Roberts, K.  (2004) ‘Leisure Inequalities, Class Divisions and Social Exclusion in Present day Britain’, Cultural Trends, 13 (2) 1-15.

[A rather confused piece, I thought, with some serious problems relating evidence to some of the assertions, and demonstrating a real block over the notion of social exclusion—one which is typical of new labour.  The whole thing seems limited by these conceptions and unable to break out of the narrow policy agenda].

Does the evidence show that there are excluded groups?  Can leisure be seen as a socio cultural asset which can be turned into an economic asset?  The evidence is complex, but there seems to be no permanently excluded group.  There are minorities of non participants in all leisure activities, but this is probably a matter of choice rather than the existence of particular barriers.  There are no problems in general and no marginalised groups [already the incredulity is starting to mount?].  There is a great deal of variation in leisure patterns.  The second question about conversion to economic assets is closely tied to the idea of leisure as a compensation, leisure activity as a way of helping the poor [new labour!  Completely the opposite from the standard Bourdieu stuff about how the ruling classes use leisure to do distanciation and social reproduction]

The exclusion or gender in leisure studies seems to have arisen from an excessive interest in Bourdieu and cultural capital [an interest, maybe but very little understanding it seems] especially how cultural capital is internalised and how this helps identification with the others and class closure.  [ see Bennett et al] This however is elitist, and ‘justifying a snobbish disdain for the “ lower orders”’ (2).  [Staggering!  Seems to be standard Tory propaganda here arguing there anyone who mentions class must somehow support class divisions.  Or maybe  gramscian stuff on the need to positively celebrate the critical faculties of popular culture for fear of being called an elitist?].  Closure processes do operate but they are not sufficient to explain the social mobility rates nor actual leisure inequalities.  It is wrong to bolt on Bourdieu to the notion of social inclusion [we can agree on that at least], and to see leisure in some way explaining the failure to take up opportunities.  This is in effect a cultural deficit approach, which was popular in early educational theory, then discredited, but now revived.  In general, leisure opportunities provided by a well meaning state, including sporting facilities or the Boy Scouts, have failed to engage the disadvantage [some pretty weird leaps in the argument here.  It would all make much more sense if the lower orders were wealthy, content and fulfilled].

The actual data shows considerable variations in participation: some activities are near universal (TV, radio, visiting friends and relatives).  If there is exclusion here, ‘one suspects many of the non participants are excluded by choice’ (3) [any data?  The old liberal notion of free choice?  What about those who have been unable to buy a television licence, for example?].  Certainly total insulation,  from popular music for example, would be very difficult [very vague again—does he mean that it’s impossible not to listen to some involuntarily?  If so, so what?].  There are minorities who are excluded from a number of activities, such as ‘weekly drinking…  Annual holidays…  Using a public library’ (3), but these are too numerous to be seen as disadvantaged [so only minorities can be disadvantaged?  Completely opposite to most Marxist approaches, of course which say that substantial majorities are permanently disadvantaged].  There are some spectacularly low participation rates in activities such as ‘needlework, horse riding, playing squash’, and it is the participants here who are seen as ‘odd’ (3) [so he’s just interested in status distinctions, in being seen as odd?].

Much does depend on definitions.  For example a broad definition of sport means that nearly 50% of adults are included, although the frequency of participation varies.  The larger categories can be disaggregated by contrast, for example with the TV audience [interspersed with data, largely from the ghs, PP. four and five].  Attendance at public arts events are ‘repeatedly less than 10%’.  50% of the population do sport once a month, but less than 10% of them exercise enough to gain health benefits.  Most people’s interests in sports attached to specific sports or even teams rather than having a general interest in sport as such.  Although leisure activities are studied separately, they often cluster in practice, for example when visits to family also involve visiting pubs.  Studies using larger groups give a perception of stability, but deconstructing those larger groups into smaller units reveals instability, including volatility in the size of particular groups of fans.  Those bundles of leisure activities most commonly studied are actually effects of the leisure industry, who ‘commission much of the data gathering’ (7).

Measures of the size of activity also vary: they might be the percentage of the population or the amount of time or money spent.  Combining all these measures produces the big three leisure activities—‘holidays, audiovisual media, and alcohol’ (7).  Taking these in turn: (A) 60% of the adult population engage in tourism and the amount spent on the activity is the largest of all.  There is a persistent minority who take no holidays; (B) watching television accounts for 40% of all leisure time, if we include using computers and playing games, and there is a highly level of spending.  It is hard not to be involved.  Leisure patterns have changed, however and the whole activity is now much more commercialised; (C) drinking accounts for a large proportion of money spent, but a substantial minority do not indulge (25% of men and 40 per cent of women).  Drinking is often combined with the other activities such as out of home eating: this combination is actually the top leisure activity in terms of money spent.

Substantial minorities exclude themselves in each of these activities.  Sometimes majorities do too, and therefore they cannot be called ‘heavily disadvantaged’ [see above].  The big three  leisure activities dominant.  By comparison, sport is rather low down on the list in terms of money spent, lower than the amount spent on mobile phones, gambling, smoking, taking drugs and engaging in sexual activity, ‘a moderately large leisure industry’, especially with web pornography (9).  Visiting museums and theme parks is well down on the list of leisure activities.  [Yet we know, of course that these activities are particularly significant in preserving educational success and exclusion for a minority—it is not just some sort of popular vote that indicates importance!].

Social class and age are particularly important in connecting with a leisure activity.  The middle classes do more of everything except watch TV.  They are ‘leisure omnivores’ (9).  They are overrepresented in the consumption of high cultural activities, but also over represented everywhere, including in the consumption of drink and gambling.  This does not seem to be down to having lots of time, but more to do with socialization and education—and money.  Leisure seems to be sensitive to income, for example ‘the richest 10% in Britain spend just over six times as much as the poorest 10%’ (9) [really mixing up categories here!].  Money does seem to affect leisure consumption everywhere—for example the richest spent 25 times more on sports and camping.  Money doesn’t seem to be so important, however in ‘reading matter, audiovisual media, hobbies, tobacco and gambling’ (10).  This sort of difference is inevitable in the market economy.  Even public provisions ‘are most used by the strong’ (10).

There is also an age gradient except in the case of church going, and the decline in gambling among the very old [which is quite delayed].  Age affects activities such as drinking or using out of home leisure.  There seems to be no revival of interest once children have left home.  The older members of the population are excluded, and tend to be ignored in social exclusion policies.  However, they were once included—it is a matter of living on stocks already developed in their youth.  Efforts made to introduce new leisure activities at school ‘never obliterate the leisure effects of family background’ (11).  It is just that ‘many one time interests are cast aside [with age]’ (11).  Inclusion in school has not led to life long participation for ‘sport, religious education and “good” literature’ (11).

Leisure can improve a sense of wellbeing and even deliver optimal experiences.  Some serious leisure can end in a career.  Leisure can lead to better notions of citizenship, and to ‘boosting national (or local or regional) prestige and identity, proclaiming moral and aesthetic standards, and triggering an economic multiplier’ (11).  The government has funded a number of activities designed to reduce crime.  All leisure requires combinations of capitals, however.  If leisure leads to networking, this itself can lead to more leisure as in a ‘leisure multiplier’ (11).

So leisure can lead to economic advantages, to an occupation, to the development of social capital to bond and bridge, and to social mobility, as Putnam argues.  Using leisure strategically can help to gain the right sort of introductions, to acquire ‘manual or mental skills’, and there does seem to be some evidence that children involved in the arts are more successful in both education and the labour market than their social class peers.  There are still problems however: few actually make it into a paid occupation, and the successful tend to renew closure strategies, for example by retreating to private areas.  This is a consequence of the ‘mainstreaming effect’.  There seems to be one successful leisure based policy—Playing for Success --  which involves setting up study centres at professional football clubs (13).  There is some doubt whether this will survive routinization.  Arts programmes especially unlikely to lead to economic advantage because ‘outstanding performers in sport and rock music tend to be from privileged backgrounds’ (13) [lots of different points crammed in here in a very strange way again].

In our current economy,  1/3 population are employed in professional and management jobs, and that seems to be the limit regardless of changes in social and cultural capital.  Further, ¼ all jobs seem to require no particular skills and qualifications.  Unemployment is increasing so that ¼ all children are born into poverty.  Faced with these data, leisure is irrelevant.  The commitment to expand sports and arts is popular politically but participation is already close to its ceiling.  Leisure policy is a cheap solution for governments but it will not dispel labour market disadvantage.  There is an economic base to the leisure and cultural dimensions [some kind of simple economic determinism here then?].

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