Academic journal article Journal of Leisure Research

An Identity-Based Conceptualization of Recreation Specialization

Academic journal article Journal of Leisure Research

An Identity-Based Conceptualization of Recreation Specialization

Article excerpt


Bryan (1977) first proposed the concept of recreation specialization in the 1970s, defining it as "a continuum of behavior from the general to the particular, reflected by equipment and skills used in the sport, and activity setting preferences" (p. 175). He proposed a developmental process whereby individuals progress to more specific and sophisticated levels of activity engagement over time. In the leisure literature, specialization has received considerable attention owing to its ability to assist both researchers and managers to identify diversity among recreationists engaged in the same activity. A review of the literature suggests that conceptualizations and related measures of specialization are broadly comprised of at least three components (Lee & Scott, 2006; McIntyre & Pigram, 1992; Needham & Vaske, 2013; Scott & Shafer, 2001): (a) a behavioral element referring to past experience, (b) a cognitive element that is inclusive of recreationists' skill and knowledge, and (c) an affective element that refers to the enjoyment, satisfaction and importance recreationists' ascribe to an activity.

While several theories have been referenced by specialization scholars in their conceptualizations of the construct (e.g., dimensionality) and measurement (e.g., the selection of relevant indicators), a theoretical framework related to self and identity has been underappreciated in specialization literature. The central role of self and identity, however, has been considered a principal foundation for much of contemporary leisure research (Dimanche & Samdahl, 1994) and for understanding leisure behavior. Leisure scholars have long asserted that self-expression and confirmation are the essence of personal commitment and enduring involvement, constructs that share some conceptual similarity with specialization (Dimanche & Samdahl, 1994; Dimanche, Havitz, & Howard, 1991; Havitz & Dimanche, 1990; Jun, Kyle, Vlachopoulos, Theodorakis, Absher, & Hammitt, 2012; Kelly, 1983; Shamir, 1988).

Thus, with identity theory in the foreground guiding the conceptualization of specialization and its driving properties, the purpose this paper is to introduce a framework to understand identities central role in these processes. Drawing from identity theory, especially the work of Burke and colleagues (e.g., Burke, 1991; Burke & Reitzes, 1991) along with the existing specialization literature, a model in which identity was hypothesized to influence other affective and conative facets developed and was tested with data collected from hikers along the Appalachian Trail.

Past Work

In the review that follows, an overview of recreation specialization research focusing on its conceptual development is shared. Then, a review of the theoretical framework guiding our conceptualization of specialization is revealed. This review focuses on the role of identity for understanding individuals' affective, cognitive and conative commitment to leisure. A summary of key ideas and their implications for our conceptualization of specialization concludes the section.

Recreation Specialization

The specialization framework has received considerable attention in the leisure literature owing to its ability to provide insight on leisure behavior, especially in outdoor recreation contexts. Through inductive reasoning and on-site interviews with anglers, Bryan (1977, 1979) proposed distinct stages of development that characterize a person's involvement in any given activity. Each stage carries distinctive orientations and behaviors reflected in skill, equipment and setting preferences, attachment to the activity, attitudes toward resource management, and preferred social contexts (Bryan, 1977, 1979).

In spite of the construct's prominence in the literature, conceptualizations and measures of specialization have varied considerably (Scott, Ditton, Stoll, & Eubanks, 2005; Scott & Shafer, 2001). …

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