The Labour of Leisure: The Culture of Free Time


Chris Rojek

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    The First Principle of Action is Leisure,’ Aristotle, Politics

    List of Figures

    • 1 20 Richest people in the world (2008) 15
    • 2 UK time-use survey, people aged 16 and over 24
    • 3 US time-use, people aged 15 and over (2005) 25
    • 4 Distribution of religious faith in England and Wales 64
    • 5 Distribution of religious faith in the USA (2001) 66
    • 6 NRPA top 10 books on leisure and recreation 106
  • Notes

    1 This example is borrowed from Norbert Elias. Elias deliberately untied his shoelaces and walked in city streets in order to discover the effect on pedestrians. This is reminiscent of Harold Garfinkel's (1967) famous ‘breaching experiments’ which called upon students to examine the taken-for-granted assumptions and rules of everyday life by deliberately disrupting them. It is very unlikely that Elias knew about Garfinkel's work at the time. For an account of the content of Elias's shoelace experiment see Moerth, I. (2008) ‘The Shoe-Lace Breaching Experiment’,

    2 I introduced A&B analysis into the study of leisure because I was interested in how we might analyse trajectories of behaviour in leisure locations without falling back on the preconceptions of race, gender and class (Rojek 2005: 24–7). This is very much a mind game about the dynamics of social relationships in leisure settings. It is not intended as a plea for a new direction in the methodology of leisure studies! I simply wanted to illuminate quantitative issues in trajectories of leisure behaviour. Their significance, I fancy, is often obscured by the quite natural tendency of researchers and students working in particular traditions of leisure study to foreground qualitative issues.

    1 Deregulation refers to the relaxation of state rules governing the financial and employment requirements of corporations. Out-sourcing refers to the strategic decision to allocate resourcing responsibilities to specialized private contractors. Naomi Klein (2007), in her provocative and informative book, noted that the Pentagon has awarded key munitions supply contracts to private companies as a strategy for controlling the cost of the Armed Services and enhancing evidence-based efficiency. One of the main beneficiaries is Halliburton Energy Services, based in Houston, Texas. Dick Cheney, the Vice President in George Bush's administrations, served as Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer of Halliburton between 1995–2000.

    2 Richard Florida (2002) provides an influential modern take on this line of argument. He submits that leisure resources are a primary consideration in choices about contemporary business location. Under the new capitalism (or what I call neat capitalism), the creative class does not simply want high income and prestige, they want access to beaches, golf courses, cultural centres, nature parks and other leisure and recreation resources. For Florida, leisure capacity is now a major element in business recruitment and location strategy.

    3 Invasive and mephitic forms of leisure are orientated around a) gaining risky leisure experience that may pose a threat to personal wellbeing and mortality; and b) posing a risk to others. The chains of supply of illegal leisure resources is, by definition, covert. Katz (1988) has suggested that part of the attraction of criminal activity is the simple offloading of repressive controls required by modern civilization. This also applies to illegal forms of leisure practice. Another source of attraction here might be the hidden or ‘secret’ character of these leisure lives.

    1 The father of structuralism was Ferdinand de Saussure (1974). He argued that a sign is the basic unit of language. Every language constitutes a system of signs. Parole (the individual act of communication) is the expression of language. For Saussure the system of language was founded upon a series of recognized differences combined with a series of different ideas. His work therefore raised important questions relating to the generation of meaning and representation. In the field of leisure these ideas have been developed most eloquently and insightfully by Dean MacCannell (1976). MacCannell's theory of markers is pivotal in understanding the laws of representation in modern tourism.

    2 ‘Crackpot realism’ is a phrase coined by C. Wright Mills (1958). He used it to refer to the nuclear arms struggle in the Cold War. Mills viewed this as a crackpot way to allocate resources since its end point was nuclear annihilation. The phrase can be extended to a number of different settings. The audit trail in the modern university, which aims to measure educational outcomes quantitatively, is one that comes to mind!

    3 Sayyid Qutb is widely regarded as the father of Islamic fundamentalism. His (2008) attack on Western permissiveness offers a counterpoint to Islamic programmes of modernization. His execution and defence of the traditional values of Islam have been a major resource in the terrorist jihad against the West over the last thirty years.

    1 By the term ‘second nature’ I mean the social and psychological resources that we assimilate and which become a condition of practising as a competent, relevant, credible actor. Our ‘first nature’ refers to our genetic inheritance and human drives. Second nature is learned social behaviour that has been accumulated over millennia and which now helps to define human behaviour as distinct.

    1 As Marx and Engels (1970: 8) put it:

    Through the emancipation of private property from the community, the State has become a separate entity, beside and outside civil society; but it is nothing more than the form of organization which the bourgeois necessarily adopt both for internal and external purposes, for the mutual guarantee of their property and interests … Since the State is the form in which the individuals of a ruling class assert their common interests, and in which the whole of civil society of an epoch is epitomized, it follows that the State mediates in the formation of all common institutions and that the institutions receive a political form. Hence, the illusion that law is based on the will, and indeed on the will divorced from its real basis – on free will [emphasis in original].

    For Marx and Engels then the concept of freedom in capitalist society is adapted to fulfil the interests of the dominant class.

    2 Wallerstein's (1974, 2004, 2006) core, periphery and semi-periphery model has its detractors. The model is regarded as too rigid and as lacking clarity. Within core countries there are peripheral and semi-peripheral regions. However, notwithstanding these criticisms I have found Wallerstein's division of the world to be a very helpful way of reading globalization. Wallerstein divides the globe into:

    • Core countries, consisting of advanced urban-industrial economies, sophisticated financial sectors, highly developed education sectors and serious global military capacity.
    • Periphery countries, composed of emerging urban-industrial economies, weak financial sectors, under-developed education sectors and weak global military capacity.
    • Semi-periphery countries, consisting of developing urban-industrial economies, with medium-sized financial sectors, emerging education sectors and medium-sized global military capacity.

    3 The terms ‘one-way’ and two-way’ convergence were introduced by Eric Dunning and Earl Hopper (1966) in the context of the debate over industrialism and convergence. ‘One-way convergence’ refers to the magnetizing effect that one developed social and economic system has in producing replicas of itself in emerging social systems in terms of social institutions, economic levels of development, political parties and personality types. ‘Two-way convergence’ refers to the exchange of institutions between social systems in terms of social institutions, economic levels of development, political parties and personality types. Dunning and Hopper (1966) were taking issue with Kerr et al. (1962) who submitted that the American system of urban-industrial market society is constructed around an implacable logic of industrialization that all industrializing nations are fated to obey. Instead of converging to one (American) type, Dunning and Hopper contended that industrialization involves a permutation of exchange in which social institutions, political systems and personality types from competing systems are exchanged. Many aspects of this debate, which also drew in the acerbic John Goldthorpe (1971), can usefully be reconsidered in relation to the modern debate on globalization.

    1 The US Surgeon General's Report was preceded by a Report from the Royal College of Physicians (1962) which drew broadly similar conclusions.

    1 The phrase is a play on the phrase ‘It's the economy, stupid.’ Coined by the Democrat Party campaign strategist, James Carville in the 1992 presidential campaign, it was successfully used by Bill Clinton to imply that the presidential policies of George W. Bush neglected the domestic economy by focusing too much on foreign policy issues.

    2 Emile Durkheim was responsible for tarring leisure with the brush of being ‘less serious’. He viewed leisure, sport and recreation as fulfilling a subsidiary, compensatory function in industrial society. As he (1893: 26) put it: ‘It appears in the nature of things [that] sport and recreation develops side by side with the serious life which it serves to balance and relieve.’

    3 I am indebted to my friend A.J. Veal for correspondence that clarified these matters for me. Tony is in no way responsible for the interpretation that I have put upon these figures here.

    4 Garry Chick provided me with very useful data on American programmes in leisure and recreation. Garry is in no way responsible for the interpretation that I have put upon these figures here.

    5 For this reading of the Ancient Greek roots of the term ‘leisure’ I am indebted to Michael O'Loughlin's (1978) study of the literary celebration of civic and retired leisure. This book is little known in Leisure Studies/Science, yet it is a treasure trove of insights about the ancient and modern meaning of leisure.

    6 Throughout the book I have emphasized that human beings are positioned in relation to scarcity. I have also quoted favourably Fred Hirsch's (1976) theory of positional goods which argues that even in an epoch of abundance new relations of scarcity are bound to develop around prestige and honorific values. So in referring to the immense redistribution of time and wealth achieved in the industrialurban age I am not offering an apology for the current distribution of scarcity. Rather I am making the point that never in human history has so much surplus been shared out to so many. To say this does not gainsay that inequality is still a welt on the face of industrial capitalism. For the Third World, in relation to the advanced industrial economies, it is more than this. It is an abomination.


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    Author Index

    • O'Neill, M. 70
    • Oerton, J. 70

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