[iDC] Re: The Ethics of Leisure

Jean Burgess jean at creativitymachine.net
Tue Jan 9 18:37:46 EST 2007

Hi everyone, long-time lurker, etc. I've really enjoyed the  
discussions on this list so far. To introduce myself, I'm completing  
a PhD called 'Vernacular Creativity and New Media' at Queensland  
University of Technology. But rather than being too long-winded, I'll  
just point you to my research blog: http://creativitymachine.net

A few thoughts:

I believe that Rojek's appropriation of 'serious leisure' comes from  
Robert Stebbins, who is generally credited with coining it, and he  
has explored it across several books. As well as two other categories  
- from memory, they were 'casual' and 'project-based' leisure, I  
think.  I definitely have my doubts as to how far those distinctions  
can be pushed in relation to contemporary new media participation, or  
'convergence' culture, but still, it's important work.

Also, I may have missed it being mentioned in this discussion, but  
two or three years back there was a lot of attention given to the  
Charles Leadbeater's work for Demos on the 'ProAm' phenomenon - which  
is most definitely describing purposeful, ambitious, persistent forms  
of non-professional participation across a range of domains (science,  
research, sport, creative practice). The main point being that  
voluntary, 'serious leisure'-based forms of participation are now  
central, not peripheral, to the market and government.  The report is  
available as a free pdf download here:

But again, I'm not at all sure that 'casual', ephemeral forms of  
participation, especially en masse, aren't even _more_ important (or  
perhaps should be, especially from an 'ethical' perspective) than the  
'serious' or 'proam' ones.

And, as others have suggested, probably one of the most pressing  
issues is the tension between the idea of participation as agency or  
enfranchisement, and participation as a form of free labour that is  
required before we even appear to _exist_.  An opposition that is  
probably too stark in the face of real experience, but some of the  
debates around this stuff at least tend to assume it exists.  So,  
inspired by the recent holidays, what about the right to 'useless  
unemployment' - forms of leisure that require an investment in time  
but leave no commodities behind - time spent reading books, say?


On 10/01/2007, at 5:05 AM, andrew mount wrote:

> Ever heard of Ivan Illich's 'the right to useful unemployment and its
> professional enemies' (ISBN:0714526630)...
> Its perhaps a forerunner to some of these ideas. I believe he  
> follows up the
> thread in  "shadow work', which may be more well known.
> A
> On 1/8/07 7:57 PM, "Ryan Griffis" <ryan.griffis at gmail.com> wrote:
>> On Jan 7, 2007, at 11:02 AM, idc-request at bbs.thing.net wrote:
>>> This is the intellectual market dialectic as I see it - As more  
>>> noise
>>> flourishes, one has to be on lists, blogs, etc constantly - the
>>> more the
>>> better.  On the other hand, this consumes one's life to point where
>>> there
>>> can be nothing but practice.
>> Patrick's post called up some recent reading - Chris Rojek's "Culture
>> and Leisure" (2000), where he has a pretty thorough analysis/history
>> of criticism surrounding leisure and work. This discussion on the
>> list seems to be covering some similar territory...
>> Rojek talks about 2 kinds of leisure (borrowing from someone, whom i
>> can't remember) - "Serious leisure" and "casual leisure" - serious
>> being the kind of activity that is focused and "beneficial" to life
>> goals (participating on lists, or going to art museums for example),
>> casual being things like drinking and surfing the tv. He does a
>> pretty good job of critiquing this dichotomy while finding a use for
>> classifying leisure time. Most significantly, he discusses the need
>> for an "ethics of leisure" to help shift things from the "work ethic"
>> that dominates US life especially. he marginally gets into the
>> implications of distributed technology upon both of these "ethics",
>> mostly using the cache of Western critical theory surrounding
>> rationality and commodity fetishism (predominantly the Frankfurt
>> School).
>> he also goes over some post 1970s theories that attempt to solve the
>> problem of work, following post industrial criticism (Galbraith, etc)
>> - namely in ideas like guaranteed wages, decreasing work hours,
>> redistributing wealth to narrow the income gap, etc. he has some good
>> criticism of these as solutions, especially the idea that more
>> leisure time wouldn't improve many peoples' lives without developing
>> a radical ethics of leisure. he goes a little too far in the
>> direction of arguing "human nature" as a barrier to solving wealth
>> inequities for my predisposition, but he makes some valid points
>> nonetheless.
>> anyway, i thought i'd throw out another discourse around ethics that
>> seems to intersect with the discussion here...
>> best,
>> ryan
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