals, but when the elements of stimulation are balanced—neither too high nor too low—they create a blend of challenge and competence experienced by the individual as an optimal level of arousal. According to Iso-Ahola, the presence of optimal arousal explains leisure. In theory people will select both leisure activities and leisure environments in search of this optimal arousal experience.

The third and final social psychological theory to be mentioned here is Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi's theory of flow. Csikszentmihalyi (1975 and expanded in 1990) described flow in four case studies of people engaged in intensely absorbing types of work and play. He reported that, at some point, these people became so deeply engrossed in their activities that they ceased to be aware of effort, the passage of time, or anything more than their immediate surroundings. They focused solely on the immediate experience and the satisfaction of meeting the challenges intrinsic to the activities in which they were engaged. These activities had become autotelic, that is, self-directing and self-justifying. Borrowing the term from a rock climber who described "flowing up the rock," Csikszentmihalyi labeled this the "flow experience." Flow requires that an individual's commitment and competence match the challenges of an activity in a specific environment. During the flow experience, people become so totally engaged that individual, activity, and environment seemingly merge.

Social psychological theories have been attractive in part because of the apparent clarity with which they define leisure, but therein also lies their fundamental weakness. They lack what may be called adequate discriminant power. Recall the earlier discussion of theory, in which it was stated that a theory must allow people to discriminate between what is leisure and what is not leisure. None of the social psychological theories discussed here meets this test. Csikszentmihalyi's flow theory applies to work as well as leisure, so this is less of a problem than it is for Neulinger's and Iso-Ahola's theories. Their weakness stems from the inadequacy of conceptualizing leisure solely as a psychological experience. None of the three experiences proposed as the core criterion for leisure—perceived freedom, optimal arousal, and flow—is found exclusively during leisure. Each also occurs during other activities, such as paid and unpaid work, study, fulfilling family and social responsibilities, and even personal care. Csikszentmihalyi recognizes this, but again, his is not a theory of leisure per se. Not only do Neulinger's and Iso-Ahola's theories fail to acknowledge that perceived freedom and optimal arousal occur outside leisure. They also omit such vital factors as sociocultural definitions of what count as leisure activities. These theories reduce individuals to vessels for perception or arousal, isolated from the contexts in which they act and which give their actions their full human richness. This is particularly troubling in Neulinger's theory. Given his cavalier disregard for any difference between actual freedom and the illusion of freedom, Neulinger's inattention to contextual factors affecting the scope of individual action trivializes the efforts people must make to meet the challenges posed by their social and material circumstances.

Prescriptive Theory One theme has appeared throughout this survey: freedom. From the ancient Greeks to the present, leisure has consistently been associated with freedom. Assumptions about the form and content of freedom in leisure have varied considerably, however. In most sociological and social-psychological theories, freedom is conceived as some form of choice—for example, the ability to chose in which activities to participate. Choice is not a very strict criterion for freedom, however. All that matters in most theories of leisure is that one choose an activity. Within broad limits, one's reasons for choosing that activity are immaterial. Note that a motivation is not the same as a reason. It is not adequate in itself to stipulate that a choice must be both noncompulsory and intrinsically motivated, that an activity must be worth doing for its own sake. People still require reasons why the activity is worth doing for its own sake. This is the task of prescriptive theories of leisure.

The conceptions of freedom in prescriptive theories tend to be very different than those encountered in sociological or social psychological theories. Freedom does not exist in choosing or even in the social and material conditions necessary to act on one's choice, but rather in having the character necessary to make the right choice according to a higher standard of ethical conduct. Rather than being understood as doing what one chooses, then, freedom in leisure may be understood as doing what one is called to do, fulfilling the requirements of moral and social duty, or responding to the demands of humanity's higher natures. Such leisure is not simply an abstract ideal. One sees it regularly manifested in public service, charitable volunteering, lifetime education, and spiritual or religious activity.

Aristotle developed the earliest, most influential, and perhaps still the most fully articulated prescriptive theory of leisure. To understand it requires some quick background. For Aristotle, each human activity aimed at a characteristic good in which it naturally culminated. Differences among those characteristic goods at which they aimed formed the basis for a hierarchy of activities according to their excellence, from least to most. Any activity pursued for its own sake had greater excellence than one whose good served only as a means to fulfill some other good. Greater excellence was associated with activities whose goods required those capacities that are uniquely human, such as the ability to reason and the desire for knowledge. Several criteria determined the excellence of such activities: the required type of reason, the purpose to which reason was applied, and how far the actual activity incorporated its ideal qualities. The ideal was both a standard against which the actual could be assessed and the "final cause" toward which the actual developed naturally if uncorrupted or unimpeded. This close linkage of the ideal, the actual, and action was characteristic of Aristotle's moral and political thought.

The highest good at which human action aims is eudaimonia, which means felicity or true happiness. Aristotle believed eudaimonia was achieved only through a life devoted to the right use of leisure, but he fell into something of a contradiction on that point. He described two ways leisure could be rightly used: first, through active participation in the civic and political life of the community; second, through a life of philosophical contemplation. In Book X of the Nichomachean Ethics Aristotle wrote that philosophy—the study of first principles, metaphysics, and logic—was the highest form of human reason and thus the best use of leisure. Yet in opening the Nichomachean Ethics he proclaimed politics the "master science" (p. 1084a). It concerned the polis, or city-state, the best form of human association with the highest purpose, creating citizens who were "good and capable of noble acts" (p. 1099b). Leisure was required both for learning about and doing good and noble acts. Scholars have argued for centuries over which was Aristotle's "true" position, but fortunately, the answer to that question does not matter in this essay. What matters is that Aristotle regarded leisure as the arena in which the highest human capacities were best used. Leisure, then, was for Aristotle an essential aspect of being human that people are led by their very nature to use well, for it is the "first principle of all action" (Politics, p. 1337b).

A second influential prescriptive theory of leisure was outlined by the theologian Josef Pieper in his Leisure, the Basis of Culture (1948/1963). Pieper's theory is a blend of Aristotelian contemplative leisure and Christianity. He believes that Acedia, that is, idleness or sloth, is one of the deadly sins and that it poses a threat to, and must be distinguished from, leisure. Pieper began by noting that leisure requires being at one with oneself, accepting who one is. Both idleness and what Pieper called "incapacity for leisure" interfere with achieving this state (all quotations are from pp. 40-41). He attributed the source of this incapacity to a ceaseless search for activity masquerading as taking charge of life. Thus neither free time nor free choice result in leisure, but simply allow the search for activity to be extended further. Leisure is "utterly contrary" to any work or work-like activity aimed at acquisition or control. It is instead a "form of silence," a "contemplative state," a "condition of the soul" creating "an inward calm" through which one rises above mundane concerns in order to "steep oneself in the whole of creation." Similar ideas are found in Francis Bregha's (1991) essay on leisure and freedom, in which he argues that although people now have greater freedom than ever before when making leisure choices, these seldom bring satisfaction in the absence of the moral guidance formerly provided by religious teachings.

Before closing this section, it should be noted that there is a prescriptive element, often unacknowledged, in a great deal of contemporary leisure research. Research intended to inform public policy making, for example, must by its nature address the desirability and feasibility of policy goals, including the use of scarce public resources to achieve them. Promotional campaigns like the so-called leisure benefits movement draw on research findings to bolster claims about the importance of leisure. Less obvious is the prescriptive element in researchers' decisions when selecting which leisure activities to analyze. Researchers tend to concentrate on a subset of leisure activities that Rojek (1999, p. 81) called "normal leisure," among them outdoor pursuits, sports, tourism, organized camping, hobbies, fitness, and socializing. Less desirable activities—variously termed "blue," "dark," or "deviant"—are seldom if ever studied as leisure. When they are studied, it is most likely with regard to their remediation or elimination. Leisure research thus displays a certain normative imbalance that leaves a considerable range of potentially leisure activity unexamined.


What are the current prospects for leisure theory in 2004? They are best described as guarded. The influence of social psychological theory continues, though there have been few recent significant refinements (for an exception, see Kleiber, 1999). Although social psychological concepts are well established in leisure research, it remains to be seen whether they will yield new insights. Economic theories being applied in tourism research and related subfields are directed more at consumer behavior than at leisure behavior. Stockdale (1989) complained that much of leisure research consists of "information gathering" with little concern for theory development; this continued to hold true in 2004. Nonetheless, several developments hold promise, including the following three items.

First there is the continuing strength of the cultural studies approach to leisure research. Investigators working within this approach point out that conventional meanings of leisure are socially conditioned and value-laden, which renders "conventional associations of 'freedom,' 'choice,' and 'self-determination with leisure" questionable (Rojek, 1995, p. 1). The meanings of these and other key terms—choice, satisfaction, preference, and leisure itself—are not fixed or neutral. They are instead the result of interactions among individual action, sociocultural influences, historical tradition, and material circumstances. These interactions are not random, so they yield distinct patterns of leisure activities, attitudes, meanings, and values. Two consequences of the cultural studies approach are particularly worth mentioning: the growing attention to so-called marginalized or excluded groups, such as racial and ethnic minorities and a more nuanced appreciation of popular culture's significance for leisure.

The maturation of feminist leisure research is a second development holding promise for continuing theoretical promise. The presence in leisure research of many different types of feminism has stimulated conceptual and methodological debates whose beneficial effects have fortunately spilled over into other subfields. Among other contributions, feminist researchers have pointed to gender-based differences in the process of identity formation during leisure. They have also analyzed the influence of gender-based social roles and stereotypes on women's participation in leisure activities. Perhaps most importantly, feminist researchers have been the most consistent challengers of the "universalizing" assumptions found in sociological and social psychological theory.

Finally, there is renewed interest in the significance of formal and informal social structures for leisure. Some time ago, Kelly (1978) pointed out that social role constraints exist during leisure in ways inconsistent with conventional definitions of leisure. More recently, Shaw and Dawson (2001) made a related point regarding the effects of role obligations attached to parenting on the motivational basis of family leisure. Rather than being freely chosen or intrinsically motivated, family leisure is often purpose-driven. Shaw and Dawson proposed the concept of purposive leisure to account for these social role effects. Further attention to the significance of social roles for leisure may encourage more nuanced theory-building. Other evidence of renewed interest in social structures is Hemingway's (1999, 2001) discussion of social networks and social capital generation in leisure, which suggested that leisure may contribute to the growth of community and participatory citizenship. The importance of administrative structures was demonstrated by Glover (2004), who applied citizenship theory in an analysis of different community centers and the resulting senses of belonging and involvement among the people who used them. Stebbins (2001) provided a more general statement regarding the significance of social organization for leisure. These efforts suggest there may be a growing awareness of the need for leisure theory to concern itself again with leisure's structural and institutional dimensions.

Each in its own way, these general developments—cultural studies, feminism, and renewed interest in social structure—address the theoretical challenges outlined at the start of this discussion. Whether they do so satisfactorily, and whether they will overcome the prevailing theoretical inertia in leisure research generally, remains to be seen. At the very least, however, the body of work surveyed here can leave no doubt that leisure is indeed a far more complex and important phenomenon than commonly assumed.

See also: Contemporary Leisure Patterns, Leisure and Civil Society, Leisure Class


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——. "Politics." Translated byB. Jowett. In The Complete Works of Aristotle. Edited by Jonathan Barnes. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1984.

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——. "What Goes Around Comes Around: Teaching for and about Social and Human Capital in Leisure Studies." Schole 16 (2001): pp. 1–13.

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John L. Hemingway

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