Identify and examine the range of factors which impact upon an individual’s leisure patterns. Use appropriate case material to support your discussion.
Leisure is a particularly broad and varied subject of investigation. As such, any analysis which attempts to effectively account for leisure naturally requires the adoption of equally varied and diverse phenomena. Although leisure can be viewed as the enrichment of one’s personal pleasure, Torkildsen (1999; p. 50) has suggested that leisure can also be “a holistic state of being or even a spiritual experience”. Given this assessment, it is possible to see how a plethora of varied issues and factors serve to impact upon the both theoretical understanding of leisure and its practical implementation. Above all, leisure is essentially a social activity. Indeed, even in cases where leisure participation is undertaken in what appears to be isolation, the social connotations of individual leisure activity remain clearly apparent. As such, if one is to accurately assess the factors and issues which impact upon individual leisure patterns, such analysis essentially rests on an understanding of social phenomena.
As such, the purpose of this work is to assess and examine the varied factors and issues which impact and direct the leisure patterns of the individual. It will be shown that as leisure activity and wider social issues are ultimately linked; offering effective conclusions on what directs individual leisure patterns requires a social foundation for the analysis. In addition, factors relating to the individual condition impact directly on the form and characteristics assumed by leisure patterns. As such, these issues are also provided expression in the analysis which follows below.
Before detailed examination it is first prudent to highlight the degree to which sport and leisure studies now assume a position of importance in wider social science investigation. Above all, given the social connotations of sport and leisure activity many of the theoretical and practical matters prevalent in the social sciences are equally applicable to sport and leisure. In recent years social science disciplines such as sociology and social policy have become increasingly concerned with the matter of social exclusion. Indeed, in general welfare discourse social exclusion augmented traditional concepts of poverty and deprivation as a primary method of assessing social phenomena and the manner in which such phenomena affect the social outcomes of individuals and groups (Houlihan, 2008; p. 77). Given this increasing preponderance, any assessment of variations in individual leisure patterns needs to take active account of social exclusion and the impact it has on the formation and propagation of one’s leisure activity.
As suggested above, social exclusion has in many respects augmented and built upon traditional understandings of poverty and deprivation. Such augmentation has above all highlighted the degree to which material poverty acts as a central cause of social exclusion. Prior to the 1970s, it was widely felt that the establishment of state led welfare provision in the form of the welfare state would effectively address issues pertaining to poverty in society (Houlihan, 2008; p. 78). However, such was not the case. As such, poverty and social exclusion interact at a fundamental level. Given this, poverty is a key indicator to how an individual will undertake leisure activity. For example, Wilkinson (Collins & Kay, 2003; p. 38) has suggested that there is a direct link between poverty in the form of unequal material income and “having control over ones work and domestic circumstances”. From this basis it is possible to see how poverty impacts upon the pursuit of leisure in a fundamental way. Above all, effectively carrying out leisure activity in the modern setting is heavily reliant on the ability to utilise material power in the form of money. Indeed, over recent years leisure activity has increasingly become a commodity through which profits are accumulated for those who invest. Thus, if an individual is unable to access disposable financial resources which are not required for the essentials of life, then there is little if any possibility that they will be able to engage effectively in leisure activities. Therefore, as Collins & Kay (2003; p. 38) have pointed out, “there can be virtually no one who is poor and not excluded from leisure and culture”.
As such, the above discussion clearly highlights the degree to which poverty acts as a pivotal inhibitor to leisure access. Thus, individual leisure patterns differ tremendously depending on the material conditions in which one exists. In addition, poverty is closely related to a plethora of other social problems and concerns. For example, it comes as no surprise that areas with high levels of poverty also tend to exhibit greater crime levels and low educational provision and achievement (Roberts, 2006; p. 23). The latter issue is of particular concern to the present investigation. Above all, in relation to children and young people, effective leisure participation in school is a vital part of future health and leisure development. Thus, if general educational standards are low in areas where poverty persists, there will be constituent impact upon health and leisure participation.
Above all, when one considers social exclusion and leisure, it is easily possible to see the degree to which a variety of different issues and factors impact in an interrelated manner. A key example of such tendency can be seen with the interaction between poverty and class. Although it is certainly true to say that class is now a less important issue in social formation than it once was, it remains the case that social classification and class membership does invariably tend to indicate material inequality (Floyd, 1994; p. 159). Moreover, some commentators have argued that class continues to exhibit the same exclusionary tendencies as it did decades ago. Indeed, it has been suggested that “far from leisure being the vanguard of the classless society, the way we live our lives is a daily, hourly testament to our place in Britain’s class structure” (Collins & Kay, 2003; p. 18). In addition, the interaction between class and individual leisure patterns occurs because of factors beyond the traditional material understanding. Thus, financial limitations are not the only force at work. Although economic factors naturally figure prominently, wider class based issues such as cultural factors have been highlighted as possible limitations on access to, and participation in leisure activities (Floyd, 1994; p. 161). Cultural and social capital formed as a consequence of educational and employment opportunities therefore directly affect leisure participation. Given that class stratification acts the foundation on which social and cultural capital is formed, it is clear how class membership has a direct and unequivocal impact upon individual leisure patterns.
The above discussions of class and individual leisure patterns highlight the structural issues which often pervade the debate currently under investigation. Above all, structural constraints such as those imposed by class based economic inequality impact considerably on the leisure patterns an individual will assume. However, in addition to structural matters, issues and factors which have their foundation in more socially related formation are equally important. For example, whereas class can often be understood on the basis of its structural foundations, issues such as race are formed in more socially based manner. Of course this is not to say that race itself is not affected by structural concerns. However, race as an issue is a socially formed construct (Floyd, 1994; p. 162). Thus, any assessment of race and its impact upon leisure participation and individual patterns must take account of this social foundation.
Nonetheless, however race is constructed it is still the case that racial identification impacts directly upon exclusion in sport and leisure. Moreover, issues pertaining to race, racism and discrimination are as pertinent in sport and leisure as they are anywhere else. Indeed, as Collins & Kay (2003; p. 132) have suggested, “Sport is a site of discrimination as much as other areas of life, emanating in poorer access to resources, expertise and power”. Therefore, a plethora of studies and empirical investigations have outlined how socially formed concepts of race and discrimination affect the degree to which members of minority groups have access to leisure resources. As such, race and racial concepts impact directly on personal leisure patterns. Moreover, although it has been suggested that such racial conditioning begins at a very young age, it is inevitably the case that such issues continue to impact throughout adult life (Floyd, 1994; p. 170).
As suggested earlier, issues surrounding social exclusion such as race, poverty and class invariably interact at a fundamental level. Now the degree to which this cross-issue interaction occurs can be further exemplified with the issue of gender and how gender related matters affect individual leisure patterns and participation. For example, it has been clearly outlined how gender and poverty interlink in a determined fashion. Indeed, women are far more likely than men to experience poverty; a fact which transcends the modern welfare setting and thus stretches back centuries (Aitchison, 2003; p. 15). With regards the modern setting, it has been suggested that the onset of welfare provision from the state actually served to reinforce the inequalities which have historically allowed for the poverty imbalance between men and women (Roberts, 2006; p. 103). Indeed, the reinforcement of traditional gender roles as a result of welfare provision has done much to ensure that women generally remain excluded from social processes when compared to their male counterparts. Moreover, the enforcement of defined gender roles by wider social processes is much more evident in the working class atmosphere that the middle or upper classes (Aitchison, 2003; p. 28). As such, gender, poverty and class all serve to impact and interact in a way which engenders social exclusion for women. Such social exclusion on the basis of gender therefore has clear connotations for the present discussion. Given that social exclusion in many ways accounts for unequal access to, and participation in leisure activity, then it is clear how gender plays a central role in such processes. Thus, gender is a key issue which affects individual leisure patterns and participation.
Just as race is a social construct, so too is disability. Naturally disability has clear structural concerns and is inevitably based on physical differences. However, this does not detract from the fact that the interpretation of disability essentially comes about as a consequence of the assumptions that societies forms regarding physical difference (Henderson, 1991; p. 89). Thus, “a person’s disability is not the origin of a stigma or deviancy. Rather, society assigns stigma and deviant labels to people with undesirable differences” (Collins & Kay, 2003; p. 141). The essential problem which continues to persist with regards to interpretations of disability is that the individual disabled person is not viewed as being an independent person in their own right. Indeed, this social conception of disability historically pervaded the political realm, with disabled policies being essentially based on the institutional setting as being the most effective way of ‘dealing’ with disability (Houlihan, 2008; p. 206). Such conceptions in the policy realm have naturally altered significantly in recent years with proactive legislation aimed at ensuring freedom of choice and the increased participation of disabled people in social processes. However, the fact remains that disability continues to serve as a massive source of exclusion from the functions of society. Nowhere is this exclusion more prevalent that in sport and leisure. Although in recent years there has been a considerable increase in elite disabled sport, in many respects this has failed to transcend to the rest of society. In particular, policy focus regarding disability in leisure has inevitably tended to focus on the physical constraints placed upon disabled people. Thus, public leisure facilities are now legally obliged to ensure that access is available for disabled people wherever possible. However, such progressions have done little if anything to alter the societal conception of disability, which directly affects the structural processes involved in leisure provision (Houlihan, 2008; p. 210). Thus, leisure facilities may have the physical structures in place to ensure access for disabled people, but the assumptions which are drawn regarding disability continue to be based on a conception which views disabled people as being incapable of exercising individual agency. Thus, the basis of exclusion is obvious. In addition, as consistent with much of the examination already undertaken, disability as a source of social exclusion to leisure activities is impacted upon by other factors already assessed. Thus, gender, race, class and poverty all serve to augment and propel the exclusion brought about as a result of disability. Therefore, this interaction serves to intensify the reduced leisure possibilities for disabled people. Patterns of leisure among the disabled will therefore be affected to a considerable degree.
The final area of discussion to be addressed is that of age. Social exclusion on the basis of age is an area of concern to which considerable academic effort has been dedicated. In wider social functions, it has become increasingly apparent in recent years that there exist both structural and societal limitations on people who are of a particular age, especially those in or on the verge of old age. Alienation from social processes has consistently been highlighted as an increasing issue of concern among the elderly. As age often brings the death of close family and friends, along with the presence or possibility of physical infirmity, then exclusion in the elderly is a particularly protracted problem (Moody, 2006; p. 5). Moreover, given that the elderly are no longer in a position to significantly alter their material existence through employment, it is equally true that issues pertaining to poverty are of significant concern. Given the interaction of these various factors it is easily possible to see how age based exclusion from societal processes is a key problem of concern. Moreover, the manifestation of such exclusion is evident through elderly participation in leisure activities. Although patterns of leisure in the elderly have been suggested to mirror similar leisure outlets to their youth, participation invariably reduces as age progresses (Moody, 2006; p. 51). Individual leisure patterns will therefore be hugely affected by the age of the individual in question.
In conclusion, the various discussions and examinations above have pointed to one clear factor in the leisure patterns of the individual. Above all, the social exclusion to which an individual is subject will have a direct and unequivocal impact on their patterns of leisure. As such, given that issues such as poverty, gender, class, disability, age and race all serve to impact upon exclusion in society, then any analysis of leisure and sport patterns must take place on the basis of such phenomena. This necessity thus accounts for the structural focus assumed by this work. However, as suggested at many points above, the most protracted impact of social exclusion on leisure patterns occurs when the primary issues of concern interact with one another. For example, it is when poverty interacts with gender, and class with race that the most severe forms of exclusion emerge. Leisure in itself can be a form of exclusion. However, the greatest benefit derived from the examination of leisure patterns is in its ability to act as a social indictor. Thus, the issues of race, gender, class etc and the connotations which emerge, are clearly personified with reference to leisure activity. Given this, along with the increasing importance of social exclusion as an object of academic investigation, it is likely that sport and leisure development as a discipline will continue to form an integral part of the wider social sciences.
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