What was stated over a decade ago still holds true: social psychological research on leisure is psychologically rich and socially impoverished (Neulinger, 1980). Similar to what Senn (1989) and Solano (1989) said about the broad scope of the discipline, in leisure research, there is a great deal of literature on psychological concepts in social psychology. There is much to read about motivation and needs, satisfaction, attitude, subjective definitions of leisure, personality and individual differences, and crowding and social-carrying capacity (Iso-Ahola, 1988). Although there has been some research on social aspects of leisure, e.g., Fine (1987), Roadburg (1983), Scott (1991a, 1991b), Smith (1985), and Zurcher (1970) there is much less to read about the contexts and experiences of individuals who meet and interact. Frequently missed are the face-to-face process of constructing special meaning in leisure, the social systems people create which influence each other and their leisure experience, and the sense of mutuality expressed by small groups of related people who share a leisure experience.
It makes sense that we should turn to social psychology to provide us with theories to study leisure for it is in the social setting of recreation that so many people find moments of happiness, hone skills for challenges worth doing, or develop relationships in shared experiences. Leisure has been referred to as the prime social sphere in which people can make choices, meet, develop relationships (Cheek & Burch, 1976; Kelly, 1983) as well as freely pursue and experiment with knowledge and, in challenging uncertainty, find ways for enjoying personal growth (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990). It is in interacting with rules, roles, re-enactments, realizations, and rewards created by recreation opportunities that the psychological individual meets society on a personal basis and becomes a social person.
Although the social group has been central to a number of studies in the past, it was the structures of interpersonal influence that were focal rather than the process of creating those social structures and personal and group products. Several examples can serve to illustrate this idea. Using survey research, influence of primary-group relationships on recreation choice-decisions was reported by Burch (1969), and West (1984) published a research note examining the power of interpersonal relationships to explain adoption of new outdoor recreation activities. Social group affiliation has been examined in a number of ways and found to relate to participation in outdoor water activities (Bryan, 1977; Buchanan, Christensen, & Burdge, 1981; Christensen, 1980; Field & O'Leary, 1973; Kelly, 1974, 1983). Pub culture was characterized as a form of social recreation for people of working class background by Smith (1985) who used participant observation for his study. The influence of secondary relationships allowed Stokowski (1990) to expand the concept of social relations to include interactions of individuals in wider social networks. Altogether, these and other studies do suggest the importance of social elements in people's lives and in recreation. Although illuminating basic dimensions of interaction, these studies do not provide us with an adequate understanding of the complex interrelationships and meanings which develop.
More recently, the application of participant observation as a means for studying leisure experience has been noted through the use of the informal interview (Moeller, Mescher, More, & Schafer, 1980), qualitative structured interview (Howe, 1988), and the in-depth, unstructured interview (e.g., Henderson & Rannells, 1988). In these instances, there has been an association with interactive, participant-centered research roles which allow the researcher to become the willing subject-in-training in order to gather information which accurately reflects the participant's point of view. From these techniques, a sense of understanding has been emerging about the social influences which situational similarities and differences create in people's minds (e. …