Academic journal article Journal of Leisure Research

Exploring the Dimensions of Serious Leisure: "Love Me-Love My Dog!"

Academic journal article Journal of Leisure Research

Exploring the Dimensions of Serious Leisure: "Love Me-Love My Dog!"

Article excerpt


This study examined the leisure experience of serious leisure participants involved in American Kennel Club (AKC) activities and events. The study was developed from an interest in further examining dimensions of serious leisure and from an interest in pets and leisure. This is a descriptive study designed to examine the meaning of the leisure experience, explore issues of personal identification with the pursuit, especially the personal interpretation of costs and benefits associated with participation.

Pets as a form of serious leisure and in particular AKC activities have not been examined as serious leisure pursuits. Although AKC activities meet many of the characteristics of serious leisure, they also differ from the framework established by Stebbins (1992a). In AKC competition, amateurs and professionals compete in the same event and are held to the same professional standards for success. This is counter to the amateur and professional distinction made by Stebbins. In addition, the pursuit involves a relationship with one's dog(s) and this daily, on-going relationship blurs the boundaries between the leisure pursuit and the day to day relationship with the dog(s).

Purpose of the Study

The primary purpose of the study was to describe the meanings associated with the serious leisure pursuit of AKC club membership and participation in AKC events. In addition, research suggests that participants in serious leisure pursuits and individuals with close human-pet relationships tend to identify strongly with these endeavors. Therefore, the secondary emphasis of this study was to examine factors related to personal identification with the pursuit.

Background & Theoretical Perspective

Social-psychological studies adopting a symbolic interactionist approach have been identified as important for capturing the subjective and complex nature of leisure (Henderson, 1991; Samdahl, 1988; Scott & Godbey, 1990; Shaw, 1985). The subjective nature of leisure has led researchers to consider the individual actor's attitudes and perceptions as defining elements. At the same time, leisure is not completely a subjective and idiosyncratic phenomenon (Kelly, 1987). Models that can simultaneously look at the social influences and the individual styles of leisure have been identified as uniquely adept at dealing with the subjective and multi-faceted character of leisure (Iso-Ahola, 1980; Mannell, 1980). According to Kelly,

The [research] models that incorporate elements of meaning from psychology and of social context from sociology seem best equipped to deal with the fullness of the [leisure] phenomenon that is both expressive and learned, done for its own sake and in response to social expectations, always an experience of the actor and more often than not an episode of social interaction (p. 14).

However, research that gives equitable consideration to both the internal and social factors is a challenge in social psychological research. Kelly (1987) suggested that in social analysis, studies have tended to consider either one side or the other of these two interacting factors. Symbolic interactionism provides a framework for viewing leisure behavior as a dialectical process of action in social contexts of shared symbols (Kelly, 1990). It, therefore, enables the study of social phenomenon in a way that has the potential to simultaneously consider the individual as an active interpreter of meaning, while at the same time recognizing that this meaning is influenced by the social context.

Beginning with a Blumer-Mead model of symbolic interactionism (see Schwandt, 1994), this study examines the AKC club participants as actors who are engaged in a complex and active process of meaning making. Meanings are socially constructed through communication with others. In the serious leisure subculture of AKC this means communication is guided, in part, by insider knowledge of the organization and of the subculture; what Stebbins (1992a) has termed the unique ethos. …

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