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Leisure is a notoriously difficult concept to define. The study of leisure has early origins stretching back to the 1920s and Veblen’s The Theory of the Leisure Class (1925). However, it was in the 1960s and 1970s that the foundations of leisure studies as an academic area were laid. Early writers such as Dumazedier in Towards a Society of Leisure (1967) defined leisure as activity that is set apart from other obligations such as work and family and provides individuals with the opportunity for relaxation, the broadening of knowledge, and social participation. Dumazedier’s definition highlights the notion that leisure involves pleasure and freedom of choice and that this sets it apart from paid work and everyday commitments. Leisure could be seen as compensation, a means of escape from the routines of daily labor, or as residual time, time left over when other commitments have taken place.
The definition of leisure as in opposition to work and other obligations has been very significant within the sociology of leisure. In the UK, Parker (1971) was a major contribution that explored in greater detail this relationship between work and leisure and argued that leisure is an important aspect of social life that demands rigorous sociological analysis alongside the more conventional areas of work, family, education, youth, and soon. He argued that it was with industrialization that leisure became viewed as a separate sphere of life as work became more clearly demarcated in terms of time and space. Therefore, leisure cannot be understood in isolation from work. Parker identified three aspects of the work-leisure relationship: extension, opposition, and neutrality. He viewed the extension pattern as showing little demarcation between work and leisure activities, giving the examples of social workers, teachers, and doctors as typical of those that experience work and leisure in this way. Opposition, as the name suggests, relies on an intentional dissimilarity between work and leisure and Parker highlighted people with tough physical jobs such as miners or oil-rig workers as typical within this category. His third pattern of neutralityis defined by an ”average demarcation of spheres. Workers whose jobs are neither fulfilling nor oppressive and who tend to be passive and uninvolved in both their work and leisure activities are defined by this pattern.
There were several criticisms of Parker s early typology of the work-leisure relationship that highlighted the limitations of this analysis for those outside of the paid workforce. The unemployed, the retired, students, and women working in the home as carers and undertaking domestic work were all identified as outside this work-leisure model as paid work is not central in their lives. However, the recognition of the importance of situating leisure within a social context, not as a separate, totally autonomous sphere of individual free choice, was an important contribution to the developing sociology of leisure. As leisure became analyzed within a social context, emerging definitions reflected the different emphases of competing theoretical perspectives within leisure studies.
Leisure contexts and activities are extremely broad and include sport, physical activity, tourism, media, the arts, countryside recreation, and new technologies, amongst others. Leisure continues to provide an important site through which sociological questions can be explored. Work-leisure-family balance remains crucial to achieving quality of life and is of increasing significance as paid work intensifies, becomes more flexible, and working life becomes extended. The place of leisure in achieving work-life balance remains an important sociological question, as do questions relating to retirement, ”serious leisure, and volunteerism. However, the early emphasis on the work-leisure relationship is being replaced, at least to a certain extent, by questions relating to the depth and spread of consumer culture.
- Parker, S. (1971) The Future of Work and Leisure. MacGibbon & Kee, London.
- Rojek, C. (2000) Leisure and Culture. Palgrave, Basingstoke.