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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.

Additional topics

Marriage and Family EncyclopediaFamily & Marriage TraditionsLeisure - Meanings Of Leisure, Family's Influence On Leisure, Leisure's Influence On Family