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

Other theoretic advances

Stanley Parker (1987) published the first study, wherein the idea of serious leisure served as the main framework for his examination of peace volunteers. Later he (Parker 1992) interviewed samples in Britain and Australia about their leisure interests, from which he learned that one in five engaged in volunteering, and that this activity could be considered serious leisure. Earlier research undertaken by Karla Henderson (1981; 1984) - she studied 4-H workers in the United States - helped support the proposition that volunteering is leisure activity, without however, directly referring to either serious or casual leisure (project-based leisure was not conceptualized until 2005). Still, much of what she said squared well with the contents of earlier and later theoretic statements by Stebbins and Parker.

Following Stebbins’ (1982) initial statement on career volunteering, both he and Parker (1997) continued to conceptually elaborate the idea. Parker observed that there are four types of volunteering: altruistic volunteering as in giving of time and effort to help others; market volunteering as in giving but expecting something in return; cause-serving volunteering seen in promoting a cause in which one believes; and leisure volunteering as in seeking a leisure experience. Parker saw the first three as being too instrumental to lead to a true leisure experience.

Stebbins, for his part, fleshed out in several subsequent publications the rudiments of career volunteering presented in 1982. In Stebbins (1996a) he explained more fully the concept of career volunteering and the relationship of self-interest and altruism. He also discussed casual leisure volunteering and marginal volunteering, though the most detailed examination of the second came later (Stebbins 2001b). Marginal volunteering occurs when the volunteer feels significant moral coercion to agree to do it. Depending on the activity, a certain range of choice of activity is available to the volunteer, but choice that is nonetheless guided substantially by extrinsic interests or pressures, by influential forces lying outside the volunteer activity itself. Stebbins discussed six types of unpaid, productive activity where choice is limited, coercion is felt, and obligation is seen to be unpleasant: (1) extracurricular activities in the workplace, (2) time money schemes (e.g., one hour of volunteering equals one hour of [non-monetary] time credit), (3) exploratory activity in search of a work career, (4) assigned activity in training and corrections programs, (5) help for friends and relatives, and (6) busy work as job replacement for retired people and the unemployed.

Arai (1997) was the first to extend serious leisure to the concepts of citizen participation and empowerment, showing thereby the social and motivational foundation of both processes. She also made some contributions to the theoretic development of the SLP. Based on data from a study of volunteers in a community planning initiative, she (Arai 2000) developed a tripartite typology of volunteers labeled “citizen,” “techno,” and “labor.” The first contributes to the community, develops skills and knowledge about it, and is rewarded in relationships with such expressive benefits as spiritual reinforcement and feelings of being uplifted. The second contributes to the system or to an organization accomplished by developing skills and knowledge about networks (e.g., they form around issues, fundraising, and computer concerns). Relationships here have to do with access to these networks. The third type contributes to an organization and to practical areas within it such as promotions and marketing. Relationships for the labor volunteer consist of developing acquaintances. This typology refines our understanding of the link between individual career volunteering and collective action, citizenship, and social capital.

Turning to another theoretic advance it is evident in what has been so far that obligation, agreeable or not, is also relational, or social. We are not only obliged to undertake certain activities but we are also obliged to the individuals who have an interest in them (e.g., those involved in a family picnic, playing a board game with the children, or going out to eat with one’s partner). These examples presuppose the presence of one or more other people who depend on the obligated person to honor his or her commitment to the activity. There is thus a personal tie, a relationship of some duration, between what Cuskelly and Harrington (1997), in their study of volunteer sports administrators in Brisbane, called “obligees” (e.g., feel they must participate in the picnic, game playing, or eating out) and “role dependees” (e.g., young members of a family participating in an activity, for which, to ensure its survival, a parent, an obligee, must volunteer). The obligees and dependees tended to be marginal volunteers, whereas the career volunteers, tended to be motivated by altruism and self-interest. More broadly, for a complete explanation of volunteering we must inquire into the structural and cultural arrangements underlying the obligations found in this kind of leisure.

Lockstone-Binney and colleagues (2010) point out that leisure has been widely examined within the context of social science theory. They adopt a broad approach, covering a range of social science disciplines and applying them to specific phenomena located within the leisure field, namely, volunteers and volunteering in leisure settings. In a disciplinary sense, the sociological view focuses upon the conceptualization of volunteering as leisure, the psychological view seeks to understand motivations driving volunteering, while the perspective of economics supplements these approaches as to why people volunteer and further examines the value of volunteer contributions. Comparative analysis of the perspectives developed within these key disciplines provides a fuller picture than heretofore possible of the status of research relating to leisure volunteers and volunteering.

This analysis enables the authors identify gaps in current knowledge. For example, they note the observation made earlier based on Stebbins (2000a; 2000b) that career volunteers often define their activity as much as a form of work as a form of leisure. Service learning raises the question of whether volunteering is always a free and unconstrained activity. There are many similar examples where volunteerism involves some element of obligation or even coercion. Third, there is a gap in knowledge around whether volunteers’ sense of obligation to their roles and host organizations can change over time. Indeed, it may be that, as the years pass, an initially agreeable volunteering activity becomes onerous.

About this same time in a study of francophone volunteers in Calgary and Edmonton in Canada, Stebbins (1998:4) pioneered the concept of “key volunteer.” Such a person in a nonprofit group numbers among its most skilled, knowledgeable, and hard-working members in helping the group reach its goals. Main volunteers are usually officers, though they could also be, for example, chair of a major committee or organizer of a major event. Stebbins notes that these individuals are commonly greatly valued such that it may be difficult for them to quit their roles. Burnout was found to be a possibility in these circumstances.

Later, in a chapter on career volunteering and quality of life, Stebbins (2004) pointed out that, whereas the first generally enhances the second, many tensions potentially exist in the first that can dilute the second. From his study of francophone key volunteers (see above), he identified four types of tensions. One - the temporal tension - centers on the need for constant planning and scheduling, the two principal ways of making the most efficient use of scarce time. Furthermore, relational tensions can occur, as in the friction that sometimes emerges between spouse and volunteer or children and volunteer when the latter privileges a volunteer engagement over demands of one or both of the former. Respondents who experienced this tension uniformly qualified it as a main cost of volunteering. There was, for some, an obligative tension, or the stress arising from an inability to meet various domestic requirements when faced with volunteer commitments of higher priority. Some respondents experienced a leisure tension, which unlike the preceding tensions, is mainly positive. That is, committed to certain volunteer roles, they then discovered how little time they had for other leisure activities they were also fond of.

Karla Henderson and Jacquelyn Presley (2003) argued that cultural globalization may be a way to foster the values of volunteering as a leisure experience. Volunteerism may offer an important avenue for bringing people together to address the problems of local communities as well as the global village. The authors said that defining volunteering is complicated, because it is a cultural activity conditioned by a multitude of factors, among them ethnic traditions, religious beliefs, and legal regulations. Nonetheless, in countries around the world people in governmental as well as nonprofit organizations are realizing the economic and social benefits of volunteering. Globalization may offer numerous opportunities to share information about volunteering and about how volunteers use their energy to supplement human capital as well as social services. Henderson and Presley discussed three related but distinct dimensions regarding volunteerism and how it relates to leisure and recreation. The dimensions are the individual, organizational, and community aspects of these two. In a globalized world where it is easy to become disillusioned with feelings of powerlessness, volunteerism might be a leisure activity that offers ways to express individual interests as well as foster community and global commitments.

The SLP has also found its way, both in theory and in application, to the world of the social entrepreneur (Stebbins 2010; Durieux and Stebbins 2010). Social entrepreneurs create innovative solutions to what they define as social problems, be they local, national, or international. In social entrepreneurship people use the principles of enterprise to foster social change, which they do by establishing and managing a venture. Some of them set up small, medium, or large non-profit groups designed to ameliorate a difficult situation threatening certain people, flora, or fauna or a certain aspect of the environment, if not a combination of these. Others are profit-seekers. They work to establish a money-making enterprise that also improves such a situation in one of these four areas.

We must look beyond the profit motive for a more profound explanation of social entrepreneurship. The SLP offers a two-pronged explanation that meets this requirement. The crux of the argument set out in Stebbins (2010) is that pursuit of non-profit entrepreneurship may be seen at bottom as a serious leisure undertaking of the career volunteer kind (casual and project-based leisure volunteers are also usually involved), whereas pursuit of for-profit entrepreneurship may be seen as a kind of devotee work. By analyzing social entrepreneurship within the framework of the SLP (which includes occupational devotion), we gain the additional sense of how the search for personal and social rewards, experience of the core activity, and the contexts of society, culture, and history can enrich our understanding of this special variety of altruism.

Sam Elkington (2011) studied a sample of volunteer sports coaches in the United Kingdom and their experiences of flow in this activity. He was the first to directly study flow and serious leisure (he also sampled amateur actors and hobbyist table tennis players). His research revealed that each activity is capable of generating flow. It does so in terms unique to itself, showing the affinity of serious leisure activity for the flow experience and showing that both serious leisure and flow are not disparate frameworks. Rather, they are structurally and experientially mutually reinforcing, producing strong evidence that being in flow while executing a core activity is what makes this kind of leisure highly rewarding and experienced as optimal.

 
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