Academic journal article Journal of Leisure Research

The Dialectics of Leisure and Development for Women and Men in Mid-Life: An Interpretive Study

Academic journal article Journal of Leisure Research

The Dialectics of Leisure and Development for Women and Men in Mid-Life: An Interpretive Study

Article excerpt

According to Neulinger (1982) and Shaw (1984), leisure is an important aspect of the quality of life. While not perhaps in total agreement as to the defining dimensions of leisure, they and others (e.g., Coleman & Iso-Ahola, 1993; Cutler-Riddick & Stewart, 1994; Jeffres & Dobos, 1993) believe that the experience of leisure enhances and reflects the quality of life or well-being of both the individual and the society of which she or he is a part. Hence, in recent years a number of studies have examined individuals' perceptions of leisure (Bialeschki & Michener, 1994; Freysinger & Flannery, 1992; Henderson & Bialeschki, 1991; Henderson & Rannells, 1988; Samdahl, 1988; Shank, 1987; Shaw, 1985; Wearing, 1990). Some of this recent research has been interpretive in design, exploring with adults the meanings they attach to leisure in relation to life as a whole. Much of the recent research has also focused on women's experiences of and the impact of gender on leisure. However, most of the research on leisure meaning has not situated the meaning of leisure within a developmental or life course context. That is, the participants in these studies have been studied as individuals or women and men but not as adult individuals and adult women and men. To do so is important as age holds not only biological but also psychological, socio-cultural, and historical meaning. Certainly it is important to locate leisure within the gendered, racialized, class-ified self-concepts of individuals and structure of society. However, it is also important to situate leisure within the context of age as personally experienced and socio-culturally defined. Hence, the purpose of this study was to explore the meaning of leisure among women and men in the years of life defined as middle adulthood.

LITERATURE REVIEW

The Relevance of Age

Some maintain that chronological age is central to understanding human behavior because it is indicative of physical and psychological maturation, socio-cultural expectations, and/or opportunity structures. At the same time, others assert that age itself is increasingly irrelevant or meaningless in understanding human practices (Giele, 1980; Maddox, 1987; McGuigan, 1980). For example, existing stage theories of age-related psychological and social development have been shown to be invalid for many because of the exclusivity of populations studied to generate such theory (Gilligan, 1983; Rossi, 1980). As research has included the voices of heretofore unheard peoples, beliefs about the importance and meaning of age and theories of development are questioned. At the same time, technological and social changes have rendered age less relevant because such changes have allowed, facilitated and often required flexibility and multiple pathways across the course of life. That is, notions of adult development are social constructions influenced by economic structures, political ideologies, and historical change, both demographic (lengthening of the lifespan) and socio-economic (technological development). As an example of the social construction of age, Giele (1982) contends that theories of psychological stages of development are less apt to apply to working class individuals. In reviewing research on adult development she notes that whereas middle-class individuals report change in sense of self and distinct stages of psychological functioning, working-class adults are less likely to report or exhibit such change and stages. She attributes this difference to differences in the complexity of the occupations and everyday lives of working class and middle class adults. That is, the environments of middle-class adults allow and demand differentiation and growth while those of working class adults allow few opportunities for and may actually impede growth.(1) However, Giele also maintains that age is less important regardless of social class both because of the complexity of modern society (which requires age-crossover) and the individual's capacity for self-direction and choice. …

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