The 1960s: A Pivotal Decade for Recreation Research

By Sessoms, H. Douglas | Journal of Leisure Research, Winter 2000 | Go to article overview

The 1960s: A Pivotal Decade for Recreation Research


Sessoms, H. Douglas, Journal of Leisure Research


KEYWORDS: The 1960s, research agenda, Profession evolution

For the most part prior to Of Time, Work and Leisure (DeGrazia, 1962) recreation was defined as an activity which took place during one's leisure (free time). Proponents cited its value as an enriching life experience motivated from the pleasures derived from the experience itself. DeGrazia's definitions of leisure, recreation and work changed that. Leisure transcended time, becoming an experience with enriching and satisfying potential. Recreation was relegated to the status of diversionary activity. This view had immediate impact. For academics there was a new set of concepts to explore, a new arena in which to play, and for many leisure appeared more esoteric and multi-dimensional than did recreation. Recreation and its technical side, the provision of activities and programs, could be left to those who practiced its art; leisure would be the basis upon which theories of behavior and motivation, constraints and desires would be built.

To understand this shift in perspective and interests one needs to put in context what was happening in the field of parks and recreation and its research efforts, for this was the Sixties, a turbulent decade with many social and professional changes. Before 1960 most research efforts in recreation and leisure had been of an inventory nature. The National Recreation Association had periodically conducted status surveys of park and recreation agencies, providing organizations and practitioners with a mass of data related to park and playground acreage, personnel and fiscal patterns, and program dimensions. Some sociological studies had been conducted exploring patterns of recreation and leisure behaviors according to age, gender, income and other demographic variables. Congress established the Outdoor Recreation Resources Review Commission, charging it with the responsibility to assess America's outdoor recreation interests and needs and determining the requisite resources required to accommodate those behavi ors. The Commission completed its national recreation household survey in 1963, reporting to Congress its findings in some twenty seven volumes. As a result of this unique research undertaking (the only national recreation research study in the United States ever done by a governmental agency) Congress created the Bureau of Outdoor Recreation. One of its mandates was to continue to monitor our nation's outdoor recreation behaviors, develop an outdoor recreation plan, and periodically update its planning process.

Change was everywhere in the mid-sixties. Federal legislation was enacted assuring all people, regardless of race, equal access to public places, including parks and recreation areas. The first wave of baby boomers were in college, demanding that they be involved in formulating policies and procedures relating to their education. The park and recreation profession was developing standards for the accrediting of its academic programs and was trying to bring together its various major professional organizations into one body. The effort succeeded in 1966 with the creation of the National Recreation and Park Association. Two years later, the profession had its first research journal, the Journal of Leisure Research. Although published by NRPA, its editorial board was composed largely of non-recreation and park educators. Most were trained either as social psychologists, sociologists, or in one of the natural resource specialties. With little notice a division was occurring within the recreation education and re search community between those who identified with parks and recreation, believing they were striving to improve a profession, and those who saw themselves as members of a discipline; leisure studies (Burdge, 1983). The latter group of scholars from divergent backgrounds were coming together to study the singularity of leisure, whereas the former were more concerned with the issues of professional practice, professional preparation and profession development. …

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