Academic journal article Journal of Leisure Research

The Emergent Working Society of Leisure

Academic journal article Journal of Leisure Research

The Emergent Working Society of Leisure

Article excerpt


In this paper, we seek to question the continuing validity ofVeblen's (1953) 'leisure society' thesis and Dumazedier's (1967) vision of an accessible leisure society, as explanations of contemporary Western social Ufe. According to Veblen, as societies become more sophisticated, less time is required for basic survival and more time is given to increasingly complex modes of consumption. 'Free' time is the ultimate expression of this thesis, as work - committed time - is replaced by leisure. Thus, the sign of a developing society is one in which 'free' time is increasingly available to the more successful members of that society. Yet, as Schor (1992) and Gershuny (2000) have shown, working time has been increasing (for those in work) over the last 40-50 years, at the same time that productivity has enjoyed unprecedented growth.

Schor's and Gershuny 's findings suggest that the idea of a trade-off between work and consumption, understood largely through the medium of time, overplays the value of both consumption and time. As Gershuny (2000) argues, relative wealth gives rise to choice about the types of trade offs that can be made with respect to work and non-work activities (for example, wealthier people deciding to contract out domestic chores as a way of 'freeing' time). The complexity of this changing relationship implies a need to locate 'choice' within the 'leisure society' thesis: to understand that the construction of the work/leisure relationship is too individual to fit within a single metanarrative that values consumption over production.

In seeking an alternative reading of the 'leisure society', we are drawn to Rojek's (2001) construct of 'civil labor'. In arguing that identity formation is a function of choice (and thus not necessarily proscribed by institutions such as class and religion), Rojek suggests that the separation of work from subsistence needs in Western societies has allowed people to develop suites of activities through which they can express their identities. Rojek has termed this mix of activities - which can include paid and non-paid work in addition to leisure - 'civil labor', in recognition of its self-determined (civil) utility (work) in forming and displaying identity. Civil labor, in Rojek's terms, is akin to Locke's (1963) construct of leisure as 'refreshing labor'. Deploying the construct of 'civil labor' provides an explanation for phenomena such as 'down-shifting', in which decisions are made to replace some paid work with other - usually non-paid - activities as a means of achieving a desired 'work-life balance'.

Following Rojek (2001) and Locke (1963), our research question is concerned with how far a contemporary reading of the 'leisure society' is related to the balance of work activities (paid and unpaid) in which people participate, rather than in the amount and type of leisure that they consume. We suggest that this productivist orientation can be identified as the emergent 'working society of leisure', a society in which leisure is composed of selfdetermined work and where, in place of the old work/leisure divide, there is a continuum of work practices that throughout people's lives offer a mix of social, psychological and financial rewards.We recognize that.just asVeblen's leisure society was exclusive, the working society of leisure is equally so. For flexibility cuts both ways: highly skilled and motivated labor can benefit from new, often state-supported, opportunities in ways that are simply not available to those without access to these skills and their associated financial and cultural capital.

We investigate the emergence of the working society of leuure through a biographical study of 35 creative workers living and working in Hastings, a small coastal town in South East England. While the biographies of these workers are far from uniform, they have in common a vocation to 'merge' their work and leisure lives into a single labor project: to do their leisure through work. …

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