The Meanings of Leisure

Term Paper, 2002

12 Pages, Grade: High Disti

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1. Introduction

2. Concepts of Leisure
2.1 Leisure as residual
2.2 Leisure as a state of being
2.3 Leisure as expression of personality

3. Theories of Leisure
3.1 Aristotelian Theory
3.2 Compensatory Theory
3.3 Spillover Theory
3.4 Familiarity Theory
3.5 Personal Community Theory
3.6 Self-development Theory

4. Conclusion

1. Introduction

To spend one’s life at leisure is one of the oldest dreams of human beings. Already Aristotle stated: “Just as we make war in order to have peace, the reason we labor is to have leisure”. But how does our modern society approach leisure? In this essay I will first examine some of the existing concepts and theories of leisure and make an attempt to determine their relevance for modern society. The aim shall be an integrative concept of leisure in our modern world. Due to space limitations it can only be a short summary of some of the existing literature.

2. Concepts of Defining Leisure

According to Bammel & Bammel, concepts are the basis of definitions, because they describe “the way you “conceive” of something” (Bammel & Bammel 1992, p. 186). At the same time, Bammel & Camel’s concepts are examined as “meanings of leisure” by Veal and Lynch.

2.1 Leisure as residual

This concept considers leisure as “the time left over when the necessities of life have been taken care of” (Bammel & Bammel 1992, p. 19).

The problem is how to define this residual. Is sleeping or eating a necessity of life or leisure?

Godbey defines free time as “time when we aren’t involved in an activity for which we receive money” (Godbey 1990, p. 3). But is mowing the lawn, volunteering, attending a wedding, etc. leisure just because we do not receive money for it?

Leisure also means “doing what one really wants to do” (Bammel & Bammel 1992, p. 19), and this is not limited to time after work: some people also enjoy working itself. On the other hand not all time besides work is leisure: Sleeping, eating, attending weddings etc. may be an obligation to some people.

This suggests that many activities can be both leisure and work at different times for different people. Therefore time cannot be the only determining variable of leisure.

2.2 Leisure as a state of being

This approach presents the antithesis to the first concept. Here, leisure is something internal, “a state of being, an attitude, a mental condition: it has nothing to do with time, and little do to with space and activity” (Bammel & Bammel 1992, p. 185). This concept was first developed by Aristotle (see 3.1). Kelly goes even further and states “the form of activity is irrelevant; only the meaning counts” (Kelly 2000, p. 15).

Here the determining variable is a person’s attitude. “What is leisure for one person may not be leisure for another person, for it depends on the mental attitude” Bammel & Bammel 1992, p. 185). This explains why some people find leisure in work and some in lying on the beach.

Godfrey is more specific and divides this concept into two parts: First, leisure as a state of existence, the “absence of the necessity of being occupied” (Aristotle quoted in Godfrey 1990, p. 4). Second, leisure as a state of mind, the feeling of freedom.

Veal and Lynch propose two other parts: First, the intrinsic motivation to undertake activities for their own sake, and second perceived freedom, which resembles Aristotle’s idea of “freedom from work and other obligations as a prerequisite for leisure” (Veal & Lynch 2002, p. 22).

2.3 Leisure as an expression of personality

This concept is closely related to the previous one. Here, leisure is seen as “what forms the personality and makes the person the kind of human being he or she is” (Bammel & Bammel 1992, p. 186).

The only difference between the last two approaches seems to be that this last concept sets an aim for leisure activities: forming the personality. Dumazedier supports this concept by stating “leisure is, more than anything else, the opportunity for personal growth” (Dumazedier quoted in Bammel & Bammel 1992, p. 197).

2.4 Leisure as Activity

This approach defines leisure by the form of activity, assuming that certain activities like softball are typically leisurely.

This implies problems similar to the time concept: How can an activity be defined as leisure? Softball may be leisure for the worker playing it on Sundays, but may be work for the professional softball-player. “There is nothing, except perhaps daydreaming, that is always leisure” (Kelly 2000, p. 15).

Veal and Lynch describe “activity” “as the solution to the practical problem of gathering data on patterns of leisure participation”, and divide activities into 9 categories (Veal & Lynch 2002, p. 20).

2.5 Application

One major problem of an application to modern society is the lack of specific data for these models. There has been hardly any explicit empirical research testing these hypotheses.

For the time-concept some research exists, like the Time Use Surveys of the ABS (also see Veal & Lynch 2002, pp. 126ff).

This shows the concept’s relevance to modern, clock-oriented society. Most people think of leisure as “free-time”. For example the translation of “leisure” to German is “Freizeit”, which literally means “free time”.

Leisure as a state of being seems to be more satisfying, but there is hardly any research done. One reason is the difficulty of measuring attitudes. One example for the relevance of this concept is the fact that a passionate teacher can experience leisure while teaching at work. But at the same time there are people who do not have this attitude.

The same accounts for leisure as an expression of personality.

Leisure as an activity accounts for some research like the “Australian Culture and Leisure Classification” of the ABS or Veal & Lynch chapter 5. One reason may be that it is easy to find categories of activities, call them leisure, and ask people what of these activities they exercise.

It can be concluded that all of these concepts seem to be relevant to modern society, but that time and activity probably represent what the majority perceives as leisure, whereas the concept of attitude seems to be reserved to those people who have done some reflection on their leisure.

3. Theories of Leisure

Bammel states “theories of leisure behavior explain how leisure relates to other aspects of human experience” (Bammel & Bammel 1992, p. 186). Here I will first explain the content of each theory and then attempt an application to modern society within the restrictions mentioned in 2.5.

3.1 Aristotelian Theory

a) Theory

Aristotle saw leisure as “the goal of all human behavior, the end toward which all action is directed” (Aristotle quoted in Bammel & Bammel 1992, p. 187). Leisure in this sense is reflection on oneself, and one major prerequisite for this is the freedom from obligations and necessities of life.

Aristotle supposes that the best part of a human being is reason, which has two functions: a practical and a theoretical one, and “to be a complete, well-rounded human being, you need to exercise both of these functions” (Bammel & Bammel 1992, p. 18). Therefore only solitary contemplation would not be enough to achieve leisure as one can only be virtuous by taking action in society. Vice versa only action without reflection cannot be leisure either.

“In this classical perspective, leisure is the cultivation of mind, spirit and character” (Bammel & Bammel 1992, p. 18). It has nothing to do with time, it is a state of mind and is a total antithesis to the time-concept. “Leisure is endangered when you start budgeting time for leisure”, it just happens.

In addition to this, leisure is “only for those who passionately pursue it” (Bammel & Bammel 1992, p. 187).

This approach contradicts nearly all of the views Kelly presents on leisure. For example leisure in this sense cannot be capitalist (see Kelly 2000, p. 96-96), as leisure-activities should be thoughtful. Aristotle excludes activities such as “pleasures of the flesh” (Bammel & Bammel 1992, p. 17) from true leisure.

b) Application

Aristotle offers a highly idealistic view of leisure. One of his major prerequisites is the a-temporality of leisure. But ever since industrialization our society has been clock- oriented (see 2.5), and therefore Aristotelian leisure seems to be hardly realizable.

One more point is that most of today’s leisure activities such as watching TV, gambling etc. were not regarded leisure by Aristotle.

On the other hand there are people seeking leisure in political discussion or engaging in social activities like demonstrations.

It can be concluded that a major part of our modern society is not exercising Aristotelian leisure, but some do.

3.2 Compensatory Theory

a) Theory

According to Parker and Paddick there are three different types of relations between work and leisure: spillover, compensation, neutrality (see Parker and Paddick 1990, pp. 47-48).

The following two theories state a relationship between work and leisure, whereas the rest of the theories presented here can be summarized under “neutrality”.

The main idea of the compensatory theory is that “work is seen as the dominant force in life, and leisure is seen compensating for either the boredom or the excitement of the job.” (Bammel & Bammel 1992, p. 188).

b) Application

This theory can explain some of the leisure behavior seen in modern society. For example people exciting jobs often seek relaxation after work.

It seems from the examples given by Bammel & Bammel that mostly people with an extreme level of either boredom or excitement in their job fall under this theory. This indicates that this approach has some relevance for modern society.

On the other hand this theory cannot explain why the school teacher becomes a sports trainer in his free time or why a dentist is also a passionate watchmaker.

3.3 Spillover Theory

a) Theory

This theory is the antithesis to the compensatory theory. It states “leisure somehow parallels or results from work activity” (Bammel & Bammel 1992, p. 190). It suggests that work has a strong impact on the worker’s personality and therefore also determines his leisure behavior. This means that a teacher gets used to teaching so much that he cannot help continuing it after work.

These last two theories equal Kelly’s approach to leisure as contextual (Kelly 2000, p. 90), which sees leisure embedded in habits, relationships and social arrangements like work.

b) Application

This theory, too, explains some parts of modern leisure behavior. A lot of people do things similar to their work in their free time, some even regard their work leisure.

But like the compensatory theory it can only explain parts of modern leisure behavior. There seem to be more variables involved.

3.4 Familiarity Theory

a) Theory

This approach seeks to explain why, for example, people return to the same spot for summer vacations every year, assuming that people keep on “doing the things that have previously given (them) good feelings of fulfillment and gratification” (Bammel & Bammel 1992, p. 191)

Skinner, as referred to in Bammel & Bammel, calls this “operant conditioning”, which means that, having experienced positive feelings by doing something, one returns to this to repeat the experience. For example someone who had a good time fishing is likely to return to this activity, especially at critical times.

b) Application

As mentioned above, a lot of people return to the same places for years, and even more people exercise the same hobbies throughout their lives.

But there are also people who get bored by this and seek challenges. Bammel & Bammel suggest the existence of two types of human beings: settlers, seeking stability, and movers, seeking differences.

There seem to be more “movers” in modern society, maybe because of the increasing amount of money available for leisure (see Veal & Lynch pp. 136ff). Due to this it is easier to try out new hobbies or travel to new places.

3.5 Personal Community Theory

a) Theory

This theory assumes that a person’s “leisure behavior is influenced by the peer group” (Bammel & Bammel 1992, p. 192), such as friends, family, and neighbors, because they often introduce people to certain forms of leisure.

In addition to this, human beings are social, seeking friends or groups with like interests. One is more likely to keep to one activity where he knows lots of people than to one where he is isolated.

Doing things together also deepens human relationships: “The family that plays together, stays together” (Bammel & Bammel 1992, p. 193).

The last two theories equal several of Kelly’s approaches to leisure, for example leisure as learned behavior (Kelly 2000, pp. 89-90), which sees leisure as part of socialization, influenced by “our families and immediate communities” (Kelly 2000, p. 90).

b) Application

Regarding the peer group “family”, this theory seems to have lost some relevance over time. Several decades ago life was much more concentrated on the family, with several generations sharing one house, whereas in our modern society most children move out of their parents´ house at the latest when starting to work. On the other hand, friends still have a lot of influence.

But there are also people who start an activity all alone, without being introduced to it - for example horse riding is popular among young girls, maybe because of the various books about it.

Therefore this theory only accounts for certain aspects of modern leisure behavior, and cannot claim total validity.

3.6 Self-development Theory

a) Theory

This theory is based on Dumazedier´s tripartite theory of leisure, consisting of three functions of leisure: relaxation, entertainment, and personal development. He supposes that there will be a time “when personal growth, not working for a living, will be life’s primary motivator” (Bammel & Bammel 1992, p. 195).

Here, relaxation is a prerequisite for leisure, as “we need to overcome fatigue”, entertainment is the “diversion aspect of leisure”, and finally personal development is “the enduring component of leisure” (Bammel & Bammel 1992, p. 24).

b) Application

Bammel and Bammel state that this approach has found its way into modern society, as most people regard work less important than personal growth (Bammel & Bammel 1992, p. 195). More and more workers make use of the possibility of sabbaticals for self-development, and for many young students not the money they will earn with their future job, but the satisfaction they hope to find there, seems to be the major influence on the choice of study.

But even though modern people have more free time than ever before, Bammel & Bammel state, “with additional free time, many workers simply increase their television-watching time” (p. 195). This means that most people will only realize the first two steps of Dumazedier´s tripartite theory: relaxation and entertainment. For many people this is what leisure means: easy entertainment. To achieve selfdevelopment some reflection and “work” on oneself is necessary, and this does not fit into a lot of people’s perceiving of leisure.

Therefore it can be assumed that Dumazedier´s approach can only explain parts of modern leisure.

4. Conclusion

Chapter three examined the so-called theories of leisure. But according to Bortz a theory consists of several hypotheses that have been empirically verified in themselves. In addition to this, a theory about human behavior should attempt to describe, explain and enable to predict behavior.

The theories mentioned above mostly lack every empirical research that could verify them, and some only propose one hypothesis. The spillover- and compensatory theory do not even attempt to explain human behavior, they are purely descriptive, and therefore no theory.

It seems more suitable to call these theories “aspects of leisure” and synthesize them to an integrative concept, as none of them in itself can offer a general explanation of leisure behavior.

Following this idea we could identify the theory of Aristotle and the self-development theory as accounting for why a person seeks leisure at all. Then the familiarity and the personal community theory account for the kind of leisure a person is most likely to choose. Finally, the compensatory and the spillover theory examine the influence of work on the choice of a leisure activity.

Altogether it seems doubtful that one single theory will ever be able to cover all aspects of human behavior, but when all of them are synthesized we come much closer to an explanation of leisure behavior.


Bammel & Bammel 1992 Leisure and Human Behaviour W.C. Brown, USA 2nd edition

Bortz, Jürgen 1999 Statistik für Sozialwissenschaftler (which translates into „statistics for social scientists“), Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg

Godbey, Geoffrey 1990 Leisure in Your Life - An Exploration Venture Publishing Inc., State College, Pennsylvania! OpenView accessed on April 11th, 2002, 9 a.m.

Kelly, J.R. and Freysinger, V.J. 2000 21st Century Leisure. Current Issues. Allyn & Bacon USA

Parker, Stanley; Paddick, Robert 1990 Leisure in Australia Longman, Cheshire

Veal, A.J.; Lynch, R 2001 Australian Leisure. Longman, Pearson Australia

12 of 12 pages


The Meanings of Leisure
University of South Australia
Leisure Concepts
High Disti
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ISBN (eBook)
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397 KB
Englischer Report über Leisure Theorien und Konzepte
Meanings, Leisure, Concepts
Quote paper
Sabine Haecker (Author), 2002, The Meanings of Leisure, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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