Academic journal article Journal of Leisure Research

Using Leisure Services to Build Social Capital in Later Life: Classical Traditions, Contemporary Realities, and Emerging Possibilities

Academic journal article Journal of Leisure Research

Using Leisure Services to Build Social Capital in Later Life: Classical Traditions, Contemporary Realities, and Emerging Possibilities

Article excerpt


In this paper, we will explore the prospect that leisure produces social capital, particularly for retirees, and leisure services can be prominent in expanding such activity. After reviewing the philosophical and historical background for considering leisure in this manner, we will examine prospects for people who are retired to become civically engaged through social-capital-generating activities, in particular political discourse, and also contemporary aspects of post-retirement living that, in varying degrees, reflect a semblance of classical leisure ideals. Finally, we will turn to the redesign and reorientation of some aspects of community leisure services that may enhance the likelihood of such activity.

To our knowledge, the field of leisure studies has not directed much attention to the historical trends affecting civic engagement of older age groups. Indeed, a case could be made that, to the extent that the leisure interests of older people are accommodated, the problem will be exacerbated if those interests have an individual focus. However, interests and activities more communal in nature are capable of producing social capital. The relevance of leisure itself as a context for the development of social capital has been addressed previously. In recent years, leisure studies scholarship has produced a small body of literature that directly explores the concept of social capital and its prospects for finding meaning and application in the field of leisure studies (DeGraaf & Jordan, 2003; Glover, 2004a; 2004b, Hemingway, 1999). These efforts have built upon previous research related to community development (Arai & Pedlar, 1997), citizenship (Glover 2002, Shaw & Martin, 2000; Stormann, 2000), and civic virtue (Hemingway, 1988).

Discussions of social capital in the literature, especially in the writings of Putnam (1995, 2000), have focused on formal social connections. We view the insufficient treatment of informal social connections as a general weakness in this body of literature. Thus, the underlying focus of this essay will be informal social connections and the social capital that arises from them. To make the transition from the formal to the informal, we appeal to classical leisure, in particular Aristotle. As we explore the prospects for generating social capital through civic engagement during leisure after retirement, this classical foundation offers an interesting perspective from which to view social capital.

Lessons from Antiquity: Aristotle on Leisure, Community, and Friendship

To position classical leisure within the social capital literature requires a consideration of the ideas of Aristotle. Although other philosophers and political figures from antiquity addressed leisure, Aristotle was unique in that he gave leisure a prominent role in the individual's quest for excellence, which was primarily derived from empirical observation. This quest was interconnected with other community members, and voluntary, informal interaction was an essential component of the cultivating of human capacities. His conceptualizations of leisure, community and friendship reveal a number of similarities to the contemporary concept of social capital, providing a justification for invoking classical leisure in this essay.

While leisure played an important role in Aristotle's philosophical system, especially in his ethical and political writings, he did not frequently refer to it explicitly. Moreover, Aristotle did not provide a formal definition of leisure as he did for so many other concepts (happiness, community, friendship, citizenship), which seems odd given his statement that leisure is a first principle for all human action. Therefore, efforts to interpret Aristotelian leisure (as free time, activity, state of mind, condition of being, etc.) will primarily rely on the context in which it is found within the text. Numerous leisure scholars have attempted such interpretations, but they are often filtered through Pieper's (1952) leisure as a religious state of relaxation and receptivity, or through de Grazia's (1960) leisure as a state of being. …

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