Jones, I and Symon, G. (2001) 'Lifelong learning as serious leisure: policy, practice and potential', in Leisure Studies 20: 269 - 83.
Concepts such as 'lifelong learning' and 'Learning Society' have been promoted lately, but they mostly turn on the role of education as providing skills rather than as 'enriching lives in a cultural sense' (269). It is clear that there are many people involved in post-compulsory education who are not interested in vocational outcomes, however [including many poeople too 'mature' or too geographically immobile to expect occupational mobility, as found in large numbers at the UKOU and at my own beloved institution] -- hence learning as a form of leisure. Learning as a form of serious leisure needs particular exploration. Learning as serious leisure could bring new leisure experiences for those denied access, and general benefits for the community including 'enhanced self efficacy, citizenship, participation and social capital' (270). This offers a new angle on the notion and education to combat social exclusion: while vocational training programmes seem to have little impact, other social benefits may prove to be more attainable.
Stebbins defines serious leisure as having six distinctive qualities: 'perseverance, the following of a "career" path, significant personal effort, benefits to the individual, their identification of participants with the activity, and the unique ethos that exists within the activity' (272). Serious leisure looks like work, but provides no direct economic benefit or a tangible commodity. It is possible that some educational programmes might lead to specific kinds of serious leisure themselves, but lifelong education can be serious leisure itself. The concept might help address the traditional view of politicians that leisure is unimportant.
Some beneficial consequences could result, nevertheless, although much remains to be tested empirically. It is clear that even serious leisure can never replace paid employment, but there are benefits:
(1) Lifelong learning as serious leisure can provide a focus for the unemployed, retired, or those in unsatisfying jobs, especially 'time structure' and new forms of social integration
(2) Lifelong learning can produce 'enforced activity', shared experience with others, social contact, common interests
(3) Serious leisure involves a career, which can be marked in lifelong education with certificates and so on.
(4) Lifelong learning can provides status and a stable identity [a more satisfying one than work provides -- see Kjolsrod].
Stebbins also stresses self actualization and self-expression, a purposeful career, and even a quest for excitement as in Elias and Dunning -- 'lifelong learning as a means of tension-relief' (275). As well as benefitting the individual, lifelong learning can provide social capital, a set of resources available to those in a range of social networks (275). In particular, such social capital can 'strengthen the fabric of communities and encourage citizenship, critical awareness and understanding' (276). This might be particularly important in risk society, given the decline of traditional forms of community.
The (UK) Government needs to expand its policy to include these aspects. The Government already wishes to foster various voluntary and charitable organisations, but to channel resources in education to pursue vocational goals. New expanded policy might be aimed particularly at 'the unemployed... the unwaged... the elderly... women... 'portfolio workers'... those with disabilities' (276 - 7). Portfolio workers are those who pursue interrupted careers in a variety of different jobs. [NB, this is all pretty functionalist so far, with lifelong learning serving to compensate socially for the disruptions in economic changes. What about using education to demand social change?].
[Each of the categories of likely beneficiary are then explored in a bit more detail, 277 - 8. As with the rest of the article, a number of other pieces are cited in support, drawing from a range of leisure theorists and from empirical studies and government policies. It is all pretty obvious, with the possible exception of the new category of portfolio workers. One thing that does emerge is the relative neglect of lifelong learning compared to other policies to reverse the social effects of, or to compensate for, economic change]
Overall, there is too much emphasis on vocational functions of lifelong education, and seeing such education as a serious leisure activity might help. Serious leisure might be promoted as against casual leisure, as having more impact on 'categories of experience' (279). The UK government seems to place a lot of faith in vocational education as restoring social integration, but this maybe asking too much. Japan and Sweden already have 'strong cultures of learning for leisure' (280), although these may still be limited. Finally, the notion of serious leisure may overcome the reservation of policy makers who still see leisure as trivial. Promoting serious leisure could well be seen as a necessary complement to investment in education as vocational. [al;ready pushing at an open door here -- universities in the UK have long been interested in mature students who are interested in degrees 'for their own sake'. They don't get new jobs -- but they pay their fees! We call them 'cognitive tourists'!]
[For an overall critique of the limits of this piece, see my book]
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