Academic journal article Journal of Leisure Research

From Novice to Expert? A Panel Study of Specialization Progression and Change

Academic journal article Journal of Leisure Research

From Novice to Expert? A Panel Study of Specialization Progression and Change

Article excerpt

Specialization and Progression

It is easy to understand the trajectory of change implicit in the recreation specialization framework. When people try out a new activity and have a positive experience, they then continue to participate, adding new equipment and friends to enhance their experience. They also develop expectalions and standards for appropriate and exacting ways to perform the activity, and take on a level of commitment and identification with the activity. Can this process of progression, however, be generalized to all recreation participants, or is change in leisure participation more variable than the linear trajectory of progression hypothesized by the specialization literature (Scott & Shafer, 2001)? When interviewing several members of a 1975 panel of Apostle Islands boaters recently, one person articulated a different pattern of boating participation. We knew from the data that this individual had owned 3 boats since the early 1960s, but had sold the last boat in 1982 and had not boated since the early 1990s. When asked why he quit, the respondent said boating for him and his family had simply "run its course."

This anecdote raises at least four questions about the specialization framework. First, is the framework's focus on progression misguided when applied to a population of activity participants? How many people are also experiencing some process of regress in their participation trajectory? How many people in a population of participants are not on any trajectory at all, and are instead happy to be casual or occasional participants? Finally, are cross-sectional research designs obscuring variation in the history and trajectory of leisure participation?

Scott and Shafer (2001) were the first to formally address the problem of progression in the specialization literature. They acknowledge that the idea of progression has only been a background assumption in the specialization literature. Research has generally used the specialization framework in a more pragmatic way to help managers understand the variety of recreationists who visit a destination. The specialization concept has been an effective way to segment users based on dimensions such as past experience (Hammit, Knauf, & Noe, 1989; Schreyer, Lime, & Williams, 1984), commitment (Bricker & Kerstetter, 2000; Kuentzel & McDonald, 1992; McFarlane, 1994, 1996), involvement or lifestyle centrality (Block, Black & Lichstenstein, 1989; Chipman & Helfrich, 1988) and skill (Donnelly, Vaske, & Graefe, 1986; Hollenhorst, 1990). Once segmented, researchers then identify differences in users' attitudes (Shafer & Hammit, 1995; Virden & Schreyer, 1988; Wellman, Roggenbuck, & Smith, 1982) motives for participation (Chipman & Helfrich, 1988; Ditton, Loomis, & Choi, 1992, McFarlane, 1994), preferences for management initiatives (McIntyre & Pigram, 1992, Virden & Schreyer, 1988), or setting preferences (Ewert & Hollenhorst, 1994; Kuentzel & Heberlein, 1992; Scott & Godbey, 1994). If the management goal is to provide quality recreational experiences, the specialization framework offers one way to understand visitor differences, and to offer targeted programs to subgroups in the visitor population.

Scott and Shafer's (2001) goal in the review of the specialization literature was to bring the concept of progression and change in leisure participation to the forefront of specialization research. They elaborated three analytical dimensions of progression that overlap with current thinking about specialization. First they argued that progression involves a focusing of behavior, where individuals increasingly invest more time and energy in a leisure activity at the expense of other activities. One's attention and social life become consumed by the activity and other leisure options fade in importance. Second, they stated that the development of skill and the acquisition of knowledge associated with the activity characterize progression. …

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