Academic journal article Journal of Leisure Research

Leisure Identities, Globalization, and the Politics of Place

Academic journal article Journal of Leisure Research

Leisure Identities, Globalization, and the Politics of Place

Article excerpt

Introduction

The theme of the 2001 Leisure Research Symposium opening session, Leisure and The Politics of Place, brought much needed attention to the role of leisure in creating and contesting places. Set in the rapidly changing American West, the symposium venue and theme were of particular interest to me for two reasons, one professional and one personal. On a professional level, the intersection of leisure, place, and politics is a major theme of my own research and I will have more to say about that in a moment. On a personal level, the keynote presentation by University of Colorado Geographer William (Reibsame) Travis, describing the politics of a changing region I will call the Mountain West, resonates with my own sense of western identity in a way I hope may illuminate the topic of leisure and the politics of place.

Although I am a relative newcomer to Colorado and the Front Range of the Rockies, I am in genealogical fact the fifth generation of Williams to live and wander among the mountains and deserts of the West. Like my forefathers, I have not managed to stay long in any one western state, let alone establish roots in any particular community. My high mobility within and among western states is hardly unusual, yet when it comes to the politics of the West the storyline we often hear is rather different: political conflict in the West is frequently characterized as one of well-settled locals pitted against an itinerant lot of newcomers, tourists, and part-time residents. This leads me to ask: who gets to claim they belong to the West or any other place for that matter? There are certainly some who can boast that they are fifth generation western ranchers, but I am inclined to dismiss them the "landed gentry" who use their so called deep roots to claim the West as their own. Like my ancestors, many who reside in the western U.S. are the descendents of landless peasants, itinerant mine workers, hired farm and ranch hands, or general laborers who, in the typically boom-and-bust economy of the region, were forced to wander from one boomtown to another in search of work. Where do they belong? What is their sense of place?

The politics of the West is indeed much about who counts as a "local" and we should be mindful that what it means to be a local or an old-timer is problematic and often contested. Newcomers and old-timers, the rooted and the itinerant, tourists and former inhabitants can all claim to have a sense of belonging to the West and yet have in mind very different senses of that West. To put it another way, a shared sense of belonging to the West does not necessarily translate into a shared sense of the West. Similarly, we need to be careful with words like "old" and "new" to describe a place like the West. Old implies authentic and original, creating a standard against which we measure the appropriateness of the new. And we sometimes forget that even the old was once new. Whatever may have been our image of the authentic "Old West," that West was created by relative newcomers bringing with them exotic ideas (such as manifest destiny) and new practices (such as ranching and mining) that transformed an earlier West of pre-European settlement. In truth both the Old West and the New West are contested sociopolitical constructions: there are really many different "Wests," both old and new (see Wrobel & Steiner, 1997). Scholarly efforts to describe the region such as the Atlas of the New West (see Reibsame, 1997) are part and parcel of an ongoing process of making the West. Places are created through local and not so local discourses, dialogues among farmers and ranchers at the Grange and debates among academics at the Center of the American West and in journals like this one. We all participate in the politics of place by making and resisting claims on what the place is, was, or ought to be. We do this in the formal venues of community planning and political decision making; in our choices of how and where we live, work, and play; and in our more prosaic routines of daily life. …

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