Academic journal article Journal of Leisure Research

(Re)Theorizing Leisure, Experience and Race

Academic journal article Journal of Leisure Research

(Re)Theorizing Leisure, Experience and Race

Article excerpt

While scholars have pursued knowledge about "leisure experiences," there has been no clear consensus about what constitutes "experience" or for that matter, what constitutes an individual's identity. One way scholars have attempted to examine experience has been through a social-psychological lens that locates the individual and her/his interpretation of leisure experiences at the center of discussions about leisure, leisure experience and identity (cf., Iso-Ahola, 1980; Neulinger, 1974). However, what this perspective lacks is an accompanying discussion about the ideologies and discourses that structure those experiences. The social-psychological framework has led scholars to seek out subjective, cognitive and affective components of leisure and the meaning of leisure experience for individuals. Despite our reliance on the term "experience" in leisure studies, more than 20 years (Gunter, 1987) have passed since theorists have explicitly examined experience as an elusive construct. Indeed, there seems to be an assumption that leisure is, first and foremost, a construct that is rooted in experience. Kelly & Freysinger (2000) capture this perspective when they suggest that "Whatever else it is, leisure is experience. . ." (p. 79).

Much of the inquiry around "experience" in Leisure Studies apart from the conceptual work of feminist scholars (e.g., Henderson, Bialeschki, Shaw & Freysinger, 1996), has focused on meanings of leisure experience at individual, non-ideological levels. Attempts to capture and represent the leisure experiences of individuals based on various identity politics (race, gender, sexual orientation) has focused on examining and presenting differences among and between people based on these social categories of identity. Most scholarship has not, however, included theorizing around the ways in which institutional structures and oppression (e.g., racism, sexism, and heterosexism) operate in leisure settings.

Instead of presenting "experience" apart from context, as most scholars in Leisure Studies have done, sociologist Dorothy Smith (1987) argued for a contextualization of experience that is based on an examination of social relations and institutional structures. She asserted that, "Rather than explaining behavior, we begin from where people are in the world, explaining the social relations of the society of which we are part, explaining an organization that is not fully present in any one individual's everyday experience" (p. 89).

She argued that while we may not "see" these institutional structures, they do operate in various ways at many levels to influence our everyday experiences. Leisure scholars have not fully addressed the tension that emerges between two competing needs: describing and presenting "different" experiences; and grounding those experiences within broader social, cultural discourses of institutional oppression such as racism, sexism, ableism, and heterosexism.

Experience is never simply a reflection of what someone has done, feels or thinks - experience is always constituted through discourses of power and a priori knowledge (Scott, 1993). Similarly, individuals emerge in and through various ideologies2 and discourses of power that revolve around a variety of identity markers including gender, race, and sexuality. Thus, how can leisure scholars examine individuals and their experiences of leisure apart from the ideologies and discourses that shape everyday lives (Johnson & Samdahl, 2005; Kivel, 2000). Instead, leisure "experiences" need to be contextualized and theorized in relation to these important social factors.

Two theorists, Frankenberg (1997) and Craib (1998) offer explanations of "experience" that account for the complexity of this construct. Frankenberg (1997) argued that "the word experience describes the production of meaning at the intersection of material life and interpretive frameworks" (p. 241). Craib (1998) asserted that in talking about experience, "each immediately evident 'fact' is understood not in terms of its independent existence or in terms of an external causal relationship; rather its existence is unde stood as the product of a number of relationships, a structure of relationships" (p. …

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