Decentring Leisure: Rethinking Leisure Theory


Chris Rojek

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  • Theory, Culture & Society

    Theory, Culture & Society caters for the resurgence of interest in culture within contemporary social science and the humanities. Building on the heritage of classical social theory, the book series examines ways in which this tradition has been reshaped by a new generation of theorists. It will also publish theoretically informed analyses of everyday life, popular culture, and new intellectual movements.

    editor: Mike Featherstone, University of Teesside

    series editorial board

    Roy Boyne, University of Northumbria at Newcastle

    Mike Hepworth, University of Aberdeen

    Scott Lash, University of Lancaster

    Roland Robertson, University of Pittsburgh

    Bryan S. Turner, Deakin University

    Recent volumes include:

    The Body and Social Theory

    Chris Shilling

    Symbolic Exchange and Death

    Jean Baudrillard

    Sociology in Question

    Pierre Bourdieu

    Economies of Signs and Space

    Scott Lash and John Urry

    Religion and Globalization

    Peter Beyer

    Baroque Reason

    The Aesthetics of Modernity

    Christine Buci-Glucksmann

    The Consuming Body

    Pasi Falk

    Cultural Identity and Global Process

    Jonathan Friedman

    The Established and the Outsiders

    Norbert Elias and John L. Scotson

    The Cinematic Society

    Norman Denzin


    View Copyright Page


    This book is dedicated to my grandparents

    Anka and Stasiek, Rose and William Patrick;

    and to my parents Betty and Joe


    This book was written in eighteen months between November 1992 and April 1994. Versions of the argument were delivered to staff seminars in the Department of Sociology, Monash University, Melbourne; the Department of Leisure Studies, Ottawa University; Lancaster University; and the Sir Norman Chester Centre for Sport Studies, Leicester University. The argument was further developed through plenary addresses at the Dutch Leisure Studies Association conference in Tilburg (1992); the Third International Leisure Studies Association conference in Loughborough University (1993); a public lecture at the College of St Mark and St John, Plymouth (1992); and session papers at the American Sociological Association conference in Pittsburgh (1992) and the Canadian Learned Society Conference at Carleton University, Ottawa (1993). I am most grateful to everyone who invited me to attend these events and to those who responded to my words.

    For a variety of reasons, and whether they were consciously aware of it or not, Bryan Turner, Barry Smart, Keith Tester, Zygmunt Bauman, Mike Featherstone, John Urry, David Frisby, David Chaney, Rob Shields, Stjepan Mestrovic and the management and staff of the Century-Paramount Hotel, New York City, aided and abetted this book. In a cowardly way – to protect myself from critics – I should like to break the convention that applies in academic acknowledgements and say categorically that the people listed above were wholly responsible for the arguments herewith supplied.

    But I cannot tell a lie …


    ‘There's a new cure for lonely travelers at the Chicago railroad station. For a quarter, a wax-covered robot shakes your hand and says: ‘Hello, my friend, how're your doing? It's been great seeing you. Have a good trip.’ (Marie Claire, January 1963)

    But you can only live life in one place at a time. And your own life while it's happening to you never has any atmosphere until it's a memory. (Andy Warhol)

  • Notes

    1. See, in particular, the work of functionalist writers such as Dumazedier (1967, 1974) and Parker (1981).

    2. Bauman (1976: 9–11) makes a similar point with regard to Utopia. The links between Western conceptions of leisure and Utopia have been under-explored. However, there is an obvious sense in which leisure is associated with ‘the good life’, richness and a more desirable, fulfilling existence.

    3. However, it will be apparent to the reader that I am not a proponent of the ‘cultural studies’ approach to the study of leisure. Culture, as Williams (1981: 10) remarked, is an ‘exceptionally complex term’. He distinguishes a variety of meanings of the term. For our purposes the two most important distinctions are the idealist and the materialist. Williams defined the idealist distinction as ‘the informing spirit’ and ‘signifying system’ which invests human practices and communication. He regarded the materialist meaning of culture as referring to ‘a whole social order’, a complete set of institutions and processes. To some extent the dichotomy between idealism and materialism is false. However, in my view the primary weakness of the cultural studies approach is the conflation of class and culture in pursuit of a. basically materialist explanation of society. It follows that the approach that I take here assigns more autonomy to the place of ideas, reverie and imagination in the organization of everyday life.

    4. The term ‘universal market’ comes from the work of Braverman (1974). It refers to the global commodification of natural resources and human sentiments. As Braverman (1974: 279) puts it, ‘corporate institutions … have transformed every means of entertainment and “sport” into a production process for the enlargement of capital.’

    5. See Lisa Buckingham, Andrew Gilf and Suzanne Goldberg, ‘The Battle for Global Vision’, Guardian, 23 October 1993.

    6. Drawing on Durkheimian sociology, Burns and Stalker (1961) make an early and useful distinction between ‘mechanical’ and ‘organic’ forms of organization. Mechanical forms are hierarchical, rule-bound, inflexible and perpetuate deferential authority systems. They tend to predominate in markets where the conditions of trading are relatively fixed and predictable. Organic forms are less hierarchical, more flexible and tie authority to knowledge. They tend to predominate in markets where conditions are unpredictable and subject to change. The postmodernist case is, of course, that mechanical forms are dinosaurs which are incapable of functioning in the postmodern market.

    7. In Schivelbusch's case the qualities that he singles out are velocity (1980), light (1988) and ambience (1992); for Sennett it is the disappearance of public space and for Lasch it is the continuous and intense examination of the self.

    8. For examples, see Rojek (1993a: 146–60).

    9. Commodity fetishism is the general worship of commodities above human relationships. The concept is closely associated with reification, that is, the transformation of human relations into objects so that they have an unchangeable ‘thing-like’ quality.

    Chapter 1 Capitalism: Production

    1. In classical Marxist terms, of course, profit is the surplus value extracted from the worker as a condition of the capitalist labour process.

    2. This is an example of a Fordist analysis of society. Fordism treats the labour process and the consumption process as an integrated whole. Thus the needs and conditions of workers must be managed in the home with the same rigour as in the workplace. The ideal is to subject the worker to a universal system of control and to engineer compliance through a commitment to ‘steadily improving lifestyle’.

    3. For discussions of the rational recreation movements in Britain and the USA, see Yeo (1976), Cunningham (1980), Bailey (1987), Ewen (1976), Ewen and Ewen (1982).

    4. The same image is realized cinematically in Fritz Lang's classic film Metropolis (1926). Here the city of the twenty-first century is envisaged as a robotic order in which a master race and slave class participate in a mutually annihilating order of domination with mathematical precision.

    5. The Frankfurt School is the name attributed to the privately funded Institute for Social Research founded in Frankfurt in the mid-1920s. The School assembled a dazzling array of sociologists, philosophers, literary critics, psychologists, economists and political scientists including Theodor Adorno, Max Horkheimer, Walter Benjamin, Erich Fromm, Otto Kirchheimer, Leo Lowenthal, Herbert Marcuse, Franz Neumann and Friedrich Pollock. Following the minatory ascent to power of the Nazis in Germany, Adorno and Horkheimer relocated the School in the USA in the late 1930s. They returned to Germany after the war, but Fromm, Lowenthal and Marcuse remained in America to continue the tradition of Frankfurt research.

    6. Marcuse's position changed rather significantly. His One-Dimensional Man (1964) was, as it were, the apogee of pessimism. It identified no prospect of breaking the strangle-hold of commodity fetishism and cultural manipulation organized by capitalism. However, in The Aesthetic Dimension (1978) he softens his position by allowing room for resistance and opposition.

    7. The now widely discredited work of Althusser and Poulantzas emerged to fill the gap.

    8. Althusser (1971) distinguished between the repressive state apparatus and ideological state apparatus. The repressive state apparatus referred to the coercive mechanisms of the state, such as the police, the army, the judiciary and the prisons; while the ideological state apparatus referred to the state-funded and – controlled machinery to organize consent and conformity by the manipulation of consciousness. Examples include the education system, the media and the Church.

    9. Their work is also clearly influenced by Durkheim and Foucault.

    10. Although, of course, many functionalist writers continue to support them with ardour undimmed.

    11. That these ‘contextualizations’ are never elucidated by Clarke and Critcher is a major weakness of their analysis. It invites the criticism that they see racial conflict as subsumed under class domination.

    12. Hughes thus suggests that racism pre-dated capitalism and therefore provides an historical basis for challenging the class analysis of Clarke and Critcher.

    13. This is not quite the same as saying that capitalism is irrelevant. Rather, capitalism is the necessary but not the sufficient context for studying racism.

    Chapter 2 Capitalism: Reproduction

    1. It is worth noting that patriarchy and the feminist reaction against it is a dichotomy constructed under modernity. It is therefore no surprise that the dichotomy should come under fire at a moment when postmodernism is become more fashionable. Postmodernism challenges the dichotomies installed under modernity.

    2. Post-feminisms is probably a more accurate term to use in this context than post-feminism.

    Chapter 3 Modernity 1: The Roots of Order

    1. Examples of this type of functionalist analysis in the literature are Parker (1983), Roberts (1978, 1981), Olszweska and Roberts (1989).

    2. For a general account of survey material in the study of leisure, see Veal (1987).

    3. Pluralism is therefore closely related to conservatism. It tends to celebrate difference and diversity without explaining the roots of social divisions. Interestingly postmodernism is associated with a version of critical pluralism in the form of identity politics. The latter stresses the variety of attitudes and divisions between groups. However, it combines this with a radical approach to the organization of power in society.

    4. Rybczynski's (1991) slack book on leisure time is a leading example of this position. I use the word ‘slack’ because Rybczynski makes no attempt to situate his position in the available literature. There is therefore an anecdotal, unprepared quality to his discussion of leisure which diminishes its interest for students in the field.

    5. There are, of course, strong connections between the regulation school and Fordism.

    6. The ‘there is no alternative’ attitude associated with the Thatcher-Reagan years is a good example of this attitude.

    7. The back to basics campaign foundered in the first months of 1994 as the press revealed a series of moral scandals involving senior members of the Conservative Party. The campaign's failure illustrates the problems that moral regulation campaigners face in conditions of critical pluralism.

    8. These projects are now, of course, widely scorned as objects of shame and regret in white culture.

    9. One of the principal arguments in the book is that leisure should be understood as the dream-world of modernity. That is, the qualities of escape, relaxation and rest associated with the concept of leisure are idealist constructs which reflect the materialist limitations of life under modernity.

    10. Indeed, from the standpoint of figurational sociology the notion of autonomous action is rather eccentric. Elias and his followers emphasize the chained, interdependent qualities of human action. One interesting implication of this – which has not been explored in the literature – is that it suggests that uniqueness in human affairs is a delusion. One might speculate that interesting parallels might be drawn between Elias and Benjamin on the questions of interdependence and reproduction.

    11. The history of the book is quite well known by now. However, for the benefit of readers who do not know, Elias’ Über den Prozeβ der Zivilisation was published in two volumes in 1939 in Basel by Verlag Haus zum Falken. The war put paid to much serious academic activity, not least reviews and discussions of challenging new books in sociology. Elias fled Nazi Germany and spent many difficult years re-establishing an academic career in England. He was appointed to a post in the Department of Sociology at Leicester University in 1954. Under the direction of the colourful, and much misunderstood, Ilya Neustadt, Leicester was arguably the most important provincial centre of sociological activity in the 1950s and 1960s. Chris Bryant, John Eldridge, Paul Hirst, Graeme Salaman and Bryan Wilson number among its most illustrious graduates; and Neustadt employed some of the leading figures in postwar British sociology, including Martin Albrow, Sheila Allen, Joe and Olive Banks, Richard Brown, Percy Cohen, Eric Dunning, Anthony Giddens, John H. Goldthorpe, Mary Mcintosh, Nicos Mouzelis and Sami Zubaida. All of these figures came into contact with Elias. But with the notable exception of Eric Dunning, none of them made a strong allegiance to figurational sociology and few refer to his work in their own publications. Yet in personal conversations with most of these people it is clear that Elias made a strong impression on them.

    I was an undergraduate and postgraduate student in Leicester between 1973 and 1979. Elias was still on campus at that time as an Emeritus Professor and his paper ‘Problems of Involvement and Detachment’, published by the British Journal of Sociology in 1956, was widely referenced by members of the department. I came across. The Civilizing Process via my third-year Sociology tutor, Eric Dunning, who allowed me to read his handwritten translation in 1976. However, it was not until 1978 that the first volume was published by Blackwell. Perhaps typically, given the history of Elias's bad luck in making the book available to readers, there was a four-year delay before the crucial second volume was published in English. The result is that the first volume was initially generally misunderstood as a mere ‘history of manners’. The second volume, which provided a sociological framework for explaining the historical changes in personality structure described in Chapter 1, was widely misperceived as a separate book.

    12. In fairness to figurational sociologists, the notion of ‘full testing’ is something of a non sequitur. Hypotheses and testing methods are themselves in process. All thought is therefore conditional.

    13. Perhaps the notion that we do not torture or butcher our enemies is too complacent. Peters (1985) quotes Victor Hugo's claim made in 1874 that ‘torture has ceased to exist’. According to Peters, torture is used routinely in one of every three countries.

    14. To some extent this disapproval is more symbolic than real. Throughout the writing of the book, the tragedy in former Yugoslavia unfolded and the response of the United Nations was widely criticized for being muddled and tokenistic.

    15. Interestingly, Elias never wrote much about the institution of psychiatry. The sole exception is his paper on sociology and psychiatry (1969).

    16. It is worth making this point given the view in the secondary literature that the approach is associated with intellectual arrogance.

    Chapter 4 Mechanisms of Regulation

    1. Marxist sociology posits that ‘a realm of freedom’ can be reached through the transformation of society by working-class revolution. Marx (1977, III: 820) writes: ‘The realm of freedom actually begins only where labour which is determined by necessity and mundane considerations ceases…. Freedom in this field can only consist in socialized man, the associated producers, rationally regulating their interchange with Nature, bringing it under common control, instead of being ruled by it as by the blind forces of Nature; and achieving this with the least expenditure of energy and under conditions most favourable to, and worthy of, their human nature.’ Marx's commitment to key elements in the Enlightenment project is evident in this passage.

    2. Exceptions include the feminist sociology of sport associated with Hargreaves (1994) and the sociology of culture associated with Craik (1993).

    3. They acquire a ‘sacred’ quality. Just as Durkheim (1915: 475) intimated in his remarks on the role of ‘collective remaking’ available for leisure in organic society.

    4. This expansionist, feel-good philosophy has suffered in the economic retrenchment in California that occurred in the 1980s and 1990s.

    5. Smiles was of course a Victorian paterfamilias who took it for granted that the economy of the home is based in a rigid division of labour between males and females.

    6. There are parallels between Bourdieu's use of the term ‘habitus’ and Veblen's use of the terms ‘emulation’ and ‘conspicuous consumption’. Both authors operate with the notion that leisure behaviour is shaped by distinct social strata.

    7. It might be argued, of course, that continued participation in fox-hunting is a mark of distinction – a way of defying the ‘political correctness’ of critics.

    8. Bourdieu here invites comparison with Elias’ sociology.

    9. ‘Fictive’ in the sense that most of the crucial elements of ‘nation’ and ‘nationalism’ subsist at the level of the symbolic and hence are capable of ‘adaptations’, ‘extensions’ and ‘interpretations’.

    10. Most of the jobs were concentrated in ironworks, chemical and rubber plants and fertilizer units.

    11. Opponents are also incensed over plans to acquire hundreds of acres of land around the monument for a huge national park; and also to raise the entrance fee from 2 to 100 rupees. The latter is seen as a move to appease foreign tourists by limiting the access of locals who ‘spoil’ the sight.

    12. It is good that this sense of wonderment is being retrieved by these and other writers. Too many neo-Marxist critiques of consumer society have presented consumption experience in terms of coercion, manipulation and brutalization (see Marcuse 1964; Clarke and Critcher 1985).

    13. These examples, of course, support feminist accounts of the rigid stereotypes of leisure behaviour constructed under patriarchy.

    14. A common fault in social science is to over-simplify complex processes of transformation by providing a ‘one-sided’ account of the origin and trends of development. It is worth making the point in this context as it can be argued with equal force that regulatory mechanisms expanded the human life-world by bringing new standards of security and restraint into daily life.

    Chapter 5 Modernity 2: The Disorder of Things

    1. In the funeral oration delivered at Highgate Cemetery, London, on 17 March 1883, Engels (1968: 429–30) credits Marx with discovering ‘the law of development of human history’, ‘the special law of motion governing the present day capitalist mode of production and the bourgeois society that this mode of production has created’.

    2. ‘Abstract, indeterminate beauty’ was the motor behind modernist Utopias such as the unpolluted fatherland of the Nazis and the society of equality and freedom dreamt of by the revolutionary Bolsheviks.

    3. Maffesoli (1993) has perhaps done most in recent years to adapt Nietzsche's Dionysian philosophy to consumer culture and present-day leisure practice.

    4. This is indeed strange because one can speculate with some confidence that ‘a dark area’ of deviant leisure activity is an ordinary part of contemporary experience. For example, one is struck by the popularity of drug-taking and trespassing in the ‘free time spectrum’.

    Chapter 6 The Phenomenology of Leisure

    1. ‘What is really going on’ was Goffman's obsession.

    2. Typifications are, of course, open to processes of negotiation and bargaining. While Schutz's (1982) sociology recognizes that the typification operates as a basis for ‘maintaining’ social interaction, he also insists that human actors are knowledgeable and capable agents who routinely challenge notions of ‘order’ and ‘normality’.

    Chapter 7 Postmodernity and Postmodernism

    1. Tester (1993) uses the term ‘without bounds’ to identify the primary characteristic of postmodernity. Modernity 1 attempted to lay down clear boundaries to govern human relations. Modernity 2 was associated with revealing the contradictions of these boundaries and constructing alternative boundaries which were believed to enrich human relations. Postmodernity plays with the boundaries of Modernity 1 and Modernity 2 and politically aims to expose their limitations.

    2. Bauman (1992, 1993) argues that postmodernity widens tolerance and enhances morality. ‘In so far as the modern obsession with purposefulness and utility,’ writes Bauman (1993: 36), ‘and the equally obsessive suspicion of all things autotelic (that is, claiming to be their own ends, and not means to something else than themselves) fade away, morality stands the chance of being finally coming into its own. It may stop being cajoled or bullied to present its credentials; to justify its right to exist by pointing to the benefit it brings to personal survival, standing or happiness, or the service it renders to collective security, law and order. This is a seminal chance.’

    Chapter 8 Postmodern Leisure

    1. The symbolic and material differences between whites and non-whites is a symptom of modernist consciousness. It attempted to set clear, unambiguous standards between ‘advanced’ and ‘backward’ conduct; but these standards were themselves untenable and only sustainable by the use of physical force.

    2. The position of Bauman (1992, 1993) and Tester (1993) contrasts radically with this interpretation of postmodernity. Bauman and Tester emphasize the potential for richness in postmodern experience.

    3. Simmel (1978) produced the seminal understanding of restlessness through his sociology of modern consciousness.

    4. This is of course radically different from the position in functionalist, Marxist and feminist traditions of leisure, which tend to emphasize the evolutionary universals in leisure practice.

    5. Postmodernism suggests that the ‘steering capacity’ of states to regulate morality and govern social conduct is seriously weakened by postmodern conditions.

    6. These secular events might be said to be an important channel of ‘collective remaking’. One is again struck by the prescience of Durkheim's (1915: 475) speculation that leisure and recreation have the capacity to replace the religious function in industrial, secular societies.

    7. This also reflects the omnipotence that is attributed to celebrities by the star system organized by the cultural industry. Death is simply treated as another thing that the industry can fix.

    8. The crime, shelves of bookshops are full of accounts of real murders which invite readers to ‘discover’ for themselves what really happened. The Murder Club, based in North Audley Street, London, invites members to become armchair detectives and points out that criminology is no longer the exclusive domain of scientists, lawyers and writers. The Club produces a bi-monthly bulletin devoted to every aspect of real-life murder cases – ‘new cases, old cases to marvel at, cases to solve’. Members receive their own unique badge, membership card and personal certificate of membership. Research programmes and ‘notorious locations’ tours and presentations are offered. In 1989 Harrap in association with the Murder Club published a series of guides to ‘true tales of dark deeds and arch fiends’ in all of the main regions of the UK.

    9. According to the story, a glass canopy collapsed on the passenger and despatched him.

    10. She is known locally as ‘Kate’ and is thought to be the ghost of Catherine of Aragon.

    11. All of the references to Shropshire's ‘ghostly tours’ and ‘ghostly breaks’ come from the Breakaway programme broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on 23 October 1993.

    12. Ironically, Adorno's forays into ‘real art’ in the form of his own musical composition are widely regarded to be minor pastiches and ‘repro versions’ of Schoenberg's music.

    13. Although, of course, the roots of dissatisfaction with modernist theory reach back to the 1960s.

    14. All quotations and details regarding the Battersea project come from ‘Leisure Leader Guns for Disney’, Guardian, 9 June 1988.

    15. Phineas Taylor Barnum has some claim to being regarded as the first great leisure entrepreneur in American culture. He began in 1835 by exhibiting a slave who he alleged had been George Washington's nurse and whom he announced as being 161 years old. He faked freaks such as the Fejee Mermaid, who he claimed was half-human (actually it was the top part of a mummified monkey attached to the bottom part of a dried fish); he managed genuine freak attractions such as the midget Tom Thumb, the giantess Anna Swan and the Siamese twins Eng/Chang; and he created the American Museum in 1841 on Broadway where he exhibited ‘educated dogs, industrious fleas, automatons, jugglers, ventriloquists, living statuary’. Barnum's (1869) autobiography is a rich and important document in the history of the leisure entrepreneur.

    Chapter 9 Conclusion: Homo Faber/Homo Ludens

    1. However, they are notably less forthcoming about what this liberation politics would look like. The position is therefore subject to the charge of being too Utopian.

    2. Of course, this is not a satisfactory apology for the condition of unemployment. Rather it simply suggests that this condition cannot be accurately understood in stereotypical terms.

    3. For Aronowitz (1985: 39–40) this introjection signifies the compliance of the workforce to capitalist domination. As he writes: ‘The political climate is unfavourable even for a substantial reduction of working hours, a measure which would certainly share the available work among a larger group of people and would not threaten the underlying moral structure that income should be a consequence of hard work…. The sad fact is that workers and their unions … have surrendered the shorter working week demand not only because in most cases the labour movement has been so severely weakened that it could not win; but also because it has lost the will to oppose the institutions of surplus repression.’

    4. The homo faber model was the corollary of this grid-like structure. It emphasized purposiverational action in the organization of life. The need for work is conceived as generating self-discipline and extending the creativity and knowledge of the individual. The homo faber model connects up with the agency-structure dichotomy that has traditionally dominated mainstream leisure theory. This dichotomy presents personal and social development in terms of a dialectic between agency and structure. Agency is generally conceived of as actions and practices which bring about change. Agency approaches to leisure relations are usually reinforced with voluntaristic paradigms which emphasize the choice, will, freedom and self-determination of the social actor. In contrast, structure is generally conceived as either the social contexts which nurture change or the barriers which condition action in leisure behaviour. Structure approaches tend to endorse deterministic paradigms of life, i.e. paradigms which highlight the importance of structural influences such as class, race, gender, nationalism and so forth in shaping personal conduct.

    The agency-structure dichotomy has recently been the subject of intense debate within sociology. The chief catalyst behind this has been Giddens’ (1979, 1984) claims to have transcended the dichotomy with his custom-built ‘structuration theory’. While paying due respect to the importance and ambition of Giddens’ work, several influential critics have rounded on these claims, attacking some of the basic premises of structuration theory (see, in particular, Craib 1991; Turner 1992). This is not the place to consider this matter in detail. Rather it will be enough to comment on the influence of the agency-structure dichotomy in the study of leisure and to draw attention to some of its primary defects.

    As I have noted elsewhere (Rojek 1989, 1992), the agency-structure dichotomy has dominated social thought on leisure. The work of Parker (1983), Roberts (1978) and Young and Wilmott (1973) can be numbered among leading representatives of agency theory; while the work of Clarke and Critcher (1985), Bialeschki and Henderson (1986), Green et al. (1987) and Scraton and Talbot (1989) may be referred to as examples of structure approaches. Because I have given a fairly full account of the relative strengths and weaknesses of these two approaches elsewhere (Rojek 1989, 1992) I will confine myself here to a critical consideration of the strengths and weaknesses of the dichotomy as a whole.

    On the strengths side, the dichotomy clearly identifies a motivating force to explain change – the conflict between personal actions and contextual limits, agency and structure – in leisure and social conduct. With this comes theoretical clarity and boldness in the formulation of propositions. Of course it is possible to complain that this clarity is an illusion and that this boldness is misplaced. However, at this point it should be recognized that there is considerable momentum in formulating questions of change in terms of the dichotomy between agency and structure. It allows for an exhaustive explanation of social life. Besides exhaustiveness, a second benefit is the containment of difficult and perhaps insoluble epistemological issues. By treating the individual and society, the agent and the structure, as integral, solid, separate entities, one avoids the entire subject of the discursive level of agency and structure. By concentrating on the discursive level, it is arguable that strategies of change are paralysed because discussion focuses not on action and its objects but on the ambiguities of action and the unintended consequences of intended actions.

    However, critics dismiss these strengths as mirages. Three basic weaknesses are generally identified with the agency-structure paradigm. First of all it is regarded as overestimating either the freedom of social actors or the mechanical reproductive effects of structures. For example, in leisure studies, agency theories have presented the social actor as possessing either freedom, choice or self-determination, while structure models have often depicted personal conduct as the determined consequence of structural forces.

    The second basic weakness that critics draw attention to is the tendency in the paradigm to present the two sides as alternatives. The possibility of a fluid, diverse, interactive, developing relationship between social actors and social structures is somewhat understated. Instead fairly crude functionalist assumptions are made. For example, the feminist sociology of leisure tends to present the structure of patriarchy as operating in a homogeneous way to oppress women. The class, race and lifestyle differences between women are thus marginalized, just as the criticism of patriarchy from within the orders of masculinity is neglected. Similarly, pluralist writers like Veal (1987) tend to assign freedom, choice and flexibility to the actor without revealing the historical and contextual dimensions of these characteristics. The result is an unsatisfactory ahistorical view of the social actor which is incapable of accounting for changes in the organization of leisure in society.

    The third major defect of the agency-structure paradigm is its neglect of the subject of embodiment. In agency theory the premise of all meaningful social life is the knowledgeable actor operating creatively upon nature and culture to produce change. For its part, structure theory commences with the premise that all social action is generated and shaped by layered social structures. However, from the standpoint of the emerging sociology of leisure, each premise is misplaced (Gehlen 1988; Turner 1984, 1992; Synott 1993; Classen 1993). From this standpoint the body is the first fact of social existence. Before we are in a position to act or to be shaped by social structures we experience bodily sensations and an acute sense of our own body as separate from other things in the world.


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