Academic journal article Journal of Leisure Research

Leisure Research for Social Impact

Academic journal article Journal of Leisure Research

Leisure Research for Social Impact

Article excerpt

"To be willing to risk ourselves, to be relevant to our times, takes courage."

-Maria Allison (1995, p. 122)

Perhaps more than ever, leisure researchers work within a contested landscape for evaluating the quality and relevance of their research. Peer review continues to drive topical and funding decisions, the perceived merit of submissions for publication, and employment and promotion within institutions. Impact factor introduces a new tension around the selection of outlets for published work. And external rankings of programs rely exclusively on publication counts of faculty (see Jackson, 2004; Walker & Fenton, 2011). Meanwhile, external calls for public accountability demand that we contribute toward the advancement of society, practice, and policy. In short, we can no longer, if we ever did, disengage from pressing social matters. We must do rigorous, socially relevant research.

Leisure studies occupies a seemingly precarious position within this landscape. Its apparent preoccupation with advancing "leisure theory" has led some to criticize what they see as its growing disengagement from the practitioner community, the very community it was established to serve. As our field expands its scope, we stretch our academic field beyond its traditional user base. Within the academy, moreover, questions persist about our contribution to knowledge generation, given how infrequently our work is ostensibly cited outside of our literature1 (Samdahl & Kelly, 1999; Shaw, 2000). Are we talking only to ourselves? Does leisure research really matter?

With this long-standing question in mind, this paper revisits and reframes the issue of research relevance, the subject of a spirited panel discussion 20 years ago at the 1994 Leisure Research Symposium (see Allison, 1995; Pedlar, 1995; Sylvester, 1995; Weissinger, 1995). Focusing specifically on efforts to reach beyond our academic circles, I focus our attention on the need to mobilize our work beyond academic audiences to enhance its relevance. Drawing on my own research, I explore three connected pathways to enhance the social impact of research: (1) knowledge mobilization, (2) the encouragement of critical reflection, and (3) the advancement of social innovation. After acknowledging the challenges of practicing a more engaged form of scholarship, I conclude by advocating for a social impact agenda in leisure studies.

The Social Practice of Research Relevance

Have you ever considered how nonacademic audiences would respond if confronted by the titles of our journal articles? Consider a few of the titles of articles I have published over the years and how lay audiences would possibly react to them. "At once liberating and exclusionary: A Lefebvrean Analysis of Gildas Club of Toronto" (see Glover, Parry, & Mulcahy, 2013). Lefebvrean? Few people can pronounce Lefebvrean correctly, never mind associate it with the Marxist philosopher, Henri Lefebvre. How about this title? "Toward a critical examination of social capital within leisure contexts: From production and maintenance to distribution" (see Glover, 2006). Well, first, it helps to know what social capital is. Second, even if you understand what it means, what does it have to do with production, maintenance, and distribution? I'm sure my father would rather poke his eye out with a blunt object than have to spend an hour of his life reading it. Even a title like "The community' center and the social construction of citizenship" (see Glover, 2004a) talks past certain audiences. Social construction? More like eve of destruction, as in, having to read this article would destroy me, if I were forced to do so. Now, to be fair, these articles were clearly written for an academic audience. Understandably, lay people do not possess the background knowledge, cultural codes, and genre awareness necessary for complete understanding. To most of you, these titles may make sense and may even sound interesting enough to read. …

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