Academic journal article Journal of Leisure Research

Wildland Recreation in the Rural South: An Examination of Marginality and Ethnicity Theory

Academic journal article Journal of Leisure Research

Wildland Recreation in the Rural South: An Examination of Marginality and Ethnicity Theory

Article excerpt


Past studies have established that African Americans,' compared to whites, generally perceive wildland settings to be less aesthetically pleasing than built environments and are also less likely than whites to recreate in these areas (Zube & Pitt, 1981; Washburne & Wall, 1980; Kaplan & Talblot, 1988). Most of these investigations, however, have been conducted with nonrural household samples or with on-site samples in places relatively distant from black populations. Of the aforementioned studies, only Washburne & Wall's (1980) sample included rural respondents. Racial and ethnic differences in forest recreation visitation, preferences, and perceptions for rural populations have received relatively little attention by researchers. This lack of attention is especially problematic as it concerns wildland and outdoor recreation in the South, where the proportion of African Americans living in rural areas is notably higher than in other regions of the country. For instance, African Americans comprise at least thirty-three percent of the population in southern Black Belt counties. Rankin & Falk (1991) define the Black Belt as a continuous group of rural, southern counties extending from Virginia through the Carolinas, down into Georgia and westward to Mississippi. The present research reviews some of the theoretical explanations that have been advanced to account for black/white differences in outdoor recreation. Using primary data, we also examine visitation for a rural, southern sample to unspecified wildland recreation areas, visitation to National Forest wildlands, and household visits to the Apalachicola National Forest for a rural, southern sample. We also compare black/white responses on reasons for non-visitation and latent demand for wildland visitation. Recommendations are made for future research.

Literature Review

Early racial and ethnic leisure research focused on participation rate differences between groups (Hauser, 1962; Mueller, Gurin, & Wood 1962; Owens, 1984). Generally, investigators explained differences using two theories, ethnicity or marginality. A number of marginality-related theories have also been proposed. Included among these are opportunity/demographic, class identification, multiple hierarchy stratification, and class polarization. The following sections provide brief reviews of these theoretical perspectives.


Ethnicity attributes differences in recreation behavior to value differ ences based on subcultural norms. The theory postulates that subcultures or ethnic minorities possess unique cultural value systems which influence their recreation behavior. Testing ethnicity, Washburne (1978) compared use of wildland areas for a sample of black and white urban Californians. Results showed blacks were significantly less likely than whites to participate in undeveloped, primitive areas, even when socioeconomic factors were held constant. Washburne & Wall (1980) found significantly lower participation rates for African Americans than for whites for camping, hiking/backpacking, and hunting. Similar results were reported by Dwyer (1994). Klobus-Edwards (1981) found race was a factor in recreation preference for African Americans living in a predominantly black community, but race was not a strong predictor of visitation for blacks who lived in integrated communities. Also, Stamps & Stamps (1985) found that race rather than social class was a greater predictor of leisure behavior.

Ethnicity studies have been criticized because of the way ethnicity is operationalized (West, 1989; Carr & Williams, 1992; Pfister, 1993). Typically, race serves as a proxy for ethnicity or subculture with socioeconomic status (income, education, occupation) and age held constant. If differences persist after accounting for socioeconomic factors, it is usually assumed these variations are due to subcultural norms. Few attempts have been made to determine more precisely how these remaining racial variations affect recreation behavior. …

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