Academic journal article Journal of Leisure Research

Controversies and Contradictions in Family Leisure: An Analysis If Conflicting Paradigms

Academic journal article Journal of Leisure Research

Controversies and Contradictions in Family Leisure: An Analysis If Conflicting Paradigms

Article excerpt


The term "family leisure" is widely used in the North American context. It is part of everyday language, referring primarily to time that parents and children spend together in free time or recreational activities. It is also a term used with increasing frequency by scholars in the leisure studies field. The adoption of this term seems to reflect growing recognition that leisure is not an isolated aspect of life, but is inextricably connected to social context and daily life experiences. Free time and leisure do not occur in a social vacuum, and the most common social context for free time activities, at least among married people, is the family (Kelly, 1983, 1993; Kinsley & Graves, 1983; Shaw, in press).

The concept of family leisure appears to be applicable in other cultural contexts as well. Both Hantrais (1982) and Samuel (1992) have looked at the importance of family leisure in France, and other researchers have examined the same phenomenon in the Netherlands (Te Kloeze, 1993), in Poland (Parnicka, 1995) and in the United Kingdom (McCabe, 1993). In addition, Samuel's (1996) book on family leisure gathers information on family leisure from a range of different countries including Japan, Colombia, Morocco, Israel and India.

Given the wide usage of this term, it would be reasonable to expect that there is a commonly agreed upon meaning of the concept of family leisure. However, this does not seem to be the case, and there are a number of difficulties that researchers face in determining how to conceptualize family leisure for both theoretical and empirical purposes. First, an issue that affects all family researchers is the definition of the family. While the majority of family research has focused on heterosexual married couples with children, it is becoming increasingly evident that researchers need to take account of the diversity of family types in modern society (Allen & Demo, 1995). This would include single parent families, gay and lesbian families, blended and non-custodial families, and families without children (see Acock & Demo, 1994 and Cheal, 1991) . To date, very few studies have looked at family leisure in "non-traditional" families (Shaw, 1992a), and the implicit assumption seems to be that the concept of family leisure is applicable only to families with children.

Apart from this initial problem of whether to include different family types, leisure researchers also face additional challenges in defining the concept of leisure within the family. While family leisure typically is used to refer to activities that different family members participate in together, differences are evident among researchers about the relevance of the experience associated with such participation. Does the term family leisure imply not only that all family members are involved in the same activity, but also that they all experience the situation subjectively as leisure? That is, does it suggest that family leisure activities are mutually enjoyable, valued and satisfying? The data from research on family activities suggest that such an assumption is problematic. While there is evidence that family activities are considered important and are highly valued by parents (Kelly, 1983; Kelly & Kelly, 1994; Horna, 1989; Samuel, 1993), other research suggests that such activities do not always live up to the leisure ideal (Miller, 1995). Family activities can be experienced as an added burden of work, including "emotion work," especially by women (Erickson, 1993; Shaw, 1992b). Moreover, these work components of family leisure may be hidden by the ideology of familism which idealizes family experiences and interactions (Hunter & Whitson, 1991). Thus, to include only positive family leisure experiences is problematic empirically as well as theoretically.

A related point of difficulty in identifying family leisure is the issue of motivation. While leisure is often conceptualized as intrinsically motivated activity which is neither instrumental nor goal-oriented (e. …

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