Academic journal article Journal of Leisure Research

The Structure of Recreation Behavior

Academic journal article Journal of Leisure Research

The Structure of Recreation Behavior

Article excerpt

Introduction

Over the past 40 years, explanations of recreation behavior have grown increasingly sophisticated, and technical literatures have developed on many subtopics within leisure research. Yet this increased specialization also contributes to fragmentation-analysis at the expense of synthesis. For example, Csikszentmihalyi's (1990) concept of flow has been widely accepted as an explanation of recreation behavior and has led to numerous studies (e.g., Jones, Hollenhorst, Perra & Selin, 2000). Analyzing activities in terms of benefits, motivations, and participant goals is similarly accepted, begging questions about the relationship between flow and benefit: Is flow simply one category of benefit? Does one concept subsume the other? Are they competing or complementary explanations of recreation behavior? How do both these theories relate to a physiologically based theory like Berelyne's (1960) arousal theory? The fragmentation is compounded by our tendency to borrow theories from other disciplines to examine specific aspects of activities (flow, cognitive dissonance, role theory, arousal and identity theory are perennial favorites) (Searle 2000); when confronting a recreation research problem we have an often bewildering array of concepts and approaches from which to choose. What would be needed to construct a more holistic, comprehensive, and better-integrated explanation of any particular recreation activity? What kinds of information would be required? While the analytic mode has enhanced technical development and specialization, we also must think synthetically, raising questions about broad (or meta) interrelationships between areas of analysis. Understanding these meta-interrelationships can identify shortcomings in our knowledge of particular activities and promote systematic theory development, and may occasionally prevent us from talking at cross-purposes.

Aristotle, in book two of the Physics, argued that a comprehensive explanation of something requires knowledge of four different kinds of causes: material, efficient, formal, and final (Robinson, 1985). Knowledge of one kind of cause does not substitute for another; each is necessary. Phrased differently, comprehensive explanation of a recreation activity requires several different kinds of information. In this paper, we develop these ideas further using modern systems theory rather than the Aristotelian terminology. By arguing that all recreation activities are actually systems of behavior best understood in the context of a goal-directed systems analysis, we construct an integrative framework for the analysis of recreation behavior that we term Recreation Systems Theory. Our focus is on the structure of recreation activities-the way the behavior itself is organized and the factors that account for recurrent participation patterns within a person's life. As such, our meta-theoretical analysis is primarily psychological although we also explore biological and socio-cultural influences on individual behavior. Additionally, our focus is on structure rather than experience (which we believe partially derives from structure); we defer the discussion of experience to a later paper. We close with some reservations about systems theory and a discussion of the implications of Recreation Systems Theory for further research.

Recreation Activities as Behavioral Systems

The most neglected part of recreation research may be the actual composition of an activity. When studying a particular activity we tend to examine correlates: Who does it? How often? What outcomes are produced? et cetera, without giving much thought to what "it" is. Our initial premise, therefore, is that recreation activities are actually behavioral constructions-organizations of more elemental actions, thoughts, and feelings-that participants create for themselves around goals of varying specificity. Put simply, we build recreation activities from smaller bits of behavior, and we may build them differently on different occasions. …

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