Leisure and Recreation (Sean Beer and Scott Cohen)

Author: Sean Beer and Scott Cohen (Tourism)

Alternative name suggestion: Recreation and leisure

Brief theme summary: We view leisure and recreation as an interdisciplinary theme that closely engages associated subjects of tourism, sport, health, events, retail and hospitality, as well as the arts, outdoor pursuits, play and entertainment, amongst others. Central to understandings of leisure is its association with non-work time and work/life balances, although admittedly the boundaries between leisure and work often blur. 

Experience is central to leisure and recreation, in which people may seek to enhance the quality of their lives through leisure’s potential to transform, refresh, recreate, relax and/or escape. Leisure and recreation link to the renewal and development of social bonds, social capital, forms of cultural consumption, creativity and self-development, through both formal and informal modes and at home and away from home. 

Leisure and recreation is also concerned with issues of social inclusion, equity and diversity through policy and practice, as well as socio-cultural and environmental research in relation to its impacts.

Also drawing together notions of hospitable space and the formation of some types of temporary events, leisure and recreation can thus be seen as encompassing a full range of practices associated with the meanings, processes and activities that may enrich non-work time and space.

Scope of theme: what is included? Leisure, recreation, leisure/work balance, tourism, hospitality, events, retail, sport, health and healthy living, physical activity, exercise, play, gaming, experience, entertainment, casual/serious leisure, art, culture, creativity, learning, consumption, pro-sumption, lifestyle, volunteering, adventure, local/global, physical/virtual, transport, movement/mobility, social/cultural/environmental/economic aspects of leisure, fusion.

Scope of theme: what is excluded? For discussion of this please see section on Links with other BU themes under consideration.

Which big societal questions are addressed by this theme?

  • Quality of life: mental, physical, spiritual
  • The Big Society: the relationship between the public, private and third sectors and society, responsibility and individual behaviour within society with regard to many of the big issues of the day such as climate change, health, sustainability
  • Work life balance: the blurring of the edges between work and leisure
  • Equality and access (Gender, age, disability, sexual orientation, wealth, family units)
  • Aging population (A particular issue for the UK and the SW of England.)
  • Multiculturalism
  • Localism and globalisation
  • The growth of the virtual world

How do these link to the priorities of the major funding bodies?

  • Arts and Humanities Research Council, numerous opportunities
  • Economic and Social Research Council, all areas of their strategic priorities; Influencing Behaviour and Informing Interventions, A Vibrant and Fair Society, Economic Performance and Sustainable Growth.
  • Leverhulme, broad, but for example, particularly focussing on surmounting traditional disciplinary academic boundaries
  • British Academy, a wide range of opportunities
  • Nuffield Foundation, many opportunities
  • Esmée Fairbairn Foundation,  opportunities for funded research which helps them in their aim to improve the quality of life for people and communities in the UK both now and in the future
  • Natural Environment Research Council, links between leisure, the natural environment and sustainability
  • Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, areas such as technology and behaviour interventions.
  • Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, areas such as food and sustainability.
  • Medical Research Council, collaborative work through programme grant scheme
  • European Union, potential under FP7 and in other areas

Research Excellence Framework Unit of Assessment 26 & 19 (and also others though the emphasis would be more towards the theme of the other Unit.)

How does this theme interlink with the other BU themes currently under consideration? There are a multitude of connections to the other themes.  This is not seen as a disadvantage, we deliberately set out to be inclusive and holistic in our approach rather than exclusive and reductionist.  The approach is underpinned by an intention to look for fruitful areas of collaboration and to be able to showcase the work of colleagues in a variety of ways. 

Thus within Health and wellbeing there are overlaps in terms of quality of life, social inclusion and involvement in volunteering, for instance, but not necessarily in relation to management of health care and health care professionals.  In terms of Environmental change and biodiversity and the Green economy and sustainability the natural environment and human wellbeing are intrinsically linked, as are concepts of sustainability and the action of the individual through volunteering for an environmental charity for example.  The science of biodiversity is not an area that comes within the theme. 

There are synergies with regard to work looking at Aging, relating to access and quality of life, but not directly with specific therapies.  For many people learning is leisure, though work based learning is not.  There are connections with Learning and public engagement, as there are with Entrepreneurship and economic growth, given the role of individuals outside work in things like social entrepreneurship and also entrepreneurship within specific leisure and recreation industries.

For many individuals leisure and recreation is bound up with Technology and design as well as the Creative and digital economies, and whilst this theme is not connected to the intricacies of web design (unless it is your hobby) increasingly people are conducting their leisure lives in virtual worlds, where social connections and connecting is a virtual experience of life, love and even sex, but who is to say that it is any better or worse for that.  All this seems to be underpinned by change and any consideration of Culture and society or Society & Social Change must be a close bed fellow to this and all the other themes.

9 Responses to “Leisure and Recreation (Sean Beer and Scott Cohen)”

  1. Richard

    Good work Gents!

    ‘Recreation’? Bit 1990’s isn’t it?

    Anecdotally, back in the distant 1990’s, I did my MSc in ‘Recreation Management’ at Loughborough, which was then repackaged as Sport and Leisure Management.

    ‘Leisure’ appears to do what it says on the tin…..perhaps less is more?

    Then again, in recent years, isn’t there a growing argument that ‘Leisure’ isn’t considered particularly ‘hip’ and contemporary. The students I teach don’t appear to engage with the word ‘leisure’, and I’m led to believe that many Uni’s struggle to recruit on programmes with ‘leisure’ in the title (correct me if i’m wrong with this broad sweeping statement!).

    Oh dear, I’m confused! Discuss?

  2. Scott

    It is an interesting point, Richard, however there are some indicators that recreation is still very useful, especially outside the UK.

    Within the UK, the RCUK is clearly privileging the word ‘recreation’, with sport as a subheading under it:

    The use of the word recreation also gives the theme more international scope, as recreation is the word of choice in North America. For instance, just today the American Association of Geographers announced their 2012 meeting in which tourism theory is bundled within the ‘Recreation, Tourism and Sport speciality group’.

    But it is not just in North America where recreation holds sway, in the last few years within the Department of Tourism at the University of Otago, the Centre for Recreation Research was launched – http://www.crr.otago.ac.nz/

    I agree that overall, leisure is stronger than recreation, particularly in a UK context, which is why we have initially called the theme ‘leisure and recreation’ rather than the reverse. But I personally have reservations in trimming it down to just ‘leisure’, but that’s why we are here discussing this on the blog – so as to bat ideas around!


  3. Dorothy

    Lots for us to think about – thanks guys

    Sorry Richard, but I’m with Scott on keeping recreation in the title, partly because of his N America argument, but also because ‘re creation’ encompasses so much more of what I think the themes are about than just leisure.

    Recreation’s etymology is:
    late 14c., “refreshment or curing of a person, refreshment by eating,” from O.Fr. recreacion (13c.), from L. recreationem (nom. recreatio) “recovery from illness,” noun of action from pp. stem of recreare “to refresh, restore,” from re- “again”… Meaning “refresh oneself by some amusement” is first recorded c.1400 (www.etymonline.com)


  4. Debs

    Interesting debate and my small contribution is that in my experience it is ‘leisure time’ that is used more than just leisure. A quick poll of young students of what do you call the activities you undertake in free time – the popular answer is recreation/recreational activities.
    Maybe its part of the americanisation of our language (sorry Scott)and we are afterall trying to be global!

  5. Heather Hartwell

    Linking tourism and health initiatives

    Some timely news and evidence for a potential strength within our University, we have just been featured in the Big Ideas for the Future, a new report from Research Councils UK (RCUK) and Universities UK that explores the excellent research taking place in UK higher education at the moment and what it will mean for us in 20 years time.

    Interestingly we were featured in the chapter ‘recreation and leisure’ where we shared some current research linking tourism and public health. The focus of our interest is about co-locating tourism and public health strategy as a means of developing an inclusive culture where the “tourist” destination is seen to enhance and promote the advancement of both physical and mental health for both tourist and local residents.

    Therefore, a research stream of ‘recreation and leisure’ building on our School of Tourism reputation seems to me to be a theme that could have future significance for us, particularly when aligned to our strength in health and wellbeing.


  6. Andrew Ford

    Just dropping by to say this interests me in terms of A) the links between recreation and perceptions of the [changing] natural environment (e.g. geosphere and biosphere. The JCWHS and other such WHS spring to mind); and B) geospatial analysis (i.e. GIS and to a lesser extent RS) of patterns of recreational use.

  7. Richard

    I agree on much of this, and perhaps we are splitting hairs with the wording on L & R, as most people know roughly what we are talking about eh! However, I’m still not convinced.

    Given that we are an institution that ‘engages with the professions’, as Prof Vinney has been outlining all week in the visions and values workshops, I thought I’d run this terminology debate past a good friend of mine who holds a high level position within the leisure industry for a quick comment. He is the Director of Development at the UK’s largest Leisure Trust, who are the recent recipient of the PM’s 2011 Big Society Awards and the first Leisure organisition to receive the prestigious Social Enterprise Mark. He’s worked within this area since 1993, shortly after we left Uni.

    To quote verbatim his short response, as he’s a busy boy, when I asked about their own day to day use of terms like Leisure and Recreation’, and with specific reference to Recreation:

    “Never use the term apart from a historical title for lifeguards (recreation assistants). Always use leisure, activity, sport, fitness. Well out of date man”.

    Similarly, the industry body that i’ve been a member of since 1998, ISRM (Insitute of Sport and Recreation Management) is now called the IMSPA (Institute for the Management of Sport and Physical Activity) – the new single professional body for the sector in the UK. Recreation has gone?

    If we are aiming to engage with industry related research too, perhaps at times, we also have to take onboard some of their comments.


    ps – if we do end up using Recreation, then I’m a winner too, as it gives some credibility to my MSc in Rec Man, which I was thinking was well past it’s sell by date.

  8. Richard

    Just one additional point, and perhaps to throw a fly in the ointment and also contradict myself.

    Are we assuming that we will actually end up with ‘ten’ research themes, and that this L & R one won’t be condensed within a larger ‘theme’? I seem to recall a slide that Prof Bennett used at the REF event which suggested that the 20+ research centres might be reduced to 6 or 7 main centres. Is this likely to happen with these themes, with the number being reduced?

    If so, do we need to throw one or two others (sport, physical activity etc) into this ‘theme’ along with L & R, so we don’t end up getting diluted or incorporated within a bigger theme; such as ‘Health, Quality of Life and Leisure’; ‘Culture, Society and Leisure’ or another amalgamation.