Tomlinson, A. (1989) 'Whose side are they on? Leisure Studies and cultural studies in Britain', in Leisure Studies, 8 (2): 97-106.
This paper follows on from the LSA Conference of 1988 [as do all the other contributions in this volume? which include an early piece on pluralism by Veal]. The Cconference hosted a variety of people interested in leisure, even though managers were slightly under- represented. The business of leisure management has changed in recent years and has become far more interested in marketing and in operationalizing leisure terms. This has led to a deeper split between managers and academics. Marketing has become a kind of organizing discourse for the study of leisure, and there is a need to preserve academic and interdisciplinary traditions in Leisure Studies. If anything, leisure studies require more critical thinking and the development of theory, and Leisure Studies has always been interested in encouraging theoretical innovation.
A major area for theoretical innovation is found in Cultural Studies. The CCCS hosted an interdisciplinary conference to examine the connections between leisure and society in 1980, and this did much to challenge the early parochialism of Leisure Studies. Clarke and Critcher, for example, attacked Leisure Studies especially for its 'historicized conception of the social' (99), and its patriarchal framework and the universalising assumptions it engendered [and see file]. They wanted to restore connections between leisure and the wider culture and system of power as well. This provided topics for subsequent agendas for LSA conferences too. However, this critical work has been slow to influence the core publications in Leisure Studies, and certainly students still seem to prefer 'the neat taxonomies of the conventional wisdom' (100) [Tomlinson tells us he's using the term 'conventional wisdom' in the sense that Williams used it to describe a kind of sedimented working ideology]. Conferences can also ossify the field.
In Leisure Studies, the early work on the 'leisure society' was both idealist and humanist. This focus sidelined interests in work and power, and therefore in the critical analysis of these areas. A lot of the work was descriptive. It was based on liberal critique, the notion of professionalised leisure, and an interest in environmentalism (including planning): the influence of liberal geographers was apparent, and there was a connection between social geography and government planning and policy initiatives. The flaws of the approach were also apparent: (a) a simplistic view of work and its relation to leisure led to the use of a lot of descriptive surveys based on this commonsense distinction rather than work on the relations between the two; (b) power was ignored in favour of voluntarism and choice; (c) leisure activities were stripped of the actual meanings and replaced with a notion of what they should be about -- disputed or imposed meanings are not studied; (d) the incorporation into the conventional wisdom of the day included reproducing University specialisms and ignoring any links that might be apparent between them.
Cultural Studies came from quite a different position, from the British New Left with its largely marxist theory. As a subject, it emerged from a crisis in English Studies. It has always pursued ethnographic and semiotic analysis, and has developed theoretically informed case-studies. The social and political context has always been important, leading to studies of [articulations], the active relations between culture and ideology, and between 'popular consciousness and the political process' (104).
The central activities have been stated by Hall and Johnson: the formal analysis of popular texts; the situating of those texts; the use of observations and analysis of lived cultures through ethnography. The interest has been in why some activities become popular and then in the political implications. Despite the diversity of approaches in Cultural Studies, these questions have remained central.
There is no separation of the present from the historical (by analysing production and reproduction). There is an intention to make the familiar strange, and to explain what seems natural as culturally and ideologically constructed. Culture is not a simple term -- there are cultures and relations between them. There is a considerable range and diversity of what counts as cultural. Cultural Studies aims to engage in struggle and interventions as a result of analysis, leading to a definite praxis.
Culture studies offers no panacea and is itself open to critique, including its occasional use of language which is mystifying and 'dazzling' (105). So far, it has left the dominant culture largely unanalyzed. But is important to apply the critical perspectives developed in Cultural Studies to leisure, to analyse its ideological nature and its relations 'to power, privilege and domination' (105), and to uncover possibilities for transformation.
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