Politics and leisure are words with deceptively obvious meaning, actually, they have many meanings, not only applied to social sciences but also in everyday life.
This essay will need to briefly define what leisure and politics are and how they will be used throughout. A second problem is people do not associate politics and leisure but rather think of them as completely different spheres. This essay will explain how they are related.
Firstly leisure needs to be defined. Aristotle said that leisure is far from being passive relaxation, but “true leisure is an activity, and an activity in which a person finds their greatest fulfillment.” (Aristotle, 1955) In saying this, leisure has been known to be notoriously difficult to define. Sociologists treat it as being a portion of one’s time. (Wilson, 1980) Other sociologists regard it as a quality of ones time that is unrestricted to a particular time. It is generally agreed to attempt to list all ‘leisure’ activities does not help much, because almost any activity can be leisure if the right attitude of mind is adopted towards it. (Wilson, 1980) One recurring theme of leisure is most people’s leisure is informal and everyday activities like playing with pets or talking to friends. Another boundary around defining leisure is that much of our leisure interstices with other forms of social institutions. For example, reading a book on our way to work. This makes distinguishing leisure from other activities extremely difficult. Because of this, overlapping and merging occurs creating a grey area in our definition. This again stems back to the mind set and attitude taken toward and activity by the individual. (Wilson, 1988)
Defining leisure should not be abandoned simply because whatever definition is agreed upon exemptions will always be found. Going back to Aristotle’s definition, leisure is chosen for ones own sake. If restrictions are applied to the individual that results in failure to participate then leisure has not been achieved as it was not chosen freely. (Lane, 1978) Aristotle also said that leisure must “have their own intrinsic purpose, as distinct from those occupations” (Sinclair, 1962) Supporting that leisure must be intrinsically motivating to be considered leisure. Each of these elements in the definition is subject to change and therefore hard to fix meaning to a subject that is very flexible.
The study of politics must concern itself with social institutions regarding governments and political behaviors.
Elections can play with political ideas to the extent that they may impinge upon people’s leisure. Taking into account the political factors regarding leisure is to recognize that peoples use of free time is not simply the result of social expectation or economic health but is the outcome of political struggle and class conflict. (Alan Bullock, 1999) Leisure is rarely a campaign point through election time and is unlikely to impact a government or cause a societal movement. This is ironic because leisure is indirectly the forefront of many debates; when parties are talking about childcare, public transport, housing and a clean environment, they are contending over leisure issues. The private is political as there is a connection between personal experiences and larger political structures in the way that everyday lives are extending control over themselves which can lead to submission by governments.
So far leisure has been defined as an activity that is chosen voluntarily and intrinsically without constraints or obligation. Politics, however symbolizes the constant struggle over resources that are being dominated by one group and exercise control in the “benefit” of social order. The two again appear to be under different spheres and seem therefore unrelated.
As earlier stated that leisure has never truly been free of politics, reflection on this reminds us of this. The latin word for leisure is licere meaning “it is allowed for” (Latin Dictionary, 2011) This can be translated further for “to be allowed” or “lawful”. Relating this back to the relationship of politics and leisure this can mean a few things. It could perhaps mean liberty- the freedom or the lack of restraint to enjoy your activity of your choosing with no constraints. Although it can also mean you have been given a license to be allowed or permitted to do such activities by some official body. (Wilson, 1988) This double meaning shows there is a complex umbrella the word ‘leisure’ has for us, it suggests freedom and at the same time constraint. Constraint being regulation and control, this can be summed up as “politics” (Leboime, 2015)
Political regulation of leisure has been evident throughout history usually legitimated by religious backgrounds or “morals”. An example of this is soccer was forbidden in the fourteenth century by law, and all able bodied men were forced to do archery.
Perhaps the basis of political regulation of leisure has been more of a way to control an individual’s attempt to seek gratification. Not talking in the sense of gratification by leisure in play but the negative gratification leisure can have. For example- excessive drinking, smoking or other stimulants, gambling or various forms of sexual behavior. Recent history records show the attempts governing bodies have made to regulate and control these activities either out of their own morals or to keep the peace. But why are some activities more susceptible to being controlled. Each instance reveals there is a certain class of persons that benefits more than others and another class that is more likely to be charged with immoral leisure. It seems that this behavior in which groups of people who indulge in these forms of leisure (drinking, gambling) are less important than the larger social categories of which they come. Therefore there is a continual struggle in which these social groups are continually engaged. A social group that is being undermined by higher social groups that try to legitimate their actions through law. With this, the undermined social groups will resist this control through rebellion and individual actions. A notable historic example of this is prohibition.
During the nineteenth century, when the state of both the United Kingdom and the United States was weak, governing institutions fulfilled this role to regulate leisure. “rational” recreation was implemented to be part of a larger mission to provide basic necessities such as sanitation, housing and transportation. Various acts of parliament were passed in England increasing its ability to regulate leisure time. In the United States acts were passed more firmly giving up our leisure time to that of the state. After these governments had acquired even more power and increased in size, wider responsibilities for the welfare and recreation of citizens was assumed. The trend was supported by the cities and was boosted by capitalist philanthropists to increase capital gain.