Academic journal article Journal of Leisure Research

Leisure, Social Capital, and Democratic Citizenship

Academic journal article Journal of Leisure Research

Leisure, Social Capital, and Democratic Citizenship

Article excerpt


The central issue addressed in this essay is the role leisure plays, or alternatively, might play, in the enablement of democratic citizenship.l If recent leisure inquiry has paid insufficient attention to the political dimensions of leisure, and thus to its contributions to democratic citizenship, the founders of the recreation profession did pay such attention, as Storrmann "(1991, 1993) has ably shown. The reform movements associated with the emergence of the recreation field were pre-eminently concerned with leisure's political meanings and uses. The playground movement, the rational recreation movement, the industrial recreation movement: All had avowedly political aims, of which a certain kind of passive and conforming citizenship was one. This outmoded view of leisure's relation to democratic citizenship cannot be allowed to stand unchallenged if we are to achieve a fuller understanding of leisure's political dimensions."

An appreciation of leisure's contributions to democratic citizenship begins with an examination of conceptualizations of democracy. Different forms of democracy (of which there are many; see particularly Held, 1996; also Dahl, 1989) entail different forms of citizenship, which draw in turn on different forms of leisure. The normative requirements of differing conceptualizations of democracy, especially their presuppositions about human interaction, have implications for thinking about citizenship and leisure, which must be congruent with the larger conceptualizations of democracy. There are empirical issues in play here as well, for if the results of empirical analysis of citizenship and leisure do not support the normative presuppositions about them, then the larger conceptualizations of democracy in which these normative presuppositions are embedded are called into question (but see Davis, 1964). These questions are explored here using two admittedly stylized conceptualizations of democracy and their associated understandings of citizenship. This discussion serves as background for the introduction of the concept of social capital. Once this concept is explicated it becomes possible to examine the content of contemporary leisure with an eye to its contribution, or lack thereof, to democratic citizenship in the United States, using recent analyses by R.D. Putnam, supplemented by J. Robinson's and G. Godbey's time diary data. Debate over these findings has been contentious, however, so some consideration of their critics is appropriate. With this done, it is then possible to review the implications of the argument presented here for the analysis of leisure's contribution to democracy and to suggest how the concept of social capital might serve to organize further inquiry into leisure's political dimensions. Underlying the entire essay is an emphatically normative commitment to enhancing leisure's contribution to the creation of a genuinely democratic society and politics, specifically to what will shortly be termed strong citizenship.

Democracy and Democratic Citizenship

Since it is clearly impossible to review here the entire range of conceptualizations of democracy, it is more useful to place them along a continuum from representative to participatory, with the understanding that actual democracies may show features of both (see Figure 1). The distinction is helpful in considering leisure's role in democracy because as one moves from representative to participatory forms of democracy, the demands on leisure increase accordingly. At the extreme of representative democracy, little political involvement in leisure is required; at the extreme of participatory democracy, perhaps too much is required, justifying something like Oscar Wilde's alleged criticism of socialism, that it takes too many evenings.

Representative democracy is the more familiar conceptualization of democracy. It rests on the premise that citizens are themselves unable or unwilling (a distinction of great importance) to participate directly in the selection of policy alternatives, whether for reasons of ability or logistics (again a distinction of great importance), and that the extent of their effective political involvement is restricted to the selection of representatives charged with the task of more or less looking after citizen interests. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.