Academic journal article Journal of Leisure Research

A Critique of Leisure Constraints: Comparative Analyses and Understandings

Academic journal article Journal of Leisure Research

A Critique of Leisure Constraints: Comparative Analyses and Understandings

Article excerpt


The past decade evidenced a significant shift in the nature of leisure research, moving away from site/activity surveys towards an examination of leisure as it is integrated into our everyday lives (cf. Csikszentmihalyi & Figurski, 1982; Csikszentmihalyi & Graef, 1980; Graef, Csikszentmihalyi, & Gianinno, 1983; Samdahl, 1988, 1992; Samdahl & Jekubovich, 1993; Shaw, 1984, 1985). That latter research has been an effective testing ground for assessing the conceptual premises of contemporary leisure theory. For example, Shaw (1985) showed that enjoyment and freedom of choice were the most salient characteristics that distinguished leisure from non-leisure in normal daily experiences. Samdahl (1991) reported that situations people commonly labeled "leisure" corresponded with dimensions of self-expression and perceived freedom as defined by leisure theorists. By showing evidence that our theoretical constructs parallel people's common experiencing of leisure, this approach offers important validation of some basic premises of contemporary leisure research.

The study presented here attempted to follow that tradition by examining leisure constraints (cf. Crawford, Jackson, & Godbey, 1991) using data from interviews in which people discussed their normal everyday routines. Initial analysis uncovered many examples that presumably support the notion of leisure constraints and constraint negotiation. However, that analysis also raised questions about the effectiveness of constraints as a framework for understanding the factors that shape people's everyday leisure choices. Those concerns led us into a second examination of the interviews using constant comparative analysis, and results of that second analysis are also reported here. The paper concludes by contrasting these two analyses and the understandings they produced, with some critical reflections on inherent assumptions and limitations of leisure constraints as a framework for understanding people's everyday leisure choices and behavior.

Constraints Theory

Research on leisure constraints has grown steadily over the past several years, representing a coherent body of literature that has evolved and changed with new and emerging understandings. Leisure constraints has become a distinctive sub-field of leisure studies (Jackson, 1991).

Leisure constraints were originally conceptualized as a mechanism for better understanding barriers to activity participation (Buchanan & Allen, 1985; Jackson & Searle, 1985; Searle & Jackson, 1985a, 1985b). Jackson (1988, p. 211) articulated this focus, suggesting that "constraints per se are best viewed as a subset of reasons for not engaging in a particular behavior." Indeed, most of the research on leisure constraints has used some aspect of activity participation as the dependent variable to be explained.

However, many discussions have extended well beyond that original purpose, proposing that leisure constraints can help us understand broader factors and influences that shape people's everyday leisure behaviors. Leisure constraints have been used to explain changing trends in leisure preferences over time Jackson, 1990a; Jackson & Witt, 1994) and to understand variation in leisure choices and experiences for different segments of the population (Henderson, Stalnaker, & Tayor, 1988; Henderson, Bedini, Hecht, & Shuler, 1993; Jackson,1990b; Jackson, 1993; Jackson & Henderson, 1995; McGuire, Dottavio, & O'Leary, 1986; Shaw, 1994). This "growing sophistication" of leisure constraints research is seen to provide "a set of increasingly complex models of how constraints enter into people's leisure decision-making behavior" Jackson, Crawford, & Godbey, 1993, p. 1) and promises to "enhance understanding of the situational context of people's lives and how variables...shape people's leisure" Jackson & Henderson, 1995, p. 32). Collectively, this body of work is seen to offer a significant contribution to the broader understanding of leisure behavior (Goodale & Witt, 1989; Jackson, 1990b) . …

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