The 1996 Leisure Research Symposium: Implications for Practice

Article excerpt

The 1996 Leisure Research Symposium (LRS), held during NRPA's October Congress in Kansas City, provided a forum for educators, practitioners, and students from the United States, Canada and other countries to learn about and discuss current research on leisure, recreation, parks, and tourism. A total of 82 abstracts were accepted by session coordinators and reviewers for presentation within 10 different topical sessions, including outdoor recreation research, aspects of leisure over the lifespan, leisure research and the humanities, research on curriculum and professional preparation, psychological/ social psychological aspects of leisure behavior, management of leisure programs and services, tourism and travel, programs and service, for special populations, sociological aspects of leisure. and methodology, issues in leisure research. In support of the increasing interest in thematic study of research issues, a special session on multicultural issues and diverse populations was also held, as were two brown bag sessions that focused on innovative teaching methods and using the internet for leisure research.

Opening Session

The theme for the opening session of the 1996 LRS was The Future of Leisure. Keynote speakers were William Harper of Purdue University and Stephen Erickson of Pomona College. Harper's paper, "Making leisure work," and Erickson's analysis of "Entertainment, emptiness and the future of leisure," found common ground -- along with some potentially pessimistic predictions -- with respect to the negative effects technological advances hold for life-enriching (as opposed to diversionary) leisure. As Harper put it "Up to a point, technology is wonderfully useful. But...when it results in separating and therefore trivializing both work and leisure, it should be refused; when it standardizes and oversimplifies and homogenizes and produces a one-size-fits-all culture, it should be refused."

These issues and others (filling extended retirement years with life-enriching activities, the needs of marginalized populations, the appropriate roles for leisure professionals to assume in the coming millennium) were also voiced in a reaction panel chaired by Karla Henderson and comprised of Karen Fox, Don McLean and Charles Sylvester. The opening session, which was underwritten by SPRE and the Academy of Leisure Sciences, also featured a series of small group discussions co-chaired by faculty and graduate students from a number of universities in the U. S. and Canada.

Topical Sessions

Abstracts of all research papers presented at the 1996 LRS are published in the book, "Abstracts from the 1996 Symposium on Leisure Research, NRPA, Kansas City." Below, some of the papers abstracted in that volume and relevant for recreation and leisure practice are discussed.

Social trends often influence research in various disciplines and leisure is no exception. The growing concern for what is typically called youth at risk was reflected in the leisure across the lifespan session, where five of the eight papers presented focused on youth. The paper by, Witt, Scott and Baker considered differences among groups of youth who were distinguished from one another based on their degree of risk and the protective factors present in their lives. The authors encouraged the use of recreation programming to provide positive role models and mentoring, and prosocial activities.

Other papers on aging and leisure noted that stereotypes about the aging process may not be congruent with the actual barriers to participation experienced by older adults. Wilson pointed out that younger people who make leisure and recreation programming and resource allocation decisions may not be fully aware of the reality of daily life for older adults.

The session on sociological aspects of leisure also developed and reinforced the theme that leisure may occur in a variety of settings of public and private life beyond traditional, managed agency settings. In many of the papers in this session, the key role of family and friends as mediators of the leisure experience was discussed. Silverman, for example, studied contemporary leisure activities (such as keeping scrapbooks, photographs and maintaining collections of artifacts) that focused on past events and participation with other people. In their study of the "culture of cruising," Arnold and Riley explained that youth participate in automobile cruising because they find attraction in free-time activities that are not programmed. Various authorities (parents, merchants, police) accommodate some level of these leisure behaviors to ensure that community disruption is moderated.

Wachter found in her study of VCR use that people employ technology to schedule their obligations and free time more successfully. In these and other studies presented in this session, authors encouraged development of new programming options, including having unscheduled time and open facilities where groups (especially those under-represented in traditional programming) could devise their own programs.

Range of Topics

Papers presented in the psychological/social psychological session ranged from very theoretical to the very applied, and discussed a range of topics. The theoretical paper by Iwasaki and Havitz, reporting on a conceptual model of the relationship between involvement and loyalty, provided a model for researchers and practitioners for understanding the mechanisms by which consumers develop loyalty to an activity, brand or product.

In testing a model of leisure's role in social support, stress and health, McCormick found informal interaction with family and friends facilitated social support, while formal participation in a voluntary organization contributed to personal health. Research reported by Yaffe and Kleiber about the relationship between leisure and adjustment to date rape showed that women used methods of leisure escape and leisure reintegration to cope with the trauma of the experience.

The session on research on leisure programs and services for special populations: clinical and community focus was also characterized by an interest in distinct population groups. Five of the eight papers presented in this session considered either youth or older adult populations. The paper by Dunn and Wilhite, for example, considered the effects of a leisure education program on the leisure behavior and emotional well-being of home-centered older adults, while the paper by Pawelko, Magafas and Morse took up a similar theme by examining the issue of leisure well-being in adolescents. Counseling and education for leisure are desirable measures for improving leisure and health for these and other special groups.

The LRS has always received many submissions related to outdoor recreation planning and management research, and this year, many of the accepted papers centered around the dual themes of crowding and conflict. Stewart, Chen and Cole found in their survey of visitors to the Grand Canyon that the number and length of time of encounters with other backpacking parties influenced the recreation experience. They concluded, though, that use limits should vary with different locations and activities. Conflicts from crowding might also be reduced by visitors themselves.

Schneider and Hammitt described a series of coping methods and adaptations used by outdoor recreationists for reducing conflicts at recreation sites. These issues are relevant not only for remote outdoor settings, but also for urban and regional park areas in the United States and abroad, as discussed by de Bruin and de Vries in their research about constraints to park-visiting in the Netherlands.

Research about various aspects of community was evident in the tourism and travel sessions of the LRS. The evidence that groups of family and friends are primary sources of travel information for tourists suggests that community and destination marketers should influence visitors by using personal sources, noted MacKay, Brayley and Lamont.

Role of Collaboration

In their study of brochures, Masberg and Jamieson found a lack of information about local parks in tourist literature, and saw a need for better coordination between community parks boards and tourism promoters. In addition, several researchers reported their findings about the processes of tourism development in rural and urban communities. These, and other presented papers on ecotourism, introduced practical considerations about the role of collaboration in assuring desired development outcomes.

LRS's session on the management of leisure programs and services provided a diverse range of topics and issues of interest to both researchers and practitioners. Topics ranged from customer loyalty, to time management, to job satisfaction, to privatization. Gahwiler and Havitz suggested that segmenting the clientele of a membership-based organization (YMCA) according to social world sub-groups produces groups that differ with respect to organization loyalty and commitment; marketing strategies can then be based on the needs of each sub-group.

In his study of pricing information, McCarville concluded that new pricing initiatives must recognize the symbolic importance of price last paid, and use this reference point to influence current willingness to pay levels. Gustafson and McLean found in a study of the privatization of four golf courses that successful projects provided an economic rationale for the change, ensured continuing employment for workers, and separated economic and political aspects of decision making.

Perhaps the most striking feature of the session on curriculum and professional preparation was the diversity with which we define professional preparation-related issues. Topics in this session included issues as far-ranging as preparation in sport management and differing perceptions of core knowledge by therapeutic and leisure services management students. A paper by Blauwkamp and Shinew considered the effect of leisure education on leisure attitudes of college students, concluding that information gained in the classroom positively influenced students' attitudes about leisure.

This diversity of topical areas was also evidenced in the humanities session. Papers here considered leisure in the new South, philosophical bases of physical movement, and the possibility of class prejudice in the Greek concepts of work and leisure. Williams, Lankford and Degraff explored the darker side of our professional roots, calling into question from an historical perspective motives for the social reforms that served as the antecedents to the leisure services profession.

Researchers presenting papers in the methodology, statistics, and design aspects of leisure behavior session of the LRS reminded audience members that many different kinds of methods are useful for understanding leisure behavior. Both qualitative and quantitative methods of data collection and analysis were evaluated in this session. In a useful caution, Smale advised researchers and practitioners against an over-reliance on statistical testing in leisure research, noting that statistically significant results may not necessarily be meaningful or significant in practice and reality.

Special Sessions

This year's thematic session on multicultural issues, approaches and diverse populations raised important questions about groups of people under-represented in leisure research, including Hispanics, lesbians and women of color. The papers in this session encouraged the audience to look at the social values reinforced through leisure, and the function of leisure as an isolating experience for some members of society. Four of the five papers presented in this session dealt not only with diverse populations, but also with how these populations interact with outdoor recreation environments. The paper by Henderson and Roberts, for example, explored the roles of ethnicity and gender in explaining the level of comfort (or dip comfort) perceived by women of color during leisure experiences in outdoor areas. Authors of papers in this session asked public agencies to expand leisure and recreation opportunities for all people using formal and informal programming, and called for continued dialogue about multicultural issues.

Two brown-bag lunch sessions that focused on innovative teaching methods and using the internet for leisure research were particularly popular at the 1996 symposium, attracting large audiences of researchers as well as practitioners. Both sessions provided views about the future, since each considered traditional and nontraditional environments and innovations for learning and conducting research. Examples of the use of distance learning technologies and team teaching and learning were discussed in the teaching brown bag session, while using the internet to obtain research sources, immediate communication, and update information was considered the second brown bag seminar. Informal sessions such as these have great potential to provide new and timely information dissemination, and to provide a common meeting ground for researchers and practitioners to interact during the symposium.


Continuing a trend that has been growing in recent years, the 1996 LRS attempted to foster interest in thematic sessions that extended beyond traditional topical (disciplinary) sessions. Grouping papers around a common theme or interest area has two advantages. First, thematic sessions advance scholarship and practice by showing how ideas from multiple disciplines converge around a particular set of conceptual issues or concerns.

Second, since educators and practitioners find common ground regarding real problems, thematic sessions offer a collection of papers focused on specific problems and thus make it easier for conference participants to hear papers in which they have an interest. To take advantage of these characteristics of thematic sessions, the papers accepted for the 1997 LRS meetings in Salt Lake City - while submitted and reviewed under the current topical format will be further grouped in thematic sessions for presentation.

If you wish to submit an abstract to the 1997 Leisure Research Symposium, please contact LRS co-chairs John Hultsman (602-543-6619; E-mail atjt@asuvm. or M. Deborah Bialeschki (919-962-1222; E-mail moon@email.unc. edu) to receive a Call for Abstracts.


Arnold, M.L., & Riley, R.W. (1996). "Cruisin' the Main": An Ethnographic Study of Socially Negotiated Leisure, p. 70.

Blauwkamp, J.L., & Shinew, K.J. (1996). The Effect of Leisure Education on Leisure Attitudes, p. 24.

de Bruin, A., & de Vries, S. Non-Visitors of Recreation Areas in the Netherlands: Who Are They, and Why Do They Stay Away? p. 10.

Dunn, N.J., & Wilhite, B. (1996) The Effects of a Leisure Education Program on Leisure Behavior and Emotional Well-Being of Older Adults Who are Home-Centered, p. 62.

Gahwiler, P., & Havitz, M.E. (1996). Loyalty in a Membership-Reliant Leisure Organization: A Social World Perspective, p. 35.

Gustafson, T.F., & McLean, D.D. (1996). An Empirical Analysis of the Privatization of Public Golf Courses in Three Major United States Cities, p. 42.

Henderson, K.A., & Roberts, N.S. (1996). Women of Color in the Outdoors: Involvement and Culture, p. 65.

Iwasaki, Y. & Havitz, M.E. (1996). A Conceptual Model of the Relationship Between Involvement and Loyalty: A Path Analytic Approach, p. 34.

MacKay, K.J., Brayley, R.E., & Lamont, D. (1996). Information Search and Leisure Travel Behavior, p. 44.

Masberg, B.A., & Jamieson, L.M. (1996). The Visibility of Public Parks and Facilities in Tourism Collateral Materials: An Exploratory Study, p. 43.

McCarville, R.E. (1996). The Role of Cues Offering Price Last Paid Information in Establishing Willingness to Pay Levels, p. 36.

McCormick, B.P. (1996). An Empirical Test of the Role of Leisure in Social Support, Stress, and Health, p. 28.

Pawelko, K.A., Magafas, A.H., & Morse, K.M. (1996). Leisure Well-Being: An Exploratory Comparison of Indicators Among Three Adolescent Groups, p. 56.

Schneider, I.E., and Hammitt, W.E. (1996). Predicting Visitor Response to On-Site Recreation Conflict, p. 3.

Silverman, L.H. (1996). Past-Related Leisure in the Lives of American Adults, p. 68.

Smale, B.J.A. (1996). The Improbability of Less than .05 Probability: Over-Reliance on Statistical Testing in Leisure Research, p. 76.

Stewart, W.P., Chen, P.T., and Cole, D. (1996). Crowding Revisited: Evidence from Grand Canyon, p. 1.

Wachter, C.J. (1996). Using the VCR to Prioritize Life Activities, p. 72.

Williams, A., Lankford, S., & Degraff, D. (1996). Recreation Unmasked: History or Heresy, p. 22.

Wilson, S.M. (1996). Perceptions of the Leisure Constraints of Older People Across the Lifespan: Myths and Realities, p. 12.

Witt, RA., Scott, D., & Baker, D. (1996). The Relationship Between Adolescents Risk and Protective Factors, and Attitudes Toward Recreation Services, Recreation Preferences and Constraints, p. 15.

Yaff e, R.M., a Kleiber, D.A. (1996). Leisure and Adjustment to Date Rape, p. 32.

Patricia Stokowski, assistant professor in the Department of Recreation, Park and Tourism Sciences at Texas A & M University, and John Hultsman, professor of Recreation and Tourism Management at Arizona State University West, cow-chaired the Leisure Research Symposium.