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Home arrow Communication arrow Leisure and the Motive to Volunteer: Theories of Serious, Casual, and Project-Based Leisure

The serious leisure perspective (SLP)

The SLP provides the theoretical and empirical foundation for the most widely accepted classification of leisure activities presently available (Stebbins 2007/2015; Elkington and Stebbins 2014). In the spirit of the extensive exploration that underlies this perspective, its three forms (serious, casual, and project-based leisure) considered together there are not conceived of, however, as necessarily encompassing all possible leisure activities. For one or more new forms could be discovered or existing forms substantially changed. More than forty years of research and theoretic work on leisure in the name of the perspective have led to development of a typological map of the world of leisure, the most recent version of which is available on the following website: www.seri- ousleisure.net/SLP diagrams. A full discussion of this map as well as the three forms (including the six distinguishing qualities of serious leisure) is available in the two books cited above.

Within the perspective leisure is defined as un-coerced, contextually framed activity engaged in during free time, which people want to do and, using their abilities and resources, actually do in either a satisfying or a fulfilling way (or both) (the most recent version of this definition, comes from Stebbins 2012:4). The serious form comes in two varieties: serious leisure and devotee work. Because of their similarity I will when appropriate refer to them together as the serious pursuits. Serious leisure (as opposed to casual leisure and project-based leisure) is the systematic pursuit of an amateur, hobbyist, or volunteer activity that participants find so interesting and fulfilling that, in the typical case, they launch themselves on a (leisure) career centered on acquiring and expressing its special skills, knowledge, and experience (Stebbins 1992:3).

Devotee work is activity in which participants feel a powerful devotion, or strong, positive attachment, to an occupation that they are proud to be in (devotee work was first discussed in Stebbins 2004/2014:73-75 and is now elaborated in Stebbins, 2014). In such work the sense of career and achievement is high, and the core activity endowed with such intense appeal that the line between this work and leisure is virtually erased. Thus one way of understanding this level of appeal is to view devotee work as serious leisure from which a full or partial livelihood is possible. For evidence supporting this proposition, see Walker and Fenton’s (2013) study of productive leisure researchers.

The term career is used broadly in these definitions, based on Erving Goffman’s (1961:127-28) elaboration of the idea of “moral career" Such careers are available in all substantial, complicated roles, including especially those in work, leisure, politics, religion, volunteering, and interpersonal relationships (see also Hewett 1991:246; Lindesmith,

Strauss, and Denzin 1991:277). George Floro (1978) discerned more than thirty-five years ago the fact of careers in volunteer work. The adjective “serious” (a word Stebbins’ research respondents often used) embodies such qualities as earnestness, sincerity, importance, and carefulness. This adjective signals the importance of these three forms of activity in the everyday lives of participants, especially in that pursuing the three eventually engenders deep self-fulfillment.

Casual leisure is immediately intrinsically rewarding, relatively short-lived pleasurable activity requiring little or no special training to enjoy it (Stebbins 1997). It is fundamentally hedonic, engaged in for the significant level of pure enjoyment, or pleasure, found there. It is also the classificatory home of much of the deviant leisure as discussed by Stebbins (1996d) and Rojek (1997:392-93). Casual leisure is further distinguished from serious leisure by six characteristics of the latter (presented shortly).

Project-based leisure is a short-term, moderately complicated, either one-shot or occasional, though infrequent, creative undertaking carried out in free time (Stebbins 2005). It requires considerable planning, effort, and sometimes skill or knowledge, but for all that is neither serious leisure nor activity intended to develop into such. Nor is it casual leisure. The adjective “occasional” describes widely spaced, undertakings for such regular occasions as arts festivals, sports events, religious holidays, individual birthdays, or national holidays. The adjective “creative” indicates that the undertaking results in something new or different, showing imagination, and possibly routine skill or knowledge. Though most projects would appear to be continuously pursued until completed, it is conceivable that some might be interrupted for several weeks, months, or even years. As will be noted later volunteering may also be of the casual or project-based variety.

Serious leisure is further defined and thereby separated from casual and project-based leisure by six distinguishing qualities (Stebbins 2007/2015). One is the occasional need to persevere. It is clear that some positive feelings about the activity come from sticking with it through thick and thin, conquering adversity. A second quality is finding a leisure (non-work) career in the serious leisure role. Careers in serious leisure commonly rest on a third quality: significant personal effort based on specially acquired knowledge, training, experience, and/or skill. Fourth, several durable benefits, or broad outcomes, of serious leisure have been identified so far, mostly through research on amateurs. They are self-development, self-enrichment, self-expression, regeneration or renewal of self, feelings of accomplishment, enhancement of self-image, social interaction and belongingness, and lasting physical products of the activity (e.g., a painting, scientific paper, a piece of furniture). Self-gratification, the combination of superficial enjoyment and deep fulfillment, is a further benefit and also one of the main benefits of casual leisure, where however, one experiences enjoyment only. Of these benefits, self-fulfillment - realizing or having realized to the fullest one’s gifts and character, one’s potential - is for many participants the most powerful of all.

A fifth quality of serious leisure is the unique ethos that develops. That is, a broad subculture eventually emerges around each activity; it consists of special beliefs, norms, events, traditions, moral principles, and where appropriate, performance standards. The structure holding these diverse elements together is a parallel social world, wherein participants can pursue their free-time interests. Unruh (1980) developed the following definition:

A social world must be seen as a unit of social organization which is diffuse and amorphous in character. Generally larger than groups or organizations, social worlds are not necessarily defined by formal boundaries, membership lists, or spatial territory. ... A social world must be seen as an internally recognizable constellation of actors, organizations, events, and practices which have coalesced into a perceived sphere of interest and involvement for participants. Characteristically, a social world lacks a powerful centralized authority structure and is delimited by . .. effective communication and not territory nor formal group membership. (p. 277)

The sixth quality revolves around the preceding five: serious leisure participants tend to identify strongly with their chosen pursuits. In contrast, casual leisure is too fleeting, mundane, and commonplace for most people to find a distinctive identity there.

In the field of leisure studies these three types and their subtypes are considered together under the heading of the serious leisure perspective. Figure 2.1 offers a diagrammatic view of their interrelationship. It shows well how volunteering as career, casual, and project-based activities fit in the larger world of leisure opportunities. It shows as well that people have many activities to choose from (within their limits of time, money, capability, availability, etc.), which indicates that volunteering often has to compete with other attractive free-time possibilities.

The serious leisure perspective

figure 2.1 The serious leisure perspective

 
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