Academic journal article Journal of Leisure Research

Citizenship and the Production of Public Recreation: Is There an Empirical Relationship?

Academic journal article Journal of Leisure Research

Citizenship and the Production of Public Recreation: Is There an Empirical Relationship?

Article excerpt

In the leisure literature, fostering citizenship is often cited as a traditional rationale for the delivery of public recreation services (Coalter, 1998; Ravenscroft, 1993; Reid, 1995; Stormann, 2000). Johnson and McLean (1994), for instance, noted that the public provision of leisure in North America was intended historically to "inculcate desirable character traits in both the individual and in the society" (p.120). Leisure was, and continues to be, a means through which the state can mold individuals into the ideal citizen. Indeed, to this day, public recreation agencies continue to combine the pleasure of participation in leisure activities with enduring social values, such as reciprocity, social trust, and civility, to potentially enrich individuals, groups, and communities. In so doing, government has assumed a direct role in the delivery of leisure services.

By acting on behalf of its citizens to address their social (leisure) needs, however, government distrusts individuals to judge for themselves what is in their own interests or in the interests of the public good. Coalter (1998) contended that the history of public recreation provision has rested upon this very notion. "Individual choices," he explained, "are regarded as distorted and the general societal, as well as personal, welfare is maximized by changing people's behavior by overriding their ignorance, or negative view, of particular goods, services or activities" (p. 25). Similarly, Whittington (1998) argued that government intervenes directly "into the development of individual character to instill citizens with a proper sense of social purpose and to serve as a corrective to defects in democratic society" (p. 28). In short, the state serves, not simply as a mechanism for the production of services, but more importantly, as having its own purposes in expressing and affecting the public good (Walsh, 1995).

Based on these observations, critics of government, underpinned by a variety of political ideologies, have contested whether the state ought to force its own values upon its citizens. "Social cohesion," Saunders (1993) wrote, "is best fostered by leaving individuals and the groups they form to get on with their own lives" (p. 79). Saunders, a classical liberal, insisted that social compassion is something that cannot be demanded or granted by government. Instead, he believed compassion arises out of the experience of exercising autonomy in one's personal life. Similarly, Ignatieff (1989), a socially moderate liberal, argued articulately that active citizenship and a moral social order cannot be enforced; rather, government can ensure only that the appropriate conditions are present through which such things can develop. Similar sentiments have been expressed in the leisure literature. Hemingway (1999), Pedlar (1996), and Stormann (1996) are among a litany of scholars who have questioned whether recreation practitioners are capable of truly determining what is in the best interests of society. When an administrative or professional hierarchy dispenses benefits and entitlements, Hemingway (1999) reasoned "it is too easy to allow claims of expertise to degenerate into claims of authority" (p. 162). Considerable skepticism exists, consequently, about the state's ability to achieve outcomes in accordance with the public good.

Still, many see a salient role for the public sector as an enabler of recreation services (Arai, 1996; Murphy, 1989; Pedlar, 1996; Whitson, 1986). Classical liberals, libertarians, and market liberals on the right argue that community emerges when people are left to themselves to deal with community issues (Saunders, 1993; Self, 1993), whereas welfare liberals on the left argue for greater state intervention to enable citizen action and rectify past injustices (Oldfield, 1990; Pierson, 1991). Irrespective of their differing political ideologies, proponents of facilitation advocate a reduced role for government. In this regard, the state is encouraged to support civil society-- the mediating third domain between government and the market (Barber, 1999) that deals with associational life (Foley & Edwards, 1996)-in its attempt to realize public ends autonomous from state power and direction. …

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