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2 The Historiography of Psychoanalysis
Introduction 3
Transaction Publishers
New Brunswick (U.S.A.) and London (U.K.)
A Perspective for Our Time
Robert A. Stebbins
4 The Historiography of Psychoanalysis
New material this edition copyright © 2015 by Transaction Publishers, New
Brunswick, New Jersey.
Copyright © 2007 by Transaction Publishers, New Brunswick, New Jersey.
All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conven-
tions. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by
any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any
information storage and retrieval system, without prior permission in writing
from the publisher. All inquiries should be addressed to Transaction Publishers,
10 Corporate Place South, Suite 102, Piscataway, New Jersey 08854. www.
This book is printed on acid-free paper that meets the American National Stan-
dard for Permanence of Paper for Printed Library Materials.
Library of Congress Catalog Number: 2006050176
ISBN: 978-0-7658-0363-4 (cloth); 978-1-4128-5594-5 (paper)
Printed in the United States of America
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Stebbins, Robert A., 1938-
Serious leisure : a perspective for our time / Robert A. Stebbins.
p. cm.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 0-7658-0363-1 (alk. paper)
1. Leisure—Sociological aspects. I. Title.
GV14.45.S843 2006
306.4'—dc22 20006050176
Introduction 5
To Abran, Amélie, Braeden, and Landon
6 The Historiography of Psychoanalysis
Introduction 7
BLEST, who can unconcernedly find hours, days and years, slide soft
away, in health of body, peace of mind, quiet of day, should sleep by
night, study and ease, together mixed—sweet recreation.
“Ode on Solitude”
by Alexander Pope (1717)
8 The Historiography of Psychoanalysis
Introduction 9
Note to the Reader xi
Preface to the Paperback Edition xiii
Preface xix
Acknowledgements xxiii
1. The Serious Leisure Perspective 1
2. Recent Research on Serious Leisure 25
3. Casual and Project-Based Leisure: The Basics 37
4. Synthesizing the Forms 53
5. Extending the Perspective 77
6. History of the Perspective 101
7. Importance of the Perspective 119
References 137
Index 149
10 The Historiography of Psychoanalysis
List of Tables and Figures
Table 5.1 Relationship of Leisure and Popular Culture 93
Figure 4.1 Structural Complexity: 64
From Tribes to Social Worlds
Figure 5.1 Serious and Casual Leisure 97
and Arts Administration
Note to the Reader
The SLP as a Formal Grounded Theory
I made the claim early in this book (p. 3) that the serious leisure per-
spective (SLP) had reached the point where it can be identified as a formal
grounded theory. That claim has since been validated over and over by
a burgeoning theoretical and empirical literature centered either wholly
or substantially on the Perspective or one or two of its three forms (seri-
ous, casual, project-based leisure). This includes ethnographic research
on particular heretofore unexamined serious leisure activities. There are
now over 1,100 references of this nature in the Bibliography found on the
SLP website. As an update of Chapter 6, a chronicle of the journey from
substantive to formal grounded theoretic status is available in Stebbins
(2013) and, in somewhat greater detail, on the site itself (click on History).
The SLP Website
I mention this site on page xv, noting its origin in an adventitious initial
encounter with Jenna Hartel. She was at that time a doctoral student in
library and information science (LIS) at UCLA. She is now an associate
professor in the Faculty of Information, University of Toronto and, as the
site’s webmaster from the beginning, has been a main player in its growth
as well as in the extension of the SLP into LIS. She proposed that the
site contain a digital library, which today, houses several digitized, open-
source books, theses, articles, and the entire Leisure Reflections series.
She also designed the SLP typological diagram and the SLP Involvement
Scale, both found on that site. Also available there is an extensive history
of the Perspective (it dates to 1973), a summary of its central concepts
and propositions, and a page containing our curricula vitae.
In short, this Internet domain has become a vital center for collecting
and disseminating scientific information and its application (click on
“More” and then on “News”) related to the SLP. Being without an orga-
nizational base this website is the Perspective’s only hub. Dr. Hartel has
designed and maintained it, always with this crucial function in mind.
Preface to the Paperback Edition
Some important things have happened to the serious leisure perspec-
tive (SLP), after being introduced in this book in 2007. One, the SLP
has continued to expand as a formal grounded theory. Two, the website
that saw the light of day in 2006 has now, under the new URL of www., developed considerably. Three, the basic definition of
leisure—the foundational concept of the SLP—has been reformulated.
Four, I have proposed a positive sociology based on the SLP, even though
sociology as a discipline continues (especially in North America) to keep
its distance from the study of leisure. Five, the set of extensions discussed
in Chapter 5 has grown since 2007.
The Definition of Leisure
Among the general theories commonly discussed in leisure studies,
the SLP is the only one whose origins lie directly and substantially in
research on free-time activity. That is, the SLP emerged inductively
from a foundational set of exploratory studies that were focused first and
foremost on various leisure activities (summarized in chapters 2 and 3).
For this reason the Perspective can be qualified as an internal theory,
and contrasted with the various external theories that have also been
used to explain this sphere of life. Theories like functionalism, symbolic
interactionism, critical analysis, and postmodernism contain some ideas
on leisure, but they emerged in answer to intellectual questions quite
distant from that subject.
It follows that, when developing internal theory, it is vital that its central
concepts be defined with as much precision as the scientific knowledge
underpinning them (as opposed to commonsense) will allow. My attempts
over the years to define the central concept of leisure and its place in
the SLP reflect my continual grappling with such knowledge as I have
striven to find its essence, its unique features.
In Stebbins (2012) I took the definitional bull by the horns, devoting
a small book to the matter wherein I presented, first, a condensed, dic-
tionary-style definition of leisure and, then, a book-length elaboration
Serious Leisure
of it. Serious Leisure offers a condensed definition on pages 4 and 5.
The condensed definition of leisure presented in Stebbins (2012, pp.
4-6) differs according to the following italicized passages: 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). In other words, any definition of
leisure should recognize that it takes place in and is therefore influenced
by its historical, cultural, and structural contexts. Moreover, wanting to
pursue a serious leisure/devotee work activity can only continue if the
participant has the necessary ability and resources, including money,
opportunity, personal agency, and possibly, social support.
Apropos definitions, I have also given since 2007 considerable
attention to the pivotal idea of activity (Stebbins, 2009a, pp. 4-7). The
leisure activities that people engage in and their experiences while doing
so constitute an important part of the motivational foundation of the SLP.
The condensed definition refers to “un-coerced activity.” An activity is
a type of pursuit, wherein participants in it mentally or physically (of-
ten both) think or do something, motivated by the hope of achieving a
desired end. Life is filled with activities, both pleasant and unpleasant:
sleeping, mowing the lawn, taking the train to work, having a tooth filled,
eating lunch, playing tennis matches, running a meeting, and on and on.
Activities, as this list illustrates, may be categorized as work, leisure, or
non-work obligation.
Activity is not only a foundational concept within the core con-
cepts of the SLP—serious, casual, and project-based leisure—it also
forms a link with (especially positive) psychology. Viewed from this
discipline an activity may be seen as a set of related behaviors. Meanwhile
in macro-sociology, as just observed, activities are pursued in the soci-
etal domains of work, leisure, and non-work obligation. As one critical
response to the need to further contextually frame the SLP, the domain
of non-work obligation was introduced in Stebbins (2009a, pp. 24-26).
It was fueled by the observation that participation in the domains of
work and leisure can be substantially affected by the nature and amount
of non-work responsibilities. Moreover, some of these responsibilities
might be redefined as agreeable (e.g., gardening activities, handyman
work) turning them into hobbies or leisure projects.
Finally, in Stebbins (2012, pp. 69-85), I fully integrate devotee
work and serious leisure under the overarching concept of the serious
pursuit (see the latest version of the SLP diagram in www.seriousleisure.
Preface to the Paperback Edition xv
net). That is, serious leisure and devotee work are essentially the same,
even while the latter, in part because it is a livelihood, is obligated activ-
ity, albeit agreeably so. One crucial condition, almost entirely ignored in
the conventional wisdom, is that devotee work is fundamentally depen-
dent on the domain of serious leisure. Bluntly put, without this leisure,
the devotee occupations would never exist. This observation, when it
comes to the trades and the client-centered professions, is apparent to
almost everyone, since they know of the pre-apprentice hobbyist and the
pre-professional amateur. But when it comes to small businesses and
the public-centered professions, it is, alas, all too often overlooked. The
student-amateur precursors of the former constitute a reasonably visible
group, whereas the pure amateur-hobbyist-volunteer precursors of the
latter are much less evident. An in-depth look at the nature of devotee
work and the fulfillment careers possible in it is presented in Stebbins
(2014, chapters 6 and 7).
Positive Sociology
This book hints on page xiii at a positive sociology. Here I lament the
exceedingly low level of interest in North American mainstream sociolo-
gy in the subject of leisure, while on pages 98 and 99 I note the need for
the SLP to broaden its scope to include positive emotions in the study
leisure. This new direction also shows the affinity of the Perspective with
the rapidly growing field of positive psychology. I have in two books
followed up on these musings.
First, I argue (Stebbins, 2009a) for a positive sociology the foundation
of which is the SLP. “Positive sociology” is my label for the new scholarly
field described in that book. It looks into how, why, and when people
pursue those things in life that they desire, the things they do to make
their existence attractive, worth living. Positive sociology is the study of
what people do to organize their lives such that those lives become, in
combination, substantially rewarding, satisfying, and fulfilling.
This new field differs from the discipline’s mainstream, which is pre-
dominantly problem-centered. That is, a large segment of sociology has
focused and continues to focus on explaining and ameliorating various
problematic aspects of life, aspects many people dislike because they
make their lives disagreeable, if not miserable. But, for most people in
Western society, there is much more to life than eliminating or adequately
controlling crime, drug addiction, urban pollution, daily stress, domestic
violence, overpopulation, and so on. To be sure, significant levels of suc-
Serious Leisure
cess in these areas bring a noticeable measure of tranquility to the people
substantially affected by them, but they do not, in themselves, generate
positiveness in daily life. They generate only relief, tranquility, security,
and similar feelings. Compared with the mainstream this new field must,
of necessity, start from some different premises. In general, explaining
positiveness must proceed from a non-problematic model, for finding
that positiveness is a separate step leading to fulfillment.
Second, I have also worked in the other direction to inform positive
psychologists about the importance of leisure (Stebbins, 2015). This,
too, is a tall order, for what is known about leisure from the standpoint
of psychology has been described as a “social psychology of leisure”
and “a child of leisure studies” (Mannell, Kleiber, & Staempfli, 2006, p.
119). These authors hold that “leisure has all but been ignored by social
psychologists in the field of psychology during the past 100 years” (pp.
112-113). Still, there is recent evidence that some positive psychologists
are beginning see the importance of leisure for their own scholarly in-
terests (e.g., Freire, 2013).
As for a positive sociology, or less ambitious, the study of leisure from
within the discipline of sociology, the silence on the matter is deafening
(at least in North America). Notwithstanding some fine work in this area
by, for example, Gary Fine, Marybeth Stalp, Leon Anderson, Jeffrey
Nash, and earlier, Donald Hastings—all in departments of sociology—the
overall scope of their discipline largely continues to omit this specialty
(for references to their works see the Bibliography [Amateurs and Hob-
byists] in That is, leisure, in general, or a leisure
activity, in particular, is occasionally studied, but usually the main focus
of the research is on a mainstream interest (social problem) with leisure
being only a vehicle for carrying this interest (e.g., problems of gender,
ethnicity, social class). Fortunately, the sociology of leisure pursued as
it is within the field of leisure studies continues to thrive.
The Extensions
The extensions discussed in Chapter 5 continue to generate a great deal
of research based on the SLP (for an up-to-date summary see Part III,
Elkington & Stebbins, 2014). Furthermore, new extensions are emerging
from time to time. One of these revolves around food. Thus, Isabelle de
Solier (2013) interviewed a sizeable sample of Australian foodies, using
the SLP to guide inquiry and interpret findings about these hobbyists.
Much of her work centers on eating out at restaurants. Meanwhile, James
Preface to the Paperback Edition
Farmer (2012) has been studying another food-related hobby, notably,
raising one’s own produce.
Second, recognizing the scholarly myopia of the reigning ap-
proach in consumption studies, which sees leisure as nothing other than
an identity with commercial consumption, I have written a counterview
(Stebbins, 2009b). This extension of the Perspective sets out the position
that commercial consumption facilitating the serious pursuits is dramati-
cally different from the kind of consumption that buys casual leisure (the
narrow focus of modern consumption research). Moreover, a significant
amount of leisure is non-consumptive, requiring little or no monetary
outlay to engage in it.
Most recently philosophy and sociology have joined hands to
tackle the link between leisure and identity (Cohen-Gewerc & Stebbins,
2013). The central questions addressed in that book are twofold: how
leisure activities, particularly the serious pursuits, spawn distinctiveness
and what ramifications spring from such individuality. This extension
honors the ancient roots of leisure studies in the observations of Plato
and Aristotle about how man (i.e., elite man who had no need to work)
should spend his free time.
The SLP has, since its initial framing in this book, advanced
substantially and in a variety of directions. But stay tuned, for there is
more to come.
Cohen-Gewerc, E., & Stebbins, R.A. (2013). Serious leisure and individ-
uality. Montreal, QC & Kingston, ON: McGill-Queens University Press.
de Solier, I. (2013). Food and the self: Consumption, production and
material culture. London: Bloomsbury.
Elkington, S., & Stebbins, R.A. (2014). The serious leisure perspective:
An introduction. Abingdon, UK: Routledge.
Farmer, J. (2012). Leisure in living local through food and farming.
Leisure Sciences, 34, 490-495.
Freire, T. (2013). Positive leisure science: From subjective experience to
social contexts. Dordrecht, the Netherlands: Springer.
Serious Leisure
Mannell, R.C., Kleiber, D.A., & Staempfli, M. (2006). Psychology and
social psychology and the study of leisure. In C. Rojek, S.M. Shaw, &
A.J. Veal (Eds.), A handbook of leisure studies (pp. 109-124). New York:
Palgrave Macmillan.
Stebbins, R. A. (2009a). Personal decisions in the public square: Be-
yond problem solving into a positive sociology. New Brunswick, NJ:
Stebbins, R.A. (2009b). Leisure and consumption: Common ground,
separate worlds. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
Stebbins, R.A. (2012). The idea of leisure: First principles. New Bruns-
wick, NJ: Transaction.
Stebbins, R.A. (2013). The longitudinal process of grounded theory de-
velopment: A case study in leisure research. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Stebbins, R.A. (2014). Careers in serious leisure: From dabbler to
devotee in search of fulfillment. Houndmills, UK: Palgrave Macmillan.
Stebbins, R.A. (in press). Leisure and positive psychology. Houndmills,
UK: Palgrave Macmillan.
This book was, in part, born of the necessity to gather the widely scat-
tered literature on serious and casual leisure into a single handy, coherent,
comprehensive resource. My scholarly involvements as participant at
conferences, speaker on university campuses, evaluator of manuscripts,
supervisor of graduate students, and e-mail mentor have, together, made
me increasingly aware of the need for such a volume. More and more, I
discovered that people are overlooking critical parts of the Perspective,
and sometimes blaming it (and me) for being shortsighted in those ways.
It is not that the Perspective is above reproach. This book candidly shows
many of its weaknesses and limitations. Rather it is that so much has now
been written in its name and published in so great a variety of outlets that
fewer and fewer people are able to see the entire picture.
To start with, then, this book constitutes a stocktaking of the literature
on serious literature, the third such effort. The second occurred in 1999-
2000 and was published in New Directions in the Theory and Research
on Serious Leisure (Stebbins, 2001a) and the first occurred in 1990-1991,
which was then published in Amateurs, Professionals, and Serious Leisure
(Stebbins, 1992a). This, the third stocktaking, has been revealing, in that
approximately one and one-half times as much was published since the
1999-2000 stocktaking in approximately half the time. This trend, in
itself, justifies this book.
But, in fact, this book is far more than just another stocktaking, how-
ever greatly needed such a service. For the book is, most centrally, about
three forms of leisure synthesized into a common perspective. Serious
leisure is but one of these forms, the other two being casual leisure and
project-based leisure. Together they comprise the serious leisure per-
spective. This title may alarm some readers, but they should read the
first paragraph of chapter 1 for an explanation. This Perspective can be
defined simply as the theoretic framework that synthesizes three main
forms of leisure showing, at once, their distinctive features, similarities,
and interrelationships.
xii Serious Leisure
The three are briefly defined as follows:
Serious leisure: systematic pursuit of an amateur, hobbyist, or volunteer
core activity sufficiently substantial, interesting. and fulfilling in nature
for the participant to find a career there acquiring and expressing a
combination of its special skills, knowledge, and experience
Casual leisure: immediately, intrinsically rewarding, relatively short-
lived pleasurable core activity, requiring little or no special training
to enjoy it.
Project-based leisure: short-term, reasonably complicated, one-shot
or occasional, though infrequent, creative undertaking carried out in
free time, or time free of disagreeable obligation.
Although it was never my intention as I moved over the years from
one study of free-time activity to another, my findings and theoretic mus-
ings have nevertheless evolved and coalesced into a typological map of
the world of leisure. That is, so far as I can tell at present, all leisure (at
least in Western society) can be classified according to one of the three
forms and their several types and subtypes. More precisely the serious
leisure perspective offers a classification and explanation of all leisure
activity and experience, as these two are framed in the social psycho-
logical, social, cultural, and historical contexts in which the activity and
experience take place.
On the way to this synthesis I set out in chapters 1 and 3 the basic
concepts and propositions that make up the three forms. My goal here
is to focus attention on their essential elements. The stocktaking of the
serious leisure literature is carried out in chapter 2, while that for casual
and project-based leisure, a much smaller undertaking, is left for chapter
3. I then present in chapter 4 the synthesis itself. It is realized by way
of a set of foundational concepts—organization, community, history,
lifestyle, and culture—and several of their component areas. Chapter
5 is devoted to extending the perspective, now reasonably synthesized,
into other disciplines and fields of research. Sixteen such extensions are
described, along with some additional ones that are, so to speak, waiting
to be formally recognized through publication. In chapter 6 we look at
the history of the Perspective, starting in early 1974 with serious leisure
and then adding historical commentary on, first, casual leisure and, then,
project-based leisure. Chapter 7 centers on the future and importance of
the serious leisure perspective, its place in a globalizing world, and some
of its critical links with other fields of knowledge and practice, notably
the nonprofit sector and preventive medicine.
Preface xiii
My hope in writing this book is that many more people than presently
around will wake up to the fact that leisure, even if some of it is trivial,
is not, as a whole and as a phenomenon in the twenty-first century, a
trivial matter. The study of serious leisure roots, in part, in the failure of
modern sociologists to view leisure as a distinctive aspect of society and
social life. In 1974, I could find no sociological definition of amateur or
hobbyist and no recognition in sociology (the discipline I was trained in)
of the unique role and status played by those who pursue amateur and
hobbyist activities. Regrettably not much has changed since that year. To
be sure, the occasional leisure-oriented article is published in the socio-
logical journals, but institutional sociology still mostly ignores this area
of social life. For example one hunts in vain for a session on leisure at a
typical annual meeting of the American Sociological Association or the
Canadian Sociology and Anthropology Association. And it is Mission
Impossible trying to find leisure listed as an area of specialization in the
graduate programs in sociology offered in North American universities.
And the latter situation is hardly surprising: virtually no faculty member
in these programs has been trained in the sociology of leisure. It is the
chicken and the egg.
Yet the sociology of leisure is alive and well, albeit living in academic
locations far a field from sociology departments. In units variously named
Leisure Studies, Leisure and Recreation, Leisure and Physical Education,
Parks and Leisure, and more recently, Leisure and Health Studies, the
sociology of leisure has grown into a vibrant branch of knowledge. So
it is not really that branch of the discipline which is weak, rather weak-
ness lies within the discipline itself. It is weak because it is ignoring a
side of social life that society itself takes very seriously, spends a great
deal of money on, and, for much of that society, sets its sights on. Say-
ings like “thank God it’s Friday” and “all work and no play makes Jack
[and Jane] a dull boy” should be pondered more closely by sociology
as a discipline.
This book, offering as it does, an organized and coherent view of a
large segment of the scholarly side of the sociology of leisure, might just
be what it takes to get sociology back on track in a field that it helped
pioneer. Does anyone remember Veblen, Lundberg, Hollingshead, and
xiv Serious Leisure
Preface xv
First, many thanks to Mary Thompson of the University of Lethbridge
who most convincingly put the bug in my ear that an idea like the seri-
ous leisure perspective was valid, important, and therefore in need of
cultivating. As she taught her initial undergraduate class on serious
leisure, we both came to realize that this conceptual story was, in fact,
impossible to tell properly without substantial mention of the other
two forms. Mary taught in winter term 2005. In August that year Jenna
Hartel and I met by chance in an elevator at the annual meeting of the
American Sociological Association. Pen pals for at least a year, owing
to her own interest in serious leisure and information science, she subse-
quently observed that the first should have its own website and that she
would be willing to help me develop it. That possibility galvanized me
into action: the website should be about the entire Perspective, not only
about its namesake. But, to have an effective site, it was first required
that I write this book. The site (
was officially launched in early April 2006, and is closely coordinated
with these pages.
Finally, the editorial assistance of Laurence Mintz was, as always, of
excellent quality. I deeply appreciate his contributions to this boo
xvi Serious Leisure
The Serious Leisure Perspective
The phrase “serious leisure perspective” is my name for the theoretic
framework that synthesizes three main forms of leisure, known as seri-
ous leisure, casual leisure, and project-based leisure. Research began
early in 1974 on the first of these, and has continued since that time,
while work on casual leisure and then on project-based leisure came
subsequently. Within each form a variety of types and subtypes has also
emerged over the years. That the Perspective (wherever Perspective ap-
pears as shorthand for serious leisure perspective, to avoid confusion,
the first letter will be capitalized) takes its name from the first of these
should, in no way, suggest that I regard it, in some abstract sense, as the
most important or superior of the three. I hope the following pages will
demonstrate the folly of that kind of thinking. Rather the Perspective is
so titled, simply because it got its start in the study of serious leisure;
such leisure is, strictly from the standpoint of intellectual invention, the
godfather of the other two.
Furthermore serious leisure has become the benchmark from which
analyses of casual and project-based leisure have often been undertaken.
So naming the Perspective after the first facilitates intellectual recogni-
tion; it keeps the idea in familiar territory for all concerned. Be that as it
may, I might have titled it “core activity perspective,” for all three forms
are labels for kinds of distinctive sets of interrelated actions or steps that
must be followed to achieve an outcome or product that the participant
finds attractive. For instance, in serious leisure, a core activity of alpine
skiing is descending snow-covered slopes, that of cabinet making is shap-
ing and finishing wood, and that of volunteer fire fighting is putting out
blazes and rescuing people from them. In each case, the participant takes
several interrelated steps to successfully ski down hill, make a cabinet,
or rescue someone. In casual leisure core activities, which are much less
complex than in serious leisure, are exemplified in the actions required
2 Serious Leisure
to hold sociable conversations with friends, savor beautiful scenery, and
offer simple volunteer services (e.g., handing out leaflets, directing traf-
fic in a parking lot, clearing snow off the neighborhood hockey rink). In
leisure projects, core activities are intense, though limited in time and
moderate in complexity, as seen in the actions of serving as scorekeeper
during an amateur sports tournament or serving as museum guide during
a special exhibition of artifacts. Engaging in the core activity (and its
component steps and actions) is a main feature that attracts participants
to the leisure in question and encourages them to return for more. In
short the core activity is a value in its own right, even if more strongly
held for some leisure activities than others.
Similarly, I might have dubbed this framework the “leisure experience
perspective.After all each of the three forms refers to an identifiable kind
of experience had during free time. Indeed, it fits all three of Mannell’s
(1999) conceptualizations of this experience, as subjectively defined lei-
sure, as immediate conscious experience, and as post hoc satisfaction.
Still this label would be too limiting, for the Perspective is broader
than what people experience in their leisure. It also provides a way of
looking on the social, cultural, and historical context of that experience.
A similar problem undermines the suggestion made by Tomlinson (1993)
that serious leisure be called “committed leisure.” Though we shall see
later in this chapter that commitment is certainly an important attitude in
serious leisure, it is, nevertheless, too narrow to serve as a descriptor of
the latter. Moreover, the other two forms in the Perspective also generate
commitment on occasion.
Because the serious and casual forms have sometimes stirred discus-
sion about the relative merit of one or the other, let us be clear from the
outset that the serious leisure perspective looks on each as important in
its own way. That is, it is much less a question of which is best, than a
question of how well combinations of two or three of the forms serve
individuals, categories of individuals (e.g., sex, age, social class, religion,
nationality), and their larger communities and societies. This, in turn,
leads to such considerations as leisure lifestyle, optimal leisure lifestyle,
and social capital, all of which are, themselves, important concepts in
this framework.
The idea of perspective communicates at least three important points.
One, any perspective is a way of theoretically viewing leisure phenom-
ena. So, this one, too, provides a unique prism through which to look
at what people do in their free time. Two, as a theoretic framework, the
serious leisure perspective synthesizes the three forms, showing at once
The Serious Leisure Perspective 3
their distinctive features, their similarities, and their interrelationships.
Three, although it was never my intention as I moved from one study of
free-time activity to the next, my findings and theoretic musings have
nevertheless evolved into a typological map of the world of leisure. That
is, so far as I can tell at present, all leisure (at least in Western society) can
be classified according to one of the three forms. But, consistent with the
exploratory approach that has guided much of basic research in this field,
open-ended inquiry and observation could, some day, suggest one or more
additional forms. Briefly put the construction of scientific typologies, in
principle, never results in completed intellectual edifices.
Additionally the serious leisure perspective is the product of extensive
exploratory research (Glaser and Strauss, 1967; Stebbins, 2001c), some
of it more systematic, some of it less so. In general, it may be said that
it arose directly from open-ended observations or interviews, often both,
conducted on a wide range of leisure activities. Today the serious leisure
perspective is, in the words of Glaser and Strauss, a “formal grounded
theory.” Moreover, as such it is no longer strictly exploratory in scope,
for as we shall see from time to time, considerable confirmatory work
has now been carried out, work designed to add precision and detail to
the basic Perspective as previously explored.
In the present chapter we take a look at the basics of serious leisure,
then, in chapter 2, I review the research on serious leisure as published
from, in most instances, the year 2000. In chapter 3 we look at the basics
of casual and project-based leisure as well as the much sparser research
that has been done in their name. In chapter 4 I fill in the Perspective,
making it, as much as is possible given current knowledge, a proper
synthesis of the three forms rather than a simple typology of them. This
is accomplished by a process of elaboration using several concepts that
find expression in each of the three forms. Chapter 5 looks at the diverse
extensions of the basic Perspective into areas of life where it has already
provided, or looks as though it may provide, a valid and useful explana-
tion of human motivation, group formation, collective action, and the
like. The history of the serious leisure perspective is presented in the next
chapter. The final chapter explores the question of why it is necessary to
classify leisure activities. It also considers how the Perspective applies
outside the West, what it can offer to the world, how it relates to health
and well-being as well as its place is in the nonprofit sector.
My aim in all this is to provide a stand-alone, though reasonably
in-depth statement of the serious leisure perspective, which will serve
both the scholarly community and the larger public who want to learn
4 Serious Leisure
about it. But many details must necessarily be left out, for to add them,
would make this book far too dense and unwieldy. To signal where this
has happened, I refer from time to time, mostly in chapters 1 and 3, to
sources where the subject at hand can be examined in greater detail (a
bibliography, continually updated, listing all publications bearing on the
Perspective is available at Chapters
1, 3, and 4 present the serious leisure perspective, and are therefore “must
reads.” The other chapters are important for anyone who wants to know
where this Perspective fits in the modern world.
Inasmuch as this is, at bottom, a disquisition about basics and basic
concepts in leisure studies, we must of necessity open it with a defini-
tional statement on the most fundamental of all ideas in that field, namely,
leisure itself.
A Definition of Leisure
Starting with Aristotle, scholars, clergy, and journalists, among other
categories of humankind, have been weighing in with their definitions
of leisure. Given the scope of this book, it is unnecessary to review these
conceptualizations. Rather what is called for in this book is a working
definition of the concept that respects their insights into such activ-
ity, but that also logically fits the serious leisure perspective, while
demarcating clearly the sphere of human life to which it applies. To
this end, leisure is defined here as: uncoerced activity engaged in dur-
ing free time, which people want to do and, in either a satisfying or a
fulfilling way (or both), use their abilities and resources to succeed at
this. “Free time” is time away from unpleasant obligation, with pleasant
obligation being treated here as essentially leisure since homo otiosus,
leisure man, feels no significant coercion to enact the activity in question
(Stebbins, 2000b).
Note that reference to “free choice”—a long-standing component
of standard definitions of leisure—is for reasons discussed in detail
elsewhere (Stebbins, 2005b), intentionally omitted from this definition.
Generally put choice is never completely free, but rather hedged about
with all sorts of conditions. This situation renders this concept and allied
ones such as freedom and state of mind useless as essential elements in
a basic definition (Juniu and Henderson, 2001). Note, too, there is no
reference in this definition to the moral basis of leisure; that is, contrary
to some stances taken in the past (e.g., Kaplan, 1960, pp. 22-25), leisure
in the serious leisure perspective can be either deviant or non-deviant
(see chapter 4 of the present volume).
The Serious Leisure Perspective 5
Nor is free time treated here as synonymous with leisure. We can be
bored in our free time, which can result from inactivity (“nothing to
do”) or from activity, which alas, is uninteresting, unstimulating. The
same can, of course, happen at work and in obligated nonwork settings.
Since boredom is a decidedly negative state of mind, it can be argued
that, logically, it is not leisure at all. For leisure is typically conceived
of as a positive mindset, composed of, among other sentiments, pleasant
expectations and recollections of activities and situations. Of course, it
happens at times that expectations turn out to be unrealistic, and we get
bored (or perhaps angry, frightened, or embarrassed) with the activity
in question, transforming it in our view into something quite other than
leisure. And all this may happen in free time, which exemplifies well
how such time can occupy a broader area of life than leisure, which is
nested within (Stebbins, 2003a).
Serious Leisure
Serious leisure is the systematic pursuit of an amateur, hobbyist, or
volunteer core activity that people find so substantial, interesting, and
fulfilling that, in the typical case, they launch themselves on a (leisure)
career centered on acquiring and expressing a combination of its special
skills, knowledge, and experience (modified from Stebbins, 1992, p. 3).
Serious leisure has been typically contrasted with “casual” or “unseri-
ous” leisure, which is considerably less substantial and offers no career
of the sort just described. It is defined as an immediately, intrinsically
rewarding, relatively short-lived pleasurable core activity, requiring little
or no special training to enjoy it (Stebbins, 1997a, p. 18). Although I once
viewed casual leisure as residual, as all leisure falling outside the three
main types of serious leisure, this has turned out to be erroneous. For I
have observed, in recent years, a third kind of leisure, namely, project-
based leisure. It is a short-term, reasonably complicated, one-off or oc-
casional, though infrequent, creative undertaking (core activity) carried
out in free time, or time free of disagreeable obligation (Stebbins, 2005a;
on obligation and free time, see Stebbins, 2000b).
The Basic Serious Leisure Framework
The basic framework of all three forms—serious, casual, and proj-
ect-based leisure—is made up of the central defining concepts that help
distinguish each form from the other two and from related concepts in
adjacent fields of research. These sets of concepts are, in turn, anchored
in broader social contexts, which are the subject of chapter 4.
6 Serious Leisure
As for serious leisure, it is constituted of three types: amateur pursuits,
hobbyist activities, and career volunteering. Amateurs are found in art,
science, sport, and entertainment, where they are inevitably linked, one
way or another, with professional counterparts who coalesce, along
with the public whom the two groups share, into a three-way system of
relations and relationships (the professional-amateur-public, or P-A-P,
system). Earlier (e.g., Stebbins, 1992a, chap. 2) I argued that the profes-
sionals should be identified and defined according to theory developed
in the sociological study of the professions, a substantially more exact
procedure than the ones relying on the simplistic and not infrequently
commercially shaped commonsense images of these workers. Yet, apart
from me, I know of no one who has conceived of the professional coun-
terparts of a particular group of amateurs in these sociological terms.
Rather leisure studies researchers have been content to use the simpler
economic definition of professional as a person who is paid for the activity
in question. I now see the merit of their position, for what is important for
the study of amateurs and hobbyists is that some of them begin to make
some sort of living at the activity. Freed partly or wholly from having
to make a living in another field, it becomes possible for these people
to devote more time to their serious leisure and thus, in some instances,
excel over their counterparts in leisure who can only pursue the activity
after a full day’s work elsewhere. That in some fields, mostly those in art,
sport, science, and entertainment, sociological professionals are actually
present is, in leisure studies, beside the point. That is, reaching such an
advanced stage of professionalization is a concern of the sociology of
work, not of the sociology of leisure.
As a result of this reasoning I now want to redefine “professional” in
(economic rather than sociological) terms that relate better to amateurs
and hobbyists, namely, as someone who is dependent on the income
from an activity that other people pursue with little or no remuneration
as leisure. The income on which the professional is dependent may be
this person’s only source of money (i.e., full-time professional) or it may
be one of two or more sources of money (i.e., part-time professional).
Although some of these professionals may be sociological profession-
als, as just described, many economic professionals are in fields where
professionalization is only beginning.
This condition suggests a critical precaution: enactment of the core
activity by the professionals in a particular field, to influence amateurs
there, must be sufficiently visible to those amateurs. If the amateurs, in
general, have no idea of the prowess of their professional counterparts, the
The Serious Leisure Perspective 7
latter become irrelevant as role models, and the leisure side of the activity
remains at a hobbyist level. These definitional modifications retain the
integrity of the earlier model, which states that amateurs and professionals
are locked in and therefore further defined, in most instances, by their
place in a professional-amateur-public (P-A-P) system of relations, an
arrangement too complex to describe further in this book (for details see
Stebbins, 1979; 1992a, pp. 38-41; 2002, pp. 129-130).
Yoder’s study (1997) of tournament bass fishing in the United States
engendered an important modification of the original P-A-P model. He
found, first, that fishers here are amateurs, not hobbyists, and second, that
commodity producers serving both amateur and professional tournament
fishers play a role significant enough to warrant changing the original
triangular professional-amateur-public (P-A-P) system of relationships
first set out in Stebbins (1979). In other words, in the social world of
these amateurs the “strangers” (Unruh, 1979) are a highly important
group consisting, in the main, of national fishing organizations, tourna-
ment promoters, and manufacturers and distributors of sporting goods
and services. Significant numbers of amateurs make, sell, or advertise
commodities for the sport. And the professional fishers are supported by
the commodity agents by way of paid entry fees for tournaments, provi-
sion of boats and fishing tackle, and subsidies for living expenses. Top
professionals are given a salary to promote fishing commodities. Yoder’s
(1997, p. 416) modification results in a more complicated triangular
model, consisting of a system of relationships linking commodity agents,
professionals/commodity agents, and amateurs/publics (C-PC-AP).
The new C-PC-AP model sharpens our understanding of some other
amateur fields as well. One of them is stand-up comedy, where the in-
fluence of a manager, booking agent, or comedy club owner can weigh
heavily on the career of the performer (see Stebbins, 1990, chap. 7). It is
likewise for certain types of entertainment magicians and the magic deal-
ers and booking agents who inhabit their social world (Stebbins, 1993a).
And Wilson (1995) describes a similar, “symbiotic” relationship between
British marathon runners and the media. But, for amateurs in other fields
of art, science, sport, and entertainment, who are also linked to sets of
strangers operating in their special social worlds, these strangers play a
much more subdued role compared with the four fields just mentioned.
Thus for many amateur activities, the simpler, P-A-P model still offers
the most valid explanation of their social structure.
It was through the study of amateurs that I came to realize that the
standard practice among sociologists of treating all professionals as of
8 Serious Leisure
a kind was short sighted. Professionals in the arts, science, sport, and
entertainment fields are quite different from those in the “professions”
(e.g., law, medicine, teaching, accounting, engineering). The first set
of workers may be viewed as public-centered and the second as client-
centered. The first serve publics in art, sport, science, and entertainment,
whereas the second serve various clients such as patients or purchasers
of a highly skilled service offered by, say, a lawyer, architect, counsellor,
engineer, or accountant (Stebbins, 1992a, p. 22).
Hobbyists lack the professional alter ego (as redefined above) of
amateurs, although they sometimes have commercial equivalents and
often have small publics who take an interest in what they do. Hobby-
ists are classified according to five categories: collectors, makers and
tinkerers, activity participants (in noncompetitive, rule-based, pursuits
such as fishing and barbershop singing), players of sports and games (in
competitive, rule-based activities with no professional counterparts like
long-distance running and competitive swimming) and the enthusiasts
of the liberal arts hobbies. The rules guiding rule-based pursuits are, for
the most part, either subcultural (informal) or regulatory (formal). Thus
seasoned hikers in North America’s Rocky Mountains know they should,
for example, stay on established trails, pack out all garbage, be prepared
for sudden changes in weather, and make noise to scare off bears.
The liberal arts hobbyists are enamored of the systematic acquisition
of knowledge for its own sake. Many of them accomplish this by read-
ing voraciously in a field of art, sport, cuisine, language, culture, history,
science, philosophy, politics, or literature (Stebbins, 1994a). But some
of them go beyond this to expand their knowledge still further through
cultural tourism, documentary videos, television programs, and similar
resources. Although the matter has yet to be studied through research, it is
theoretically possible to separate buffs from consumers in the liberal arts
hobbies of sport, cuisine, and the fine and entertainment arts. Some people
—call them consumers—more or less uncritically consume restaurant
fare, sports events, or displays of art (concerts, shows, exhibitions) as pure
entertainment and sensory stimulation (casual leisure), whereas others
—call them buffs—participate in these same situations as more or less
knowledgeable experts, as serious leisure (for more on this distinction,
see Stebbins 2002, chap. 5). The ever-rarer Renaissance man of our day
may also be classified here, even though such people avoid specializing
in one field of learning to acquire, instead, a somewhat more superficial
knowledge of a variety of fields. Being broadly well-read is a (liberal
arts) hobby of its own.
The Serious Leisure Perspective 9
What I have come to refer to as “the nature-challenge” hobbies (Steb-
bins, 2005c) fall under the theoretic heading of noncompetitive, rule-
based activity participation. True, actual competitions are sometimes
held in, for instance, snowboarding, kayaking, and mountain biking
(e.g., fastest time over a particular course), but mostly beating nature
is thrill enough. Moreover, other nature hobbies exist, which are also
challenging, but in very different ways. Some, most notably fishing and
hunting, in essence exploit the natural environment. Still others center
on appreciation of the outdoors, among them hiking, backpacking, bird
watching, and horseback riding (Stebbins, 1998a, p. 59).
Turning now to volunteering, Cnaan, Handy, and Wadsworth (1996)
identified four dimensions they found running throughout the several
definitions of volunteering they examined. These dimensions are free
choice, remuneration, structure, and intended beneficiaries. The fol-
lowing volitional definition was created from these four: volunteering
is uncoerced help offered either formally or informally with no or, at
most, token pay and done for the benefit of both other people (beyond the
volunteer’s family) and the volunteer (modified from Stebbins, 2004a, p.
5). This conception of volunteering revolves, in significant part, around a
central subjective motivational question: it must be determined whether
volunteers feel they are engaging in an enjoyable (casual leisure), ful-
filling (serious leisure), or enjoyable or fulfilling (project-based leisure)
core activity that they have had the option to accept or reject on their own
terms. A key element in the leisure conception of volunteering is the felt
absence of moral coercion to do the volunteer activity, an element that,
in “marginal volunteering” (Stebbins, 2001d) may be experienced in
degrees, as more or less coercive. Nevertheless the reigning conception
of volunteering in nonprofit sector research is not that of volunteering
as leisure, but volunteering as unpaid work. This economic conception
defines volunteering as the absence of payment for a livelihood, whether
in money or in kind. This definition largely avoids the messy question
of motivation so crucial to the leisure conception.
Concerning the dimension of free choice, the language of (lack of)
“coercion,” is preferred, as indicated in the earlier section on the definition
of leisure, because that of “free choice” is hedged about with numerous
problems. The logical difficulties of including obligation in definitions
of volunteering militate against including this condition in the foregoing
definition (see Stebbins, 2001d). As for remuneration, volunteers retain
their voluntary spirit providing they avoid becoming dependent on any
money received from their volunteering. Structurally, volunteers may
10 Serious Leisure
serve formally in collaboration with legally chartered organizations or
informally in situations involving small groups, sets, or networks of
friends, neighbors, and the like that have no such legal basis. Finally, it
follows from what was said previously about altruism and self-interest
in volunteering that both the volunteers and those whom they help find
benefits in such activity. It should be noted, however, that the field of
serious leisure, or career, volunteering, even if it does cover consider-
able ground, is still narrower than that of volunteering in general, which
includes helping as casual leisure and volunteering in projects as project-
based leisure.
The descriptive taxonomy published by the author (Stebbins, 1998a,
pp. 74-80), which consists of sixteen types of organizational volunteer-
ing, shows the scope of career volunteering. Career volunteers provide
a great variety of services in education, science, civic affairs (advocacy
projects, professional and labor organizations), spiritual development,
health, economic development, religion, politics, government (programs
and services), human relationships, recreation, and the arts. Some of
these volunteers work in the fields of safety or the physical environment,
whereas others prefer to provide necessities (e.g., food, clothing, shelter)
or support services. Although much of career volunteering appears to be
connected in some way with an organization of some sort, the scope of
this leisure can be even broader, including the kinds of helping devoted
individuals do for social movements or for neighbors or friends. Still,
the definition of serious leisure restricts attention everywhere to volun-
teering in which the participant finds a career in acquiring a combina-
tion of skill, knowledge, and experience gained through more or less
continuous and substantial helping. Therefore, one-time donations of
money, organs, services, and so forth are more accurately classified as
voluntary action of another sort, as are instances of casual volunteering,
which include ushering, stuffing envelops, and handing out programs
as an aid to commercial, professional, or serious leisure undertakings
(Stebbins, 1996b).
My own study of francophone volunteers in urban Alberta, Canada
(Stebbins, 1998d) concentrated on the careers, costs and rewards, life-
styles, and community contributions of “key” volunteers. A key volunteer
is a highly committed organizational or communitarian servant, working
in one or two enduring, official, responsible posts within one or more
grassroots groups or organizations. One section of the study dealt with
two questions, both being sources of considerable confusion in the field
of research on voluntary action and citizen participation: is volunteer-
The Serious Leisure Perspective 11
ing done by choice or by obligation and is it done as work or as leisure?
The study revealed that most of the Alberta key volunteers feel a general
obligation to volunteer in their local francophone community, but that
they also say they may choose the particular posts they will work in and
how long they will stay in there.
Casual leisure volunteering and volunteering in leisure projects will
be considered in chapter 3.
Six Distinguishing Qualities
Serious leisure is further defined by six distinguishing qualities (or
characteristics, as they are sometimes described), found among amateurs,
hobbyists, and volunteers alike (Stebbins, 1992a, pp. 6-8). One is the
occasional need to persevere, such as in confronting danger (Fine, 1988,
p. 181), supporting a team during a losing season (Gibson, Willming,
and Holdnak, 2002, pp. 405-408), or managing embarrassment (Floro,
1978, p. 198). Yet, it is clear that positive feelings about the activity
come, to some extent, from sticking with it through thick and thin, from
conquering adversity. A second quality is, as already indicated, that of
finding a leisure career in the endeavor, shaped as it is by its own special
contingencies, turning points and stages of achievement or involvement.
Because of the widespread tendency to see the idea of career as applying
only to occupations, note that, in this definition, the term is much more
broadly used, following Goffman’s (1961, pp. 127-128) elaboration of
the concept of “moral career.” Broadly conceived of, careers are available
in all substantial, complicated roles, including especially those in work,
leisure, deviance, politics, religion, and interpersonal relationships.
Careers in serious leisure commonly rest on a third quality: signifi-
cant personal effort using their specially acquired knowledge, training,
experience, or skill, and, indeed at times, all four. Examples include such
characteristics as showmanship, athletic prowess, scientific knowledge,
and long experience in a role. Fourth, eight durable benefits, or broad
outcomes, of serious leisure have so far been identified, mostly from
research on amateurs. They are self-actualization, 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,
piece of furniture). A further benefit—self-gratification, or the combina-
tion of superficial enjoyment and deep personal fulfilment—is also one
of the main benefits of casual leisure, to the extent that the enjoyable
part dominates. In general a benefit is an agreeable outcome, anticipated
12 Serious Leisure
or not, of a person’s participation in a leisure activity. That outcome
may be anything appealing to the participant, whether physical, social,
psychological, or something else. Durable benefits number among the
consequences of pursuing serious leisure, and are therefore not to be
confused with its motivational antecedents: the rewards of such activity
(discussed later).1
A fifth quality of serious leisure is the unique ethos that grows up
around each instance of it. An ethos is the spirit of the community of
serious leisure participants, as manifested in shared attitudes, practices,
values, beliefs, goals, and so on. The social world of the participants is
the organizational milieu in which the associated ethos—at bottom a
cultural formation—is expressed (as attitudes, beliefs, values) or real-
ized (as practices, goals). Unruh (1980, p. 277) developed the following
definition of social world:
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 ter-
ritory....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 com-
munication and not territory nor formal group membership.
In a second paper Unruh added that the typical social world is character-
ized by voluntary identification, by a freedom to enter into and depart
from it (Unruh, 1979). Moreover, because it is so diffuse, ordinary
members are only partly involved in the full range of its activities. After
all, a social world may be local, regional, multiregional, national, even,
international. Third, people in complex societies such as Canada and the
United States are often members of several social worlds. Finally, social
worlds are held together, to an important degree, by semiformal, or me-
diated, communication. They are rarely heavily bureaucratized yet, due
to their diffuseness, they are rarely characterized by intense face-to-face
interaction. Rather, communication is typically mediated by newsletters,
posted notices, telephone messages, mass mailings, Internet communi-
cations, radio and television announcements, and similar means, with
the strong possibility that the Internet could become the most popular
of these in the future.
The sixth quality revolves around the preceding five: participants
in serious leisure tend to identify strongly with their chosen pursuits.
In contrast, casual leisure, though hardly humiliating or despicable, is
The Serious Leisure Perspective 13
nonetheless too fleeting, mundane, and commonplace for most people
to find a distinctive identity there. In fact, as the next section shows, a
serious leisure pursuit can hold greater appeal as an identifier than a
person’s work role.
Rewards, Costs, and Motivation
In addition, research on serious leisure has led to the discovery of a
distinctive set of rewards for each activity examined (Stebbins, 2001a,
p. 13). In these studies the participant’s leisure fulfilment has been found
to stem from a constellation of particular rewards gained from the activ-
ity, be it boxing, ice climbing, or giving dance lessons to the elderly.2
Furthermore, the rewards are not only fulfilling in themselves, but also
fulfilling as counterweights to the costs encountered in the activity. That
is, every serious leisure activity contains its own combination of tensions,
dislikes and disappointments, which each participant must confront in
some way. For instance, an amateur football player may not always like
attending daily practices, being bested occasionally by more junior play-
ers when there, and being required to sit on the sidelines from time to
time while others get experience at his position. Yet he may still regard
this activity as highly fulfilling—as (serious) leisure—because it also
offers certain powerful rewards.
Put more precisely, then, the drive to find fulfillment in serious leisure
is the drive to experience the rewards of a given leisure activity, such
that its costs are seen by the participant as more or less insignificant by
comparison. This is at once the meaning of the activity for the participant
and his or her motivation for engaging in it. It is this motivational sense
of the concept of reward that distinguishes it from the idea of durable
benefit set out earlier, a concept that, as I said, emphasizes outcomes
rather than antecedent conditions. Nonetheless, the two ideas constitute
two sides of the same social psychological coin.
The rewards of a serious leisure pursuit are the more or less routine
values that attract and hold its enthusiasts. Every serious leisure career
both frames and is framed by the continuous search for these rewards,
a search that takes months, and in many pursuits, years before the par-
ticipant consistently finds deep fulfillment in his or her amateur, hobby-
ist, or volunteer role. The ten rewards presented below emerged in the
course of various exploratory studies of amateurs, hobbyists, and career
volunteers. As the following list shows, the rewards of serious leisure
are, numerically speaking, predominantly personal.
14 Serious Leisure
Personal rewards
1. Personal enrichment (cherished experiences)
2. Self-actualization (developing skills, abilities, knowledge)
3. Self-expression (expressing skills, abilities, knowledge already
4. Self-image (known to others as a particular kind of serious leisure
5. Self-gratification (combination of superficial enjoyment and deep
6. Re-creation (regeneration) of oneself through serious leisure after
a day’s work
7. Financial return (from a serious leisure activity)
Social rewards
8. Social attraction (associating with other serious leisure participants,
with clients as a volunteer, participating in the social world of the
9. Group accomplishment (group effort in accomplishing a serious
leisure project; senses of helping, being needed, being altruistic)
10. Contribution to the maintenance and development of the group
(including senses of helping, being needed, being altruistic in making
the contribution)
In the various studies on amateurs, hobbyists, and volunteers, these
rewards, depending on the activity, were often given different weight-
ings by the interviewees to reflect their importance relative to each other.
Nonetheless, some common ground exists, for the studies do show that,
in terms of their personal importance, most serious leisure participants
rank self-enrichment and self-gratification as number one and number
two. Moreover, to find either reward, participants must have acquired
sufficient levels of relevant skill, knowledge, and experience and be in
a position to use these acquisitions (Stebbins, 1979; 1993c). In other
words, self-actualization, which was often ranked third in importance,
is also highly rewarding in serious leisure.
Recently several scholars have joined me in arguing that serious lei-
sure experiences also have a negative side that must not be overlooked
(Codina, 1999; Harries and Currie, 1998; Siegenthaler and Gonsalez,
1997; Lee, Dattilo, and Howard, 1994). In line with this reasoning, I
have always asked my respondents to discuss the costs they face in their
serious leisure. But so far, it has been impossible to develop a general
list of them, as has been done for rewards, since the costs tend to be
highly specific to each serious leisure activity. Thus each activity I have
The Serious Leisure Perspective 15
studied to date has been found to have its own constellation of costs, but
as the respondents see them, they are invariably and heavily outweighed
in importance by the rewards of the activity. In general terms the costs
discovered to date may be classified as disappointments, dislikes, or ten-
sions. Nonetheless, all research on serious leisure considered, its costs
are not nearly as commonly examined as its rewards, leaving thus a gap
in our understanding that must be filled.
The costs of leisure may also be seen as one type of leisure constraint.
Leisure constraints, are defined as “factors that limit people’s participation
in leisure activities, use of services, and satisfaction or enjoyment of cur-
rent activities” (Scott, 2003, p. 75). Costs certainly dilute the satisfaction
or enjoyment participants experience in pursuing certain leisure activities,
even if, in their interpretation of them, those participants find such costs,
or constraints, overridden by the powerful rewards also found there.
Thrills and Psychological Flow
Thrills are part of this reward system. Thrills, or high points, are the
sharply exciting events and occasions that stand out in the minds of those
who pursue a kind of serious leisure. In general, they tend to be associated
with the rewards of self-enrichment and, to a lesser extent, those of self-
actualization and self-expression. That is, thrills in serious leisure may
be seen as situated manifestations of certain more abstract rewards; they
are what participants in some fields seek as concrete expressions of the
rewards they find there. They are important, in substantial part, because
they motivate the participant to stick with the pursuit in hope of finding
similar experiences again and again and because they demonstrate that
diligence and commitment may pay off.
Over the years, I have identified a number of thrills that come with the
serious leisure activities I studied. These thrills are exceptional instances
of the flow experience. Thus, although the idea of flow originated with
the work of Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi (1990), and has therefore an intel-
lectual history quite separate from that of serious leisure, it does never-
theless happen, depending on the activity, that it is a key motivational
force there. For example I found flow was highly prized in the hobbies of
kayaking, mountain/ice climbing, and snowboarding (Stebbins, 2005c).
What then is flow?
The intensity with which some participants approach their leisure
suggests that, there, they may at times be in psychological flow. Flow,
a form of optimal experience, is possibly the most widely discussed and
studied generic intrinsic reward in the psychology of work and leisure.3
16 Serious Leisure
Although many types of work and leisure generate little or no flow for their
participants, those that do are found primarily the “devotee occupations”
(Stebbins, 2004b) and serious leisure. Still, it appears that each work and
leisure activity capable of producing flow does so in terms unique to it.
And it follows that each of these activities must be carefully studied to
discover the properties of their core that contributes to the distinctive flow
experience it offers.
In his theory of optimal experience, Csikszentmihalyi (1990, pp. 3-
5, 54) describes and explains the psychological foundation of the many
flow activities in work and leisure, as exemplified in chess, dancing,
surgery, and rock climbing. Flow is “autotelic” experience, or the
sensation that comes with the actual enacting of intrinsically reward-
ing activity. Over the years, Csikszentmihalyi (1990, pp. 49-67) has
identified and explored eight components of this experience. It is
easy to see how this quality of complex core activity, when present,
is sufficiently rewarding and, it follows, highly valued to endow it
with many of the qualities of serious leisure, thereby rendering the
two, at the motivational level, inseparable in several ways. And this even
though most people tend to think of work and leisure as vastly different.
The eight components are
1. Sense of competence in executing the activity;
2. Requirement of concentration;
3. Clarity of goals of the activity;
4. Immediate feedback from the activity;
5. Sense of deep, focused involvement in the activity;
6. Sense of control in completing the activity;
7. Loss of self-consciousness during the activity;
8. Sense of time is truncated during the activity.
These components are self-evident, except possibly for the first and the
sixth. With reference to the first, flow fails to develop when the activity
is either too easy or too difficult; to experience flow the participant must
feel capable of performing a moderately challenging activity. The sixth
component refers to the perceived degree of control the participant has
over execution of the activity. This is not a matter of personal competence;
rather it is one of degree of maneuverability in the fact of uncontrollable
external forces, a condition well illustrated in situations faced by the
mountain hobbyists mentioned above, as when the water level suddenly
rises on the river or an unpredicted snowstorm results in a whiteout on
a mountain snowboard slope.
The Serious Leisure Perspective 17
Flow was found to be a cardinal motivator in mountaineering, kayak-
ing, and snowboarding, even while it is only an occasional state of mind
for participants. That is, in any given outing in one of these hobbies,
participants only experience flow some of the time. Meanwhile it is not
even this central, or even present at all, in some other outdoor hobbies.
It does not, for instance, seem to characterize much of mountain scram-
bling (hiking to mountain peaks, possible when technical equipment is
not needed), backpacking, or horseback riding. By contrast, it is certainly
a motivational feature in mountain biking as well as cross-country and
downhill skiing. Similar patterns of flow show up in the performing fine
and entertainment arts, the active hobbies (especially activity participa-
tion and sport and games), and certain career volunteering fields such as
emergency medical service and volunteer fire fighting.
Is flow experienced in casual and project-based leisure? Certainly
there are thrills to be found there as well, as in a roller coaster ride or
volunteer ushering at a concert of a symphony orchestra (hearing thrilling
passages of the music being played). But components of flow 1, 2, and 6
are found only in serious leisure (and some forms of work), suggesting
that, in the serious leisure perspective, flow is truly experienced only in
certain kinds of serious leisure.
Costs, Uncontrollability, and Marginality
From the earlier statement about costs and rewards, it is evident why
the desire to participate in the core amateur, hobbyist, or volunteer ac-
tivity can become for some participants some of the time significantly
uncontrollable. This is because it engenders in its practitioners the de-
sire to engage in the activity beyond the time or the money (if not both)
available for it. As a professional violinist once counseled his daughter,
“Rachel, never marry an amateur violinist! He will want to play quartets
all night” (from Bowen, 1935, p. 93). There seems to be an almost universal
desire to upgrade: to own a better set of golf clubs, buy a more pow-
erful telescope, take more dance lessons perhaps from a renowned (and
consequently more expensive) professional, and so forth. The same
applies to hobbyist and volunteer pursuits.
Chances are therefore good that some serious leisure enthusiasts will be
eager to spend more time at and money on the core activity than is likely
to be countenanced by certain significant others who also makes demands
on that time and money. The latter may soon come to the interpretation
that the enthusiast is more enamored of the core leisure activity than of,
say, the partner or spouse.4 Charges of selfishness may, then, not be long
18 Serious Leisure
off. I found in my research on serious leisure that attractive activity and
selfishness are natural partners (Stebbins, 2001a, chap. 4). Whereas some
casual leisure and even project-based leisure can also be uncontrollable,
the marginality hypothesis (stated below) implies that such a proclivity
is generally significantly stronger among serious leisure participants.
Selfishness is an ethical question seldom raised in leisure studies.
Uncontrollable or not serious leisure activities, given their intense
appeal, can also be viewed as behavioral expressions of the participants’
central life interests in those activities. In his book by the same title,
Robert Dubin (1992) defines this interest as “that portion of a person’s
total life in which energies are invested in both physical/intellectual
activities and in positive emotional states.” Sociologically, a central life
interest is often associated with a major role in life. And since they can
only emerge from positive emotional states, obsessive and compulsive
activities can never become central life interests.
Finally, I have argued over the years that amateurs, and sometimes
even the activities they pursue, are marginal in society, for amateurs are
neither dabblers (casual leisure) nor professionals (see also Stebbins,
1979). Moreover, studies of hobbyists and career volunteers show that
they and some of their activities are just as marginal and for many of
the same reasons (Stebbins, 1996a; 1998d). Several properties of serious
leisure give substance to these observations. One, although seemingly
illogical according to common sense, is that serious leisure is charac-
terized empirically by an important degree of positive commitment to
a pursuit (Stebbins, 1992a, pp. 51-52). This commitment is measured,
among other ways, by the sizeable investments of time and energy in
the leisure made by its devotees and participants. Two, serious leisure is
pursued with noticeable intentness, with such passion that Erving Goff-
man (1963, pp. 144-145) once branded amateurs and hobbyists as the
“quietly disaffiliated.” People with such orientations toward their leisure
are marginal compared with people who go in for the ever-popular forms
of much of casual leisure.
Leisure career, introduced earlier as a central component of the defi-
nition of serious leisure and as one of its six distinguishing qualities, is
important enough as a concept in this exposition of the basics of this form
of leisure to warrant still further discussion. One reason for this special
treatment is that a person’s sense of the unfolding of his or her career
in any complex role, leisure roles included, can be, at times, a powerful
The Serious Leisure Perspective 19
motive to act there.5 And, in attempting to counter Parker’s (1996, pp.
327-328) criticism of my use of the idea of career in the serious leisure
perspective, note that I am speaking, here, of “subjective career, as
opposed to the “objective” kind (Stebbins, 1970a; 2001a, pp.129-131).
For example, a woman who knits a sweater that a friend praises highly
is likely to feel some sense of her own abilities in this hobby and be
motivated to continue in it, possibly trying more complicated patterns.
Athletes who win awards for excellence in their sport can get from this
a similar jolt of enthusiasm for participation there.
Exploratory research on careers in serious leisure has so far proceeded
from a broad, rather loose definition: a leisure career is the typical course,
or passage, of a type of amateur, hobbyist, or volunteer that carries the per-
son into and through a leisure role and possibly into and through a work
role. The essence of any career, whether in work, leisure, or elsewhere, lies
in the temporal continuity of the activities associated with it. Moreover,
we are accustomed to thinking of this continuity as one of accumulating
rewards and prestige, as progress along these lines from some starting
point, even though continuity may also include career retrogression. In the
worlds of sport and entertainment, for instance, athletes and artists may
reach performance peaks early on, after which the prestige and rewards
diminish as the limelight shifts to younger, sometimes more capable
practitioners. Serious leisure careers have been empirically examined in
my own research and that of Baldwin and Norris (1999).
Career continuity may occur predominantly within, between, or outside
organizations. Careers in organizations such as a community orchestra or
hobbyist association only rarely involve the challenge of the “bureaucratic
crawl,” to use the imagery of C. Wright Mills. In other words, little or no
hierarchy exists for them to climb. Nevertheless, the amateur or hobby-
ist still gains a profound sense of continuity, and hence career, from his
or her more or less steady development as a skilled, experienced, and
knowledgeable participant in a particular form of serious leisure and
from the deepening fulfilment that accompanies this kind of personal
growth. Moreover some volunteer careers may be intra-organizational,
a good example of this being available in the world of the barbershop
singer (Stebbins, 1996a, chap. 3).
Still, many amateurs and volunteers as well as some hobbyists have
careers that bridge two or more organizations. For them, career continuity
stems from their growing reputations as skilled, knowledgeable practi-
tioners and, based on this image, from finding increasingly better leisure
opportunities available through various outlets (as in different teams,
20 Serious Leisure
orchestras, organizations, tournaments, exhibitions, journals, confer-
ences, contests, shows, and the like). Meanwhile, still other amateurs and
hobbyists who pursue noncollective lines of leisure (e.g., tennis, paint-
ing, clowning, golf, entertainment magic) are free of even this marginal
affiliation with an organization. The extra-organizational career of the
informal volunteer, the forever willing and sometimes highly skilled and
knowledgeable helper of friends and neighbors is of this third type.
Serious leisure participants who stick with their activities eventually
pass through four, possibly five career stages: beginning, development,
establishment, maintenance, and decline. But the boundaries separating
these stages are imprecise, for as the condition of continuity suggests,
the participant passes largely imperceptibly from one to the next. The
beginning lasts as long as is necessary for interest in the activity to take
root. Development begins when the interest has taken root and its pursuit
becomes more or less routine and systematic. Serious leisure participants
advance to the establishment stage once they have moved beyond the
requirement of having to learn the basics of their activity. During the
maintenance stage, the leisure career is in full bloom; here participants
are now able to enjoy to the utmost their pursuit of it, the uncertainties
of getting established having been, for the most part, put behind them.
By no means all serious leisure participants face decline, but those who
do, may experience it because of deteriorating mental or physical skills.
And it appears to happen—though I know not how often—that the bloom
simply falls off the rose; that leisure participants sometimes reach a point
of diminishing returns in the activity, getting out of it all they believe is
available for them. Now it is less fulfilling, perhaps on occasion even
boring. Now it is time to search for a new activity. A more detailed de-
scription of the career framework and its five stages, along with empirical
support for them, is available elsewhere (Stebbins, 1992a, chap. 5; on
hobbyist careers, see Stebbins, 1996a; Heuser, 2005).
Although this can vary according to where in their careers participants
in serious leisure are, I have observed over the years that, at any one
point time, they can be classified as either devotees or participants. The
devotees are highly dedicated to their pursuits, whereas the participants
are only moderately interested in it, albeit significantly more so than
dabblers. Participants typically greatly outnumber devotees. Along this
dimension devotees and participants are operationally distinguished
primarily by the different amounts of time they commit to their hobby,
as manifested in engaging in the core activity, training or preparing for
it, reading about it, and the like.
The Serious Leisure Perspective 21
This is, however, a rather crude scale of intensity of involvement in a
serious leisure activity, a weakness not missed by Siegenthaler and O’Dell
(2003, p. 51). Their findings from a study of older golfers and successful
aging revealed that data on leisure career are more effectively considered
according to three types, labeled by them as “social,“moderate,and
“core devotee.” The moderate is equivalent to the participant, whereas
the social player falls into a class of players who are more skilled and
involved than dabblers but less skilled and involved than the moderates
(participants). To keep terminology consistent with past theory and
research and the generality of the earlier two terms, I suggest we cali-
brate this new, more detailed, involvement scale with appropriate, new
terms: participant, moderate devotee, and core devotee. The important
contribution by Siegenthaler and O’Dell to revision of this part of the
Perspective is acknowledged.
Recreational Specialization
Recreational specialization and serious leisure have in common that
they are complex leisure activity: activity requiring some combination
of substantial skill, knowledge, and experience to carry out in a fulfilling
way its many different and highly interrelated facets. Recreational special-
ization is both process and product. As process it refers to a progressive
narrowing of interests within a complex leisure activity; ‘a continuum
of behavior from the general to the particular’ (Bryan, 1977, p. 175). As
product it refers to the fact that a person has, in this fashion, narrowed
his interests in the activity. Hobson Bryan coined the term and pioneered
the theoretical perspective in which it is embedded. An inductive, partici-
pant observational study of specialization in trout fishing served as the
empirical basis for his theoretical ideas. Bryan observed that, as people
become more immersed in this hobby, they tend to specialize in it. That
is, they come, for instance, to fish only a certain species of trout, fish
using only “barbless” hooks, fish only with artificial flies, or fish in either
streams or lakes. Thus there is often also a specialization in equipment
accompanying this narrowing of interests.
Bryan found a historical sense of growing personal involvement and
improvement was seen, in itself, to spur people on in their participation
in and commitment to their specialty. Scott and Schafer (2001), after
reviewing the literature on recreational specialization, developed
their own conceptualization of it, seeing it as a process entailing a
progression in behavior, skill, and commitment. That is, with increasing
skill, knowledge, and commitment related to a complex leisure activity,
22 Serious Leisure
behavior tends to become ever more focused on a specialized facet of it,
usually accomplished in parallel with a growing emotional attachment
to it.
The similarities and differences between serious leisure and recre-
ational specialization are considered in detail in a separate publication
(Stebbins, 2005g). In general the easiest way to compare the two is to
show where recreational specialization fits within the serious leisure
framework. Taken as an aspect of serious leisure, specialization may be
seen as part of the leisure career experienced in those complex activities
that offer participants who want to focus their interests an opportunity
to specialize. In particular, when specialization occurs, it unfolds as a
process within the development or establishment stage, possibly spanning
the two, or should the participant change specialties, it unfolds within
the maintenance stage. In career terminology, developing a specialty is
a career turning point.
This, then, is the basic conceptualization of serious leisure. It repre-
sents my latest thinking on this form, including my most recent efforts to
shape the definitions of key terms. It also includes either reference to or,
more profoundly, incorporation of several related ideas that add clarity
and depth to this basic statement. Thus constraint, benefit (in the broad
sense), and involvement have been referenced here for the first time in
the serious leisure perspective. This reference is superficial, and much
remains to be done to bring these three into the Perspective as integral
concepts. But at least initial mention has now been made of them. The
subject has been broached. By comparison I have given here, for the first
time, somewhat more attention to recreational specialization; it now plays
a more visible role in the serious leisure side of the Perspective. Here
too, however, some theoretic work remains to be done.
Some time ago I introduced flow in the discussion of motivation and
serious leisure (see chap. 6 for information on when this occurred). Yet,
every time I write about flow and serious leisure, I seem to find some
more ways of relating the two. As noted flow is not experienced in
many kinds of serious leisure, but in those where it is experienced,
it is highly valued; it is a powerful reason for engaging in the core
activity. So the present statement is quite likely not the last word on
flow and serious leisure; the appeal of flow is such that it will continue
to be studied, and as a result, theory in this area will continue to grow
and change.
The Serious Leisure Perspective 23
So, while research and theorizing continue in the area of flow, work
is also being carried out on other aspects of serious leisure. It is to this
latest empirical support for this form that we now turn.
1. This definition of durable benefit is similar, if not identical, to the first of Driver’s
(2003, p. 31) three definitions of benefit. Driver’s work makes it clear that the
concept of benefit in leisure studies is far broader than that of durable benefit used
in the serious leisure perspective.
2. I have recently taken to using the term “fulfillment,” because it points to a fulfill-
ing experience, or more precisely, to a set of chronological experiences leading
to development to the fullest of a person’s gifts and character, to development of
that person’s full potential, which is certainly both a reward and a benefit of seri-
ous leisure. “Satisfaction,” the term I once used, sometimes refers to a satisfying
experience that is fun or enjoyable (also referred to as gratifying). In another sense
this noun may refer to meeting or satisfying a need or want. In neither instance
does satisfaction denote the preferred sense of fulfillment just presented (Stebbins,
3. Flow has also been conceptualized in leisure studies as “situational involvement”
(see McIntyre, 2003, p. 269).
4. One of my respondents in the baseball study (Stebbins, 1979) actually said as
much, though he said he loved his girlfriend more than he loved football (which
he did not play). He did not seem to be joking.
5. “Enduring involvement,” as examined in the social psychology of leisure, bears a
close relationship to the idea of leisure career. For example enduring involvement,
unlike situational involvement (see note 3, this chapter), is seen as a continuum.
McIntyre (2003) offers a summary of theory and research on this concept.
24 Serious Leisure
Recent Research on Serious Leisure
Chapter 8 in Stebbins (2001) is a review of empirical and theoretic
works bearing on serious leisure that were published prior to approxi-
mately 2000. The studies reported there served to support, in varying
degrees, several aspects of the Perspective. This chapter, then, bears on
material published since that year. In covering it I will follow the order
in which the basic Perspective was presented in the preceding chapter.
That is the most recent empirical and theoretic works concerning seri-
ous leisure in general were presented and integrated in chapter 1 into the
basic statement. In the present chapter we will look, more particularly, at
works concerned with amateurism, then hobbyist activities, and finally,
career volunteering. As in Stebbins (2001), to be considered for this
review, each work discussed has to center substantially, if not wholly,
on serious leisure or, in a few instances, provide rare ethnographic data
on a serious leisure activity. Note, however, that not all recent research
on serious leisure is considered in this chapter, for some of it is more
appropriately discussed in relation to synthesizing the Perspective (chap.
4) or to extending it (chap. 5).
Amateur Activities
The decision, taken in chapter 1, to abandon the sociological defini-
tion of professional in favor of a simpler though more relevant economic
definition harmonizes well with many amateur and hobbyist activities
of recent origin. Economic professionals work in some of these new
fields, which have not, however, been in existence long enough to allow
a sociological profession to evolve. Indeed one may never evolve, for
such a development is by no means inevitable. Several hobbyist fields
(most being the subtypes of activity participation and sports and games)
have shown a tendency over the years to remain essentially non-profes-
26 Serious Leisure
sional, among them scrap booking, ultimate Frisbee, sport hunting, and
mountain trekking.
Notwithstanding the theoretic relationship between amateurs, hobby-
ists, and professionals, rather few studies of the first two have addressed
themselves to this issue (exceptions will be discussed in the hobbyist
section of this chapter). Failure to do so does not generally invalidate the
data collected in this research, but it does leave that research in concep-
tual limbo. I have always tried to establish the nature of the professional
relationship with the amateur group under investigation (e.g., Stebbins,
1993a [magic]; 1982b [astronomy]), and with respect to hobbies, have
always striven to determine that no economic profession exists (e.g.,
Stebbins, 1996a [barbershop]; 2005c [mountain hobbies]). It would be
good for theoretic development in the serious leisure perspective were
other researchers to follow this lead.
Finally it is interesting to observe that, since the second stocktaking
(Stebbins, 2001a), there has been comparatively little work to report on
amateurs done in the name of serious leisure, compared with the sub-
stantially larger volume of work carried out in this vein on hobbyists and
career volunteers. In my view this is as it should be, for the Perspective
got its start in the study of amateurs, and the bulk of the early investiga-
tions there were on this type of leisure. Research on hobbies and career
volunteer fields has now multiplied to fill this gap, however, giving this
part of the Perspective a much more even empirical foundation.
Nevertheless Puddephatt’s recent work on chess players does extend
the tradition of research on amateurs. Although his first publication from
this study deals mostly with questions arising out of the field of symbolic
interactionism, he does report on the flow these enthusiasts experience
while playing in a match (Puddephatt, 2003, pp. 272-278). Referring to
it as “engrossment,” he notes how players find this state of mind at once
exciting and absolutely essential for good chess. For, with engrossment,
comes the level of concentration so necessary for winning matches. A
later report from the same study centers on, among other considerations,
the leisure careers of chess players (Puddephatt, 2005). Here he shows
how they advance through a six-stage rating system, starting with begin-
ner and moving on, with growing competence and self-confidence, to
weak club player, intermediate club player, expert, master, and finally,
grand master.
Puddephatt’s research, though he remains silent about the professional
side of this field, is still the first to frame chess players in the serious
leisure perspective. This is also, so far as I know, the first application of
Recent Research on Serious Leisure 27
flow theory to chess. Furthermore his study provides some uncommon
data on leisure career.
Hobbyist Activities
Most of the new work in the hobbyist field centers on three subtypes:
activity participation, sports and games, and the liberal arts hobbies. Bar-
tram (2001) examined the leisure careers of kayakers, as experienced by
men and women in this hobby. In studying the five stages of the serious
leisure career of her two samples, she learned that, as they participate in
this form of leisure, certain contingencies serve to stratify the two sexes.
For instance she found that, in this activity, as in others where physical
risk is possible, men, compared with women, are more likely to use their
bodies aggressively and take risks. From the men’s standpoint this makes
many females less desirable as kayaking partners than other males. Kane
and Zink (2004) also studied the leisure careers of kayakers, noting as
a significant turning point, or “marker,” development to the level where
they could go on an adventure tour and express their acquired kayaking
skill, knowledge, and experience. Kane and Zink described their research
subjects as “amateurs,” who were guided on their tours by professional
kayakers working as tour guides.
Stebbins (2005c) also studied risk among kayakers as well as among
snowboarders and mountain and ice climbers. Both sexes were found,
in general, to put a premium on taking no more than “manageable” risk.
Such risk is that felt to be within the range of skill and knowledge of the
participant, meeting thereby one of the eight conditions for flow. When
risk becomes unmanageable, because of fortuitous conditions or social
pressure to go beyond personal ability and knowledge, for example, the
sense of flow recedes and so, consequently, does that of leisure. Replacing
these sentiments is a significant level of fear, fear of breaking something,
of possibly sustaining permanent or long-term injury, of even dying.
All three of these studies provide useful ethnographic data on the
leisure careers of kayakers, as one genre of activity participant. Their
classification as such is not, however, to suggest that they entirely avoid
competition, whereby their activity would become a sport. In fact a mi-
nority of Stebbins’s respondents did occasionally compete against other
people, even while most of the time they competed against nature (i.e., a
river or creek). In fact this was the preference of nearly all in the sample.
Further, the work of Kane and Zink suggests that kayaking may have
professionalized to the point where analyzing it as an amateur activity
is at least as valid as analyzing it as a hobby.
28 Serious Leisure
Sport, defined as a serious leisure hobby, has continued to generate
research interest. Major (2001), using the list of costs and rewards pre-
sented in the preceding chapter, has become the first to examine them in
competitive running. He found in his sample of twelve male and twelve
female runners that sense of accomplishment was a main reward to come
from successfully running a race. Health and social affiliation were also
cited as important rewards. These rewards and others offset diverse costs,
among them, injury, letting oneself down (a sort of disappointment), and
for females, fear for personal safety.
Hastings continues with his work on masters swimming, a longitudinal
project now over twenty years old. Most recently Hastings and Cable
(2005) examined the global diffusion and commodification of this hob-
byist sport, demonstrating that the role of commodity agent in serious
leisure is by no means limited to the C-PC-AP system described in the
previous chapter for bass fishers. Indeed, such an intermediary is a main
avenue by which some hobbyists, at first only a handful, gain the status
of economic professional in their sport. Obtaining product endorsements
and product sponsorships of competitions are two principal turning points
marking this change in career.
Even more recently the hobby of bird-watching has been examined
from the combined perspectives of serious leisure and recreational spe-
cialization. Lee and Scott (2006) surveyed a large sample of members
of the American Birding Association in the United States, to learn how
these hobbyists balance the costs and rewards of their pastime and, in
this regard, what difference leadership in the hobby might make. They
developed and tested a model that contains, among other propositions,
the one that specialization involves accepting leadership posts that lead
to benefits, while also leading to the perception of diminished self-de-
termination. Yet their results show that, with increasing specialization,
birders find that the benefits they experience far outweigh this cost and
the others that they incur. Lee and Scott’s study stands as a rare look at
the process of weighing costs and rewards in a serious leisure activity.
Liberal Arts Hobbies
Jones’s (2000) research on football fans in Britain provides further sup-
port for the validity of the six distinguishing qualities of serious leisure.
Additionally he uses exploratory data to build a model explaining how
these fans continue in this role when costs seem to outweigh rewards, the
principal cost being a losing team. He found that this unhappy situation
is made palatable through perseverance and emphasis on one or more
Recent Research on Serious Leisure 29
of the following four rewards: in-group favouritism, out-group deroga-
tion, unrealistic optimism, and voice. Unrealistic optimism refers to the
tendency of group members to anticipate that the possible rewards of
belonging to the group will outweigh predicted costs. Voice is the process
wherein fans selectively focus on what they see as positive features of
belonging to the group. Gibson, Willming, and Holdnak (2002) followed
with a similar analysis of American football, in which they supplied
further data supporting the six qualities as well as data supporting the
uncontrollability proposition. They also presented a rich description of
the substantial social world their fans inhabit. Both studies deal with the
liberal arts hobby of sports buff, as distinguished in chapter 1 from the
consumer of sport as casual leisure.
Kennett (2002) provides us with the first study of language learners,
whom she conceptually framed as participants in a liberal arts hobby.
In particular, she interviewed a sample of six intermediate to advanced
Australian speakers of Japanese who were cultural tourists fired by the
goal of further learning that language and its associated culture. This study
gives still more evidence for the six distinguishing qualities in addition
to some ethnographic data about the Australians as cultural tourists.
Other Hobbies
Compared with the other four subtypes of hobby, the making and tin-
kering pastimes remain understudied. This makes all the more valuable
King’s (2001) research on American quilters. In addition to observing the
passion her respondents had for quilting (some said it is “addictive”), she
noted several rewards, including self-expression, re-creation (regenera-
tion), and social attraction. King found in her all-female sample a special
manifestation in quilting of the reward of self-expression: the quilts they
make enable them to express themselves as women through a medium
that many other women understand.
Gillespie, Leffler, and Lerner’s (2002) study of people who go in for
“dog sports” may also be classified as a making and tinkering hobby.
That is some dog owners breed and train their pets to compete in various
competitions, including obedience trials, hunt trials, sled dog racing,
and draft pulling. In this sense they “make” their dogs into competitive
animals (see Stebbins, 1994a, for further discussion of this category).
Gillespie et al. found that this kind of serious leisure, like many others,
is often intensely pursued, creating in the process tensions with other
spheres of everyday life such as family, work, and religion. Such tensions
generate the need to continuously negotiate between spheres, so as to
30 Serious Leisure
be able to continue pursuing the hobby as well as honoring obligations
elsewhere. Indeed, this research looked, as only a few studies have, at
the costs that come with engaging in this serious leisure activity, these
tensions being one category of them.
Drew (1997), in a study of karaoke singers in fourteen bars in Phila-
delphia, has given us a rare look at some of the conditions that encourage
people to move from casual leisure to the early stages of a career in seri-
ous leisure. He refers to his interviewees as “amateurs,” though without
evidence of even a rudimentary professional counterpart, I will discuss the
serious leisure aspect of his study as a kind of hobbyist activity participa-
tion (karaoke singing resembles, in certain ways, barbershop singing, see
Stebbins, 1996a). Drew’s investigation contains some valuable insights
into how dabblers become more committed to the art of singing, as they
learn to conquer stage fright and come to view themselves as singers
with a noticeable level of talent and experience. His research shows how
participants discover that they can do something more substantial in the
core activity than dabble at it.
Although hobbies have received much greater attention since 2000
than previously, it is the field of career volunteering that stands out for
its increased volume of scholarship. Within this field, volunteering in
sport continues to be one of the more heavily studied areas. Cuskelly,
Harrington, and Stebbins (2002/2003) surveyed a sample of Australian
volunteer administrators in sport. Some of the respondents could be classi-
fied as marginal volunteers—they felt pressure to give time to the sporting
organization—whereas others met the criteria for career volunteers (the
six distinguishing qualities). Levels of organizational commitment varied
over time, but the career volunteers remained noticeably more committed
to their serious leisure than their marginal counterparts. This research un-
derscores the importance of examining serious leisure involvement from
the perspective of career, in that, over the years, motivation to participate
can fluctuate significantly. But some volunteering in sport, because it is
done to provide help for a sporting event, is now, given the newly-arrived
conceptual statement on project-based leisure, better interpreted in light
of that framework (see the two studies reviewed in chap. 3).
Yarnal and Dowler (2002/2003) continue a long-standing, if not spo-
radic, interest that both nonprofit sector studies and leisure studies share
in volunteer firefighters. They studied fire fighters in Pennsylvania, in
whom they observed a number of tensions arising from the fact that they
Recent Research on Serious Leisure 31
are, at once, both amateurs and volunteers. That is there are professional
firefighters, and it is their standards by which society judges the work
of these amateurs. At the same time these amateurs give altruistically of
their time in a way typical of volunteers, doing so in emotionally charged
situations where considerable risk may exist. Others who have studied
this kind of serious leisure have argued that these enthusiasts are purely
volunteers (e.g., Benoit and Perkins, 1997; Thompson, 1997a).
Be that as it may the volunteer label seems to fit best the nonprofes-
sional firefighters. They offer a service, which amateurs do not. And hav-
ing a professional counterpart is by no means unusual in volunteering. For
example Pearce (1993, p. 142), in her study, comments on the discord that
sometimes emerged between professionals and volunteers in paid-staff,
nonprofit groups, where the two types performed the same core activities.
She observed that such tension arises, in part, because the professionals
have more legitimacy—that is, they are formally trained—whereas the
volunteers have more dedication—that is, they are inspired by altruism.
She also found (pp. 143-144) that tension may occur between the two
types over the level of expertise itself, as in formal training (professional)
vis-à-vis long experience (volunteer). Such friction boils up around the
standards Yarnal and Dowler observed in their research. The condition
of whether professionals exist in a field of leisure activity appears to be
limited to sorting out hobbyists from amateurs.
Museum volunteering has also been receiving significant attention
since the last stock taking. Noreen Orr (2003; 2005) examined volun-
teers serving in six heritage museums in England to determine whether
they could be regarded as engaging in serious leisure. Her interviews
confirmed this hypothesis. Additionally, her data revealed that the in-
terviewees experienced many of the rewards typically found in serious
leisure, particularly, self-gratification, self-actualization, and self-ex-
pression. Of the ten rewards self-enrichment was the least important
for her respondents. Edwards (2005) looked at volunteers working in
arts museums in Australia, where she, too, found them motivated by
several of the ten rewards. She also found they were further motivated
by a sense of career in their volunteer role. As for some other kinds of
volunteers, those in Edwards’s sample were somewhat more motivated
by self-interest than by altruism. Graham (2004) provides an overview of
the literature on museum volunteering, as well as a report on data on such
volunteering as leisure as pursued in museums in Scotland. She found
that, for some participants, heritage volunteering offers the distinctive
rewards of developing new knowledge and conserving that knowledge
and, more broadly, local heritage.
32 Serious Leisure
Whatever the type of career volunteering, be it sport, museum, or
something else, the question of whether such activity is leisure or some-
thing else is, it appears, difficult to answer when posed to volunteers
themselves. Stebbins (2001c) asked such a question of a sample of
Canadian volunteers, who responded in equal numbers that what they
did was work, leisure, or neither of these two (i.e., a third category). On
a theoretic plane we have an answer for this question, but I find that,
among practicing volunteers themselves, it is seldom raised and, when
raised, tends to generate confusion.
Social Capital and Civil Labor
Whereas volunteering has been identified as a pillar of social capital
as generated through civil labor, the proposition that the volunteering in
question is primarily career volunteering, and hence leisure, has been
recognized much more slowly and by many fewer thinkers. Rojek (2002,
p. 25) has put the case most bluntly: “Serious leisure adds to social capital
through the voluntary, informal supply of caring, helping, and educative
functions for the community.” He goes on to observe that in analyses of
the postwork society, as conducted for example by Beck and Giddens,
“the notion of the leisure society is given short shrift” (p. 30). A year
earlier I registered a similar complaint about the works of Rifkin and
Aronowitz and DiFazio (Stebbins, 2001a, pp. 149-152).
Moreover this point has still not sunk in. For instance volunteering is
as close as Halpern (2005) comes in his otherwise excellent overview of
the research and thought on social capital to addressing himself to what
I hold to be a critical missing link in his chain of reasoning about how
social capital is generated. That link is leisure, and it is in leisure that
true volunteer activities are undertaken. Volunteering is leisure activity,
and so having considered leisure, Halpern is partly exonerated from this
charge, even while he fails to conceptualize the former in these terms. But
what about the role played by other kinds of leisure? Social capital also
gets a mighty boost when people from various walks of local community
life come together in amateur and hobbyist activities, say, to perform
in a civic orchestra or play on a football team, meet monthly to discuss
making quilts or building model trains. To understand either the rise or
the decline of social capital, also requires knowing, among other things,
why people engage in such leisure and what organizational arrangements
influence their participation in this way. And, by the way, Putnam (2000),
in his celebrated book, Bowling Alone, did discuss leisure.
Recent Research on Serious Leisure 33
With this preamble in mind, it is noteworthy that a handful of studies
have directly focused on the question of volunteering as leisure and, si-
multaneously, viewing it as civil labor and a contribution to social capital.
Arai (2000) studied Canadian volunteers engaged in civic planning and
how their efforts contributed to citizenship and democratic participation.
Her respondents were identified as career volunteers, as people pursuing
serious leisure as board members or service volunteers in three different
social planning organizations. Burden (2000; 2001), who, as Arai does,
treats volunteers as participants in serious leisure, studied the develop-
ment of social networks of trust as these support personal volunteering.
Burden’s action research project helped a small sample of female vol-
unteers in community theater in Australia learn about running such an
organization, empowering them in the process by developing in them
a capacity for self-direction. And in an entirely different field, Perkins
and Benoit (2004) list the substantial contributions to local social capital
made by volunteer firefighters.
Bramante (2004) describes a training project he mounted in Brazil,
which he designed to stimulate civil labor among youth, thereby enabling
them to contribute to their country’s social capital. Youth were trained to
engage in career volunteering, as both a personal and a communitarian
benefit. This included instruction on the importance of volunteers in the
community, the role of art and sport there, the psychological development
of the individual, the volunteer and the media, and the future of volun-
teering. Bramante’s program has demonstrated its capacity to develop
in those who participate in it a sense of commitment to volunteering.
Serious and casual leisure are central concepts in the program, which
was inaugurated in 2001 and continues to this day.
Other Kinds of Volunteering
Cassie and Halpenny (2003) provide qualitative evidence on the moti-
vation of career volunteering in a sample of Canadian nature conservation
workers. The motives pertaining to serious leisure included learning about
nature and the principles and practices of conservation, development of
skills related to their volunteer role, and meeting certain challenges posed
by nature. Altruism was also an important attitude motivating these vol-
unteers. In addition they had “fun,” although the way the authors describe
it, it could easily pass for the complex reward of self-gratification (reward
no. 5). Because these volunteers could take up their role with no special
skills, knowledge, or training, Cassie and Halpenny classified them as
participants in casual leisure. I wish to argue, however, that it would be
34 Serious Leisure
more accurate, to identify the latter as neophyte career volunteers at the
beginning of their serious leisure career in such leisure. The acquisition
of skills, knowledge, experience, and so on quickly puts them on the
road to personal development, self-fulfillment, and a career in this kind
of serious leisure.
Wearing (2004) has pioneered the analysis of “volunteer tourism,” a
kind of alternative tourism the goal of which is to “provide sustainable
alternative travel that can assist in community development, scientific
research, or ecological restoration. It could be further added that they
should be ideologically sound travel experiences that contribute to the
natural, economic, social, and cultural environments” (pp. 217-218).
Wearing argues that volunteer tourism is a subtype of career volunteering,
which enables understanding and elaboration of its potential benefits not
found in purely economic analyses. That is it is sustainable because its
impact is minimal, because it is typically small in scale while requiring
little specialized infrastructure. Therefore it thus causes little damage to
the environment on which ecotourism and other forms of tourism depend.
At the same time, as serious leisure, it contributes mightily to personal
development (Wearing, 2001).
Mixed Serious Leisure
The idea of mixed serious leisure was first considered in Stebbins
(2001a, pp. 126-127), which was done, however, without formal defini-
tion. Let us now define it as involvement in two or more types or subtypes
of serious leisure that, together, constitute for the participant an integrated
pursuit of a more encompassing free-time activity than either of the two
pursued alone. Examples are abundant: the violinist in the civic orchestra
(amateur artist) who is also president of the organization (volunteer),
the variable star observer (amateur scientist) who also goes in for astral
photography (amateur artist), and the entertainment magician (amateur
entertainer) who also reads voraciously on the history of magic (liberal
arts hobbyist). Apart from these categorizations, pursuit of mixed serious
leisure also falls, it is clear, in the domain of leisure lifestyle, possibly
one that is “optimal” (see chap. 4).
Mixed serious leisure is especially evident in the field of historical
reenactment, on which I have already identified some research (Steb-
bins, 2001a, p. 127). Since then Hunt (2004) has added to this literature
through his study of selected activities of the American Civil War Society
(ACWS), which he treated as a hobby and type of serious leisure. Much
of the research on reenactment fails to regard “living history” as a leisure
Recent Research on Serious Leisure 35
pursuit, so questions of who joins such groups and why they do this
have remained largely unanswered. Hunt’s study of a sample of ACWS
members in Britain, guided as it was by the serious leisure framework,
revealed that they see their activities here as leisure.
Harrington, Cuskelly, and Auld (2000) studied the “hybrid” role of the
volunteer/amateur in Australian motorsport. Thus, the same person could
be a flag marshal or timekeeper (volunteer) and when he or she was not
filling this role, compete in races as member of a pit crew or as a driver
(amateur). The authors also analyzed the omnipresent commodity agent
in motorsport, placing this person in the social world of the volunteer
and amateur there. These agents purvey automotive supplies and racing
equipment, doing so through highly visible sales and promotional strat-
egies. Similar commodity-intensive social worlds are evident in alpine
skiing, figure skating, major team sports, and as we saw in chapter 1,
bass fishing and masters swimming.
According to a rough count of published theory and research on seri-
ous leisure, this literature has increased by approximately 60 percent in
approximately half the time, the comparison periods being 2000 through
2005 vis-à-vis 1991 through 1999. This count excludes my publications
printed during both reporting periods. This proliferation of work in the
area is one of the justifications for this book: a stocktaking had become
We should expect exploratory research to continue on serious leisure,
since many established activities have yet to be examined while new
activities are appearing with remarkable frequency. But the time has
also come for detailed confirmatory work in areas of the Perspective
where a solid foundation of formal grounded theory has now been built.
One such area is the set of six distinguishing qualities. This review and
the one reported in Stebbins (2001a) indicate that most researchers in
serious leisure have shown admirable caution against simply declaring
a heretofore unexplored leisure activity as being of the serious variety.
Rather they have made an effort to empirically demonstrate the presence
of all or a majority of the six qualities.
To do this, takes considerable time and effort, the hallmark of the
qualitative field studies that are typically mounted under these explor-
atory conditions. Moreover the data collected in such research are only
generalizable to the leisure activity being examined. The need for a
measurement scale that will do this more efficiently has been apparent
36 Serious Leisure
to many scholars in this field for many years. (It is at least ten years ago
since I received the first inquiry asking about whether someone has con-
structed such a scale.) Fortunately, shortly after the publication of this
book, a serious leisure scale measuring the six distinguishing qualities
will become available for use by qualified researchers.
James Gould is the principal author of this scale, which he has named
the “Serious Leisure Inventory and Measure,” or SLIM. The seventy-two-
item scale—this is its long form (there is also a 54-item short form)—and
its development are described in Gould, Moore, and Stebbins (in press).
It is the product of Gould’s doctoral thesis research conducted at Clem-
son University. He used a q-sort, an expert panel (e.g., I was frequently
consulted on the validity of his proposed measures of various serious
leisure concepts), and confirmatory factor analysis to develop the scale,
which he subsequently demonstrated to have acceptable fit, reliability,
and equivalence across several different samples.
I have tried to stir interest in developing a companion scale to measure
the ten rewards, but so far, to my knowledge, without success. It is pos-
sible to ask respondents to rank the rewards they say they experience in
their serious leisure activities, producing thereby an ordinal scale pecu-
liar to each person. This I have done with every kind of serious leisure I
have explored, and have been able to construct a summative ranking of
rewards for entire samples of participants. Still, I believe a generalized
scale of the rewards could be constructed, which could be administered
on a survey basis to study motivation to pursue serious leisure in large
populations. SLIM could be used beforehand to separate participants in
serious leisure from those in casual leisure and then identify the activities
in which the first are involved. A properly constructed scale of rewards
would also enable us to measure quantitatively self-fulfillment, a state
of mind that was said earlier to stem from a constellation of particular
rewards that people gain from their serious leisure activities.
In short, the serious leisure part of the Perspective is no longer strictly
exploratory in methodological approach. In fact, several studies reviewed
in this chapter were quantitative—some even being analyzed with infer-
ential statistics—thereby adding to the basic Perspective, in all instances,
both precision and detail. Little of this has been truly confirmatory,
however, in that hypotheses were seldom explicitly stated and tested.
Still such testing will undoubtedly come in time.
With the theory and research on serious leisure now set out, time has
come to examine the other two forms that make up the Perspective.
Casual and Project-Based Leisure:
The Basics
I have no doubt that, some day, these two forms will be treated of in
separate chapters, much as we have done with serious leisure. But for
reasons that will become apparent in this chapter and chapter 6, casual
and project-based leisure, as conceptual frameworks, developed more
recently. More precisely, casual leisure, as a concept, is as old as serious
leisure, but I only began in the late 1990s giving concerted scholarly at-
tention to the first (Stebbins, 1997a; 2001b). And project-based leisure
saw the light of day even more recently (Stebbins, 2005a). Furthermore,
as this chapter demonstrates, research expressly conducted in the name
of these two forms also lags, though both have been extensively studied
under other theoretic rubrics. What research there is has, unlike that
on serious leisure with its separate chapter, been incorporated into this
chapter on the basics of the two forms. And, as with some recent research
on serious leisure, some of that on the casual and project-based forms is
most appropriately considered in chapter 5. Chapter 6 contains a detailed
look at the emergence of the latter two vis-à-vis serious leisure.
Casual Leisure
The term “casual leisure” is as old as its fraternal twin, “serious lei-
sure,” for the first came into this world in the same article that contained
the initial conceptual statement about the second (Stebbins, 1982a). In
that article and a number of later works, to further clarify the meaning
of serious leisure, I frequently contrasted it with casual, or unserious,
leisure, exemplifying the latter with activities like taking a nap or strolling
in the park or, when pursued as diversions, watching television or reading
a newspaper. Moreover, I occasionally added to these definitional state-
ments the observation that casual leisure can also be understood as all
leisure falling outside the realm of serious leisure. Over the years, other
38 Serious Leisure
writers, perhaps inspired by my example, have also delineated serious
leisure in these two ways.
Thus from 1982 to the present among those researchers who have
written on serious leisure, casual leisure has usually been cast in a re-
sidual role. I am perhaps the most culpable in this regard, for I have used
casual leisure, among other ways, as a foil to illuminate the distinguish-
ing qualities of serious leisure (e.g., Stebbins, 1992a, pp. 6-7) and to
describe its enthusiasts by showing how they are much more than mere
dabblers, players, or dilettantes, all basically casual leisure participants.
Looking back at them now, I can see that these brief, sketchy portrayals
of casual leisure have sometimes been painted in depreciatory colors,
which become ever more vivid when contrasted with the appreciatory
portrayals of serious leisure (e.g., Stebbins, 1996a, 1996b), leisure activ-
ity commonly venerated for its work like character.
Nevertheless, the place accorded casual leisure in the larger world of all
leisure is, in significant part, a matter of personal perspective; researchers
have different views of it and so do the people who participate in it. For
the person presently studying or participating in serious leisure, it is the
most important activity of the moment, an orientation that temporarily
forces casual leisure to the sidelines. Yet, beyond the spheres of research
and participation in serious leisure, it is evident that casual leisure is
anything but marginal. Thus, far more people participate in it than in
serious leisure, and many of the interviewees in my studies of amateurs,
hobbyists, and career volunteers pointed out that they also enjoy and
therefore value their casual leisure. In other words, casual leisure is an
important form of leisure in itself and, for that reason alone, should be
conceptually clarified and elaborated. And although such clarification
and elaboration will also sharpen our understanding of serious leisure
by further differentiating the two, the principal goal of this chapter is to
present a theoretical statement centering on casual leisure as a field of
its own demarcated by its own distinctive properties.
Types of Casual Leisure
Casual leisure, which in comparison with serious leisure is consider-
ably less substantial and offers no career, was defined in the previous
chapter as an immediately, intrinsically rewarding, relatively short-lived
pleasurable core activity, requiring little or no special training to enjoy
it (Stebbins, 1992a; 1997a, p. 18). Over the years eight types have been
Casual and Project-Based Leisure: The Basics 39
• Play (including dabbling, dilettantism)
• Relaxation (e.g., sitting, napping, strolling)
• Passive entertainment (e.g., through TV, books, recorded music)
• Active entertainment (e.g., games of chance, party games)
• Sociable conversation (e.g. gossip, “idle chatter”)
• Sensory stimulation (e.g., sex, eating, drinking, sight seeing)
• Casual volunteering (e.g., handing out leaflets, stuffing envelops)
• Pleasurable aerobic activity
The first six types are more fully discussed in Stebbins (1997a), while
casual volunteering is considered further in Stebbins (2003b). The last and
newest addition to this typology—pleasurable aerobic activity—refers to
physical activities that require effort sufficient to cause marked increase
in respiration and heart rate. Here I am referring to “aerobic activity”
in the broad sense, to all activity that calls for such effort, which to be
sure, includes the routines pursued collectively in (narrowly conceived
of) aerobics classes and those pursued individually by way of televised
or video-taped programs of aerobics (Stebbins, 2004e). Yet, as with its
passive and active cousins in entertainment, pleasurable aerobic activity
is, at bottom, casual leisure. That is, to do such activity requires little
more than minimal skill, knowledge, or experience. Examples include
the game of the Hash House Harriers (a type of treasure hunt held in the
outdoors), kickball (described in the Economist, 2005a, as a cross between
soccer and baseball), and such children’s games as hide-and-seek.
It is likely that people pursue the eight types of casual leisure in
combinations of two and three at least as often as they pursue them
separately. For instance, every type can be relaxing, producing in this
fashion play-relaxation, passive entertainment-relaxation, and so on.
Various combinations of play and sensory stimulation are also possible,
as in experimenting with drug use, sexual activity, and thrill seeking in
movement. Additionally, sociable conversation accompanies some ses-
sions of sensory stimulation (e.g., drug use, curiosity seeking, displays
of beauty) as well as some sessions of relaxation and active and passive
entertainment, although such conversation normally tends to be rather
truncated in the latter two.
This brief review of the types of casual leisure reveals that they share
at least one central property: all are hedonic. More precisely, all produce
a significant level of pure pleasure, or enjoyment, for those participat-
ing in them. In broad, colloquial language, casual leisure could serve as
the scientific term for the practice of doing what comes naturally. Yet,
paradoxically, this leisure is by no means wholly frivolous, for we shall
40 Serious Leisure
see shortly that some clear benefits come from pursuing it. Moreover,
unlike the evanescent hedonic property of casual leisure itself, its benefits
are enduring, a property that makes them worthy of extended analysis
in their own right.
It follows that terms such as “pleasure” and “enjoyment” are the more
appropriate descriptors of the rewards of casual leisure in contrast to
terms such as “fulfilment” and “rewardingness,” which best describe the
rewards gained in serious leisure. At least the serious leisure participants
interviewed by the author were inclined to describe their involvements as
fulfilling or rewarding rather than pleasurable or enjoyable.1 Still, overlap
exists, for both casual and serious leisure offer the hedonic reward of
self-gratification (see reward number 5, chap. 1). The activity is fun to
do, even if the fun component is considerably more prominent in casual
leisure than in its serious counterpart.
Shinew and Parry (2005) conducted a rare study focused directly on
casual leisure, in which the concept and its various types were used to
explain, in their research, university drinking and illegal drug consump-
tion. The hedonic character of casual leisure helps us understand use of
these substances among those in their sample of 740 university students
who indulged in them. More particularly it was through two types of
casual leisure—sociable conversation and sensory stimulation (described
by the respondents as “fun”)—that this kind of leisure was routinely
pursued. No differences were observed in these patterns across sex, race,
or membership in a fraternity or sorority. Given its concern with illegal
drug use, this study also contributes some needed data on deviant leisure,
in this instance deviant casual leisure.
Kerr, Fujiyama, and Campano (2002) attempted to study the emotional
return from sport experienced in a sample of Japanese tennis players,
some of whom were serious leisure participants, some of whom played
the game as casual leisure. Their results suggested that casual leisure is
“not necessarily more pleasurable” (p. 286) than serious leisure, a finding
that supports my most recent revisions to Reward number 5, which states
that self-gratification is a combination of superficial enjoyment and deep
fulfilment (see chap. 1). These revisions were first published in Stebbins
(2001a, p. 13, see also n. 3), and it is highly likely that Kerr and his col-
leagues would have been unaware of them. Instead they were guided by
the earlier version of number 5 as purely superficial enjoyment.
Moreover, my own observations of casual leisure suggest that hedon-
ism, or self-gratification, although it is a principal reward here, must still
share the stage with one or two other rewards. Thus any type of casual
Casual and Project-Based Leisure: The Basics 41
leisure, like any type of serious leisure, can also help re-create, or re-
generate, its participants following a lengthy stint of obligatory activity.
Furthermore, some forms of casual and serious leisure offer the reward of
social attraction, the appeal of being with other people while participating
in a common activity. Nevertheless, even though some casual and serious
leisure participants share certain rewards, research on this question will
likely show that these two types experience them in sharply different
ways. For example, the social attraction of belonging to a barbershop
chorus or a company of actors with all its specialized shoptalk diverges
considerably from that of belonging to a group of people playing a party
game or taking a boat tour where such talk is highly unlikely to occur.
I have so far been able to identify five benefits, or outcomes, of casual
leisure. But since this is a preliminary list—my first attempt at making
one—it is certainly possible that future research and theorizing could
add to it (Stebbins, 2001b).
One lasting benefit of casual leisure is the creativity and discovery
it sometimes engenders. Serendipity, “the quintessential form of infor-
mal experimentation, accidental discovery, and spontaneous invention”
(Stebbins, 2001c), usually underlies these two processes, suggesting that
serendipity and casual leisure are at times closely aligned. In casual lei-
sure, as elsewhere, serendipity can lead to highly varied results, including
a new understanding of a home gadget or government policy, a sudden
realization that a particular plant or bird exists in the neighborhood,
or a different way of making artistic sounds on a musical instrument.
Such creativity or discovery is unintended, however, and is therefore
accidental. Moreover, it is not ordinarily the result of a problem-solv-
ing orientation of people taking part in casual leisure, since most of the
time at least, they have little interest in trying to solve problems while
engaging in this kind of activity. Usually problems for which solutions
must be found emerge at work, while meeting nonwork obligations, or
during serious leisure.
Another benefit springs from what has recently come to be known as
edutainment. Nahrstedt (2000) holds that this benefit of casual leisure
comes with participating in such mass entertainment as watching films
and television programs, listening to popular music, and reading popular
books and articles. Theme parks and museums are also considered sources
of edutainment. While consuming media or frequenting places of this
sort, these participants inadvertently learn something of substance about
42 Serious Leisure
the social and physical world in which they live. They are, in a word,
entertained and educated in the same breath.
Third, casual leisure affords regeneration, or re-creation, possibly
even more so than its counterpart, serious leisure, since the latter can
sometimes be intense. Of course, many a leisure studies specialist has
observed that leisure in general affords relaxation or entertainment, if
not both, and that these constitute two of its principal benefits. What is
new, then, in the observation just made is that it distinguishes between
casual and serious leisure, and more importantly, that it emphasizes the
enduring effects of relaxation and entertainment when they help enhance
overall equanimity, most notably in the interstices between periods of
intense activity. Still, strange as it may seem, this blanket recognition of
the importance of relaxation has not, according to Kleiber (2000), led to
significant concern with it in research and practice in leisure studies.
A fourth benefit that may flow from participation in casual leisure
originates in the development and maintenance of interpersonal relation-
ships. One of its types, the sociable conversation, is particularly fecund in
this regard, but other types, when shared, as sometimes happens during
sensory stimulation and passive and active entertainment, can also have
the same effect. The interpersonal relationships in question are many
and varied, and encompass those that form between friends, spouses,
and members of families. Such relationships, Hutchinson and Kleiber
(2005) note, can foster personal psychological growth by promoting
new shared interests and, in the course of this process, new positive ap-
praisals of self.
Well-being is still another benefit that can flow from engaging in
casual leisure. Speaking only for the realm of leisure, perhaps the great-
est sense of well-being is achieved when a person develops an optimal
leisure lifestyle. Such a lifestyle is “the deeply satisfying pursuit during
free time of one or more substantial, absorbing forms of serious leisure,
complemented by a judicious amount of casual leisure” (Stebbins,
2000a). People find optimal leisure lifestyles by partaking of leisure
activities that individually and in combination realize human potential
and enhance quality of life and well-being. Project-based leisure can also
enhance a person’s leisure lifestyle. The study of kayakers, snowboard-
ers, and mountain and ice climbers (Stebbins, 2005c) revealed that the
vast majority of the three samples used various forms of casual leisure to
optimally round out their use of free time. For them their serious leisure
was a central life interest, but their casual leisure contributed to overall
well-being by allowing for relaxation, regeneration, sociability, entertain-
ment, and other activities less intense than their serious leisure.
Casual and Project-Based Leisure: The Basics 43
Still well-being, as achieved during free time, is more than this, as
Hutchinson and Kleiber (2005) have found in a set of studies of some of
the benefits of casual leisure. They observed that this kind of leisure can
contribute to self-protection, such as by buffering stress and sustaining
coping efforts. Casual leisure can also preserve or restore a sense of self.
This was sometimes achieved in their samples, when subjects said they
rediscovered in casual leisure fundamental personal or familial values
or a view of themselves as caring people.
Project-Based Leisure
In the past I have argued that, between them, casual and serious leisure
cover the entire leisure domain. For example, I wrote not so long ago that
“casual leisure can also be defined residually as all leisure not classifi-
able as amateur, hobbyist, or career volunteering” (Stebbins, 2001b, p.
305). I now realize, however, that this is false. My ongoing observations
of contemporary leisure have revealed a third form (and there may well
be others), identified here as “project-based leisure.” Although probably
less common than casual leisure, and perhaps even less so than serious
leisure, it is nonetheless sufficiently prevalent and important for those who
pursue it to justify singling it out for special conceptual treatment.
Project-based leisure (Stebbins, 2005a) is a short-term, moderately
complicated, either one-shot or occasional, though infrequent, creative
undertaking carried out in free time. It requires considerable planning,
effort, and sometimes skill or knowledge, but for all that is neither seri-
ous leisure nor intended to develop into such. The adjective “occasional”
describes, widely spaced, undertakings for such regular occasions as
religious festivals, someone’s birthday, or a national holiday. The adjec-
tive “creative” stresses that the undertaking results in something new or
different, showing imagination and perhaps 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, even years (e.g., a stone wall in the back garden that
gets finished only after its builder recovers from an operation on his
strained back).
Examples include surprise birthday parties, elaborate preparations for
a major holiday, and volunteering for a sporting event or arts festival.
Though only a rudimentary social world springs up around the project,
it does in its own particular way, bringing together friends, neighbors, or
relatives (e.g., through a genealogical project, Christmas celebrations)
or drawing the individual participant into an organizational milieu (e.g.,
through volunteering for a sporting event or a major convention).
44 Serious Leisure
Moreover, it appears that, in some instances, project-based leisure
springs from a sense of obligation to undertake it. If so, it is nonethe-
less, as leisure, uncoerced activity, in the sense that the obligation is in
fact “agreeable”—the project creator in executing the project anticipates
finding fulfillment, obligated to do so or not (for further discussion of
this point, see Stebbins, 2000a). And worth exploring in future research,
given that some obligations can be pleasant and attractive, is the nature
and extent of leisure-like projects carried out within the context of paid
employment. Furthermore, this discussion jibes with the additional crite-
rion that the project, to qualify as project-based leisure, must be seen by
the project creator as fundamentally uncoerced, fulfilling activity. Finally,
note that project-based leisure cannot, by definition, refer to projects ex-
ecuted as part of a person’s serious leisure, such as mounting a star night
as an amateur astronomer or a model train display as a collector.
Though not serious leisure, project-based leisure is enough like it to
justify using the serious leisure framework to develop a parallel frame-
work for exploring this neglected class of activities. A main difference is
that project-based leisure fails to generate a sense of career. Otherwise,
however, there is here need to persevere, some skill or knowledge may
be required and, invariably, effort is called for. Also present are recogniz-
able benefits, a special identity, and often a social world of sorts, though
it appears, one usually less complicated than those surrounding many
serious leisure activities. And perhaps it happens at times that, even if
not intended at the moment as participation in a type of serious leisure,
the skilled, artistic, or intellectual aspects of the project prove so attrac-
tive that the participant decides, after the fact, to make a leisure career
of their pursuit as a hobby or an amateur activity.
Project-based leisure is also capable of generating many of the rewards
experienced in serious leisure (discussed in detail in chap. 1). And, as in
serious leisure so in project-based leisure: these rewards constitute part
of the motivational basis for pursuing such highly fulfilling activity.
Furthermore, motivation to undertake a leisure project may have an
organizational base, much as do many other forms of leisure (Stebbins,
2002). My observations suggest that small groups, grassroots associa-
tions (Smith, 2000), and volunteer organizations (paid-staff groups using
volunteer help) are the most common types of organizations in which
people undertake project-based leisure.
Motivationally speaking, project-based leisure may be attractive in
substantial part because it does not demand long-term commitment,
as serious leisure does. Even occasional projects carry with them the
Casual and Project-Based Leisure: The Basics 45
sense that the undertaking in question can be terminated at will. Thus
project-based leisure is not a central life interest (Dubin, 1992). Rather it
is viewed by its creator as fulfilling (as distinguished from enjoyable or
hedonic) activity that can be experienced comparatively quickly, though
certainly not as quickly as casual leisure.
Project-based leisure fits into leisure lifestyle in its own peculiar way
as interstitial activity, like some casual leisure but not like most serious
leisure. It can therefore help shape a person’s “optimal leisure lifestyle”
(Stebbins, 2000b). For instance, it can usually be pursued at times con-
venient for the participant. It follows that project-based leisure is nicely
suited to people who, out of proclivity or extensive non-leisure obligations
or both, reject serious leisure and, yet, who also have no appetite for a
steady diet of casual leisure. Among the candidates for project-based
leisure are people with heavy workloads; homemakers, mothers, and
fathers with extensive domestic responsibilities; unemployed individu-
als who, though looking for work, still have time at the moment for (I
suspect, mostly one-shot) project-based leisure; and avid serious leisure
enthusiasts who want a temporary change in their leisure lifestyle. Retired
people, who often do have time for plenty of leisure, may find project-
based leisure attractive at times as a way of adding variety to their leisure
lifestyle. Beyond these special categories of participant, project-based
leisure offers a form of substantial leisure to all adults, adolescents, and
even children looking for something interesting and exciting to do in free
time that is neither casual nor serious leisure.
Finally, comparing it with most serious leisure, it is evident that, at
most, only a rudimentary social world springs up around the project. Still,
the project can in its own particular way bring together friends, neighbors,
or relatives (e.g., through a genealogical project), or draw the individual
participant into an organizational milieu (e.g., through volunteering for a
sporting event). This further suggests that project-based leisure often has,
in at least two ways, potential for building community. One, it can bring
into contact people who otherwise have no reason to meet, or at least
meet frequently. Two, by way of event volunteering and other collective
altruistic activity, it can contribute to carrying off community events and
projects. Project-based leisure is not, however, civil labor, which must
be classified as exclusively serious leisure (Rojek, 2002).
Types of Project-Based Leisure
It was noted in the definition presented earlier that project-based
leisure is not all the same. Whereas systematic exploration may reveal
46 Serious Leisure
others, two types are presently evident: one-shot projects and occasional
projects. These are presented next using a classificatory framework for
amateur, hobbyist, and volunteer activities that I developed earlier (see
Stebbins, 1998d, chaps. 2-4).
One-Shot Projects
In all these projects people generally use the talents and knowledge
they have at hand, even though for some projects they may seek certain
instructions beforehand, including reading a book or taking a short
course. And some projects resembling hobbyist activity participation
may require a modicum of preliminary conditioning. Always, the goal
is to undertake successfully the one-shot project and nothing more, and
sometimes a small amount of background preparation is necessary for
this. It is possible that a survey would show that most project-based
leisure is hobbyist in character and the next most common, a kind of
volunteering. First, the following hobbyist-like projects have so far been
• Making and tinkering:
Interlacing, interlocking, and knot-making from kits
Other kit assembly projects (e.g., stereo tuner, craft store proj-
Do-it-yourself projects done primarily for fulfillment, some of
which may even be undertaken with minimal skill and knowledge
(e.g., build a rock wall or a fence, finish a room in the basement,
plant a special garden). This could turn into an irregular series of
such projects, spread over many years, possibly even transforming
the participant into a hobbyist.
• Liberal arts:
Genealogy (not as ongoing hobby)
Tourism: special trip, not as part of an extensive personal tour
program, to visit different parts of a region, a continent, or much
of the world
• Activity participation: long back-packing trip, canoe trip; one-shot
mountain ascent (e.g., Fuji, Rainier, Kilimanjaro)
One-shot volunteering projects are also common, though possibly
somewhat less so than hobbyist-like projects. And less common than
either are the amateur-like projects, which seem to concentrate in the
sphere of theater.
• Volunteering
Volunteer at a convention or conference, whether local, national,
or international in scope.
Casual and Project-Based Leisure: The Basics 47
Volunteer at a sporting competition, whether local, national, or
international in scope.
Volunteer at an arts festival or special exhibition mounted in a
Volunteer to help restore human life or wildlife after a natural
or human-made disaster caused by, for instance, a hurricane,
earthquake, oil spill, or industrial accident.
• Entertainment Theater: produce a skit (a form of sketch) or one-shot
community pageant; create a puppet show; prepare a home film or a
set of videos, slides, or photos; prepare a public talk.
Occasional Projects
The occasional projects seem more likely to originate in or be moti-
vated by agreeable obligation than their one-shot cousins. Examples of
occasional projects include the sum of the culinary, decorative, or other
creative activities undertaken, for example, at home or at work for a re-
ligious occasion or someone’s birthday. Likewise, national holidays and
similar celebrations sometimes inspire individuals to mount occasional
projects consisting of an ensemble of inventive elements.
Unlike one-shot projects occasional projects have the potential to
become routinized, which happens when new creative possibilities no
longer come to mind as the participant arrives at a fulfilling formula want-
ing no further modification. North Americans who decorate their homes
the same way each Christmas season exemplify this situation. Indeed, it
is possible that, over the years, such projects may lose their appeal, but
not their necessity, thereby becoming disagreeable obligations that their
authors no longer define as leisure.
And, lest it be overlooked, note that one-shot projects also hold the
possibility of becoming unpleasant. Thus, the hobbyist genealogist gets
overwhelmed with the details of family history and the difficulty of verify-
ing dates. The thought of putting in time and effort doing something once
considered leisure but which she now dislikes makes no sense. Likewise,
volunteering for a project may turn sour, creating in the volunteer a sense
of facing a disagreeable obligation, which must still be honored. This
is leisure no more.
Research on Project-Based Leisure
It is hardly surprising that, given the recent date of the basic conceptual
statement of project-based leisure (2005), no systematic research yet ex-
ists in its name. Of course there are nearly innumerable studies of projects
under the headings of arts festivals, sporting events, historical enactments,
48 Serious Leisure
and the like, which, however, have been examined using other theoretic
frameworks (e.g., event analysis, tourism studies, volunteer studies). Not
infrequently leisure is part of these investigations, but it is not conceived
of conceptually, as we have in this chapter, as project-based.
On occasion casual or serious leisure has been the subject of research
in these studies, but in comparison, neither form explains this kind of lei-
sure experience nearly as well as the project-based framework. Twynam,
Farrell, and Johnston (2002-2003) offer a case in point, who by the way,
cannot be blamed for failing to consider the project-based conception, it
having been published well after publication of their study. The authors
tried to explain motivation to volunteer at a World Junior Curling Tourna-
ment as the pursuit of serious leisure. Still they found the fit imperfect;
the sporting event was too short for commitment to develop and a career
to unfold, as happens in long-term serious leisure. They observed:
Stebbins emphasized the commitment, skill development, challenge, accomplishment,
and specialist nature of serious leisure that paralleled career and work specialization.
These aspects of volunteering [in this sporting event] need to be conceptualized in
somewhat of a different manner so that motivation for serious leisure can be fully
understood. (Twynam, et al., 2002-2003, pp. 375-376)
What was really needed was recognition that a new form of leisure
had to be conceptualized, serious leisure offering only a Procrustean bed
for explaining leisure motivation of the sort they were studying.
Gravelle and Larocque’s (2005) study of volunteers at the 2001 fran-
cophone games in Canada can be reinterpreted in the same manner. These
volunteers served at a sporting event, where they “did not perceive their
involvement in the Games themselves as a long-term commitment” (p.
50). Nonetheless, they did need to persevere, for they lacked background
skills and knowledge prior to becoming involved with this volunteer
project. Indeed, 46 percent of the respondents said they volunteered spo-
radically, suggesting (to me) that a significant part of their volunteering
was of the project-based variety.
Green and Chalip (2004), using the career volunteering framework,
studied volunteers at the Sydney Olympic Games. From a review of
previous work in the area, they derived several hypotheses bearing on
commitment to the role of volunteer. In their survey they found, among
things, support for the proposition that a volunteer’s sense of commitment
to the event, once it was over, was a function of that person’s satisfaction
with his or her experience of the event. They also learned that this sense
of commitment at the end of the event is positively related to the benefits
Casual and Project-Based Leisure: The Basics 49
they gained, which included prestige, excitement, and opportunities to
learn and help as well as social and professional benefits.
The family may turn out to be one of the more fruitful areas to study
project-based leisure. Some parents create projects for their children to
undertake in the children’s free time. Indeed a certain amount of what
Shaw and Dawson (2001) call “purposive leisure” appears to be of the
project-based variety. They note that family leisure “seen as a form of
purposive leisure, is planned, facilitated, and executed by parents in
order to achieve particular short- and long-term goals” (Shaw and Daw-
son, 2001, p. 228). In purposive leisure parents occasionally organize,
expressly for the benefit of their children, free-time activities for the
whole family. Further, domestic projects await many a householder,
running from developing a garden to renovating a bedroom or rumpus
room, with each being done as leisure if it is to escape being labelled an
unpleasant obligation.
Conclusions: Leisure, Complexity, and Life Course
We have now completed the review of the basics of the three forms
that comprise the serious leisure perspective. People are attracted to the
types and subtypes of each form, in significant part, because they find
irresistible its core activity. Obviously not all people fall in love with every
possible core activity or with the same activity; one person’s leisure is
another’s poison. Some people like to box, while others think knitting is a
wonderful pastime. And chances are that knitters think boxing a dreadful
activity and the boxers regard knitting as strictly for sissies.
The core activities that constitute leisure can be classified as simple
or complex, the two concepts finding their place at opposite poles of a
continuum. The location of a core activity on this continuum partly ex-
plains its appeal. For the most part casual leisure is comprised of a set of
simple core activities. Here homo otiosus need only turn on the television
set, observe the scenery, drink the glass of wine (no oenophile is he), or
gossip about someone. Complexity in casual leisure increases slightly
when playing a board game using dice, participating in a Hash House
Harrier treasure hunt, or serving as a casual volunteer by, say, collecting
bottles for the Scouts or making tea and coffee after a religious service.
And Harrison’s (2001) study of upper-middle-class Canadian (mass)
tourists revealed a certain level of complexity in their sensual experience
of the touristic sites they visited. For people craving the simple things in
life, this is the kind of leisure to head for.
50 Serious Leisure
But if complexity is what they want, they must look elsewhere. Leisure
projects are necessarily more complex than casual leisure. The types of
projects listed earlier in this chapter are, I believe, clear proof of that.
Nonetheless, they are not nearly as complex as the core activities around
which serious leisure revolves. The accumulated knowledge, skill, train-
ing, and experience of, for instance, the amateur trumpet player, hobbyist
stamp collector, and volunteer emergency medical worker are vast, and
defy full description of how they are applied during execution of the core
activity. Of course, neophytes in the serious leisure activities lack these
acquisitions, though it is unquestionably their intention to acquire them
to a level where they will feel fulfilled.
So the serious leisure perspective embraces all levels of complexity of
core activity. As a result this Perspective enables us to study and compare
the full range of core activities as they vary from simple to complex and
to learn how people, who desire more or less complexity at particular
points in life or, alternatively, in their daily or weekly routine, decide
to engage in another core activity or set of activities that better suits
them. With the serious leisure perspective we can effectively examine
how people adapt to life’s demands and opportunities, taking on more
complex free-time activities at some points in their life course and sim-
pler ones at other points in it. We can see, too, how they try to balance
simple and complex core activities, so as to maximize the amount and
level of positive experience available to them at any one point in time
in their leisure lifestyle.
Analytically speaking, it follows from what was just said that the seri-
ous leisure perspective becomes an indispensable concept when examin-
ing leisure across the life course. Life course is a broader idea than career,
linked as the latter is to particular roles. In contrast a person’s life course
subsumes multiple roles, which evolve, interweave, and are assumed or
abandoned across the lifetime of a person (Bush and Simmons, 1981,
pp. 155-157). Furthermore, when viewed sociologically, life course also
has to do with age-graded roles and generational effects.
With the three leisure forms lodged in the same frame, where they
may be viewed individually or in combination, all remain visible even
when the analytic spotlight shines momentarily on only one or two of
them. And this visibility pertains throughout the life course of individu-
als, generations, and diverse demographic categories of people (as based,
for example, on sex, religion, education, rural-urban residence). For
instance, people who go in for rigorous physical sport in middle-age
tend to abandon in old age this kind of complex leisure, many taking up
Casual and Project-Based Leisure: The Basics 51
simpler forms such as watching television or doing casual reading. Or
parents, suddenly faced with an empty nest, may move from the simple
leisure they enjoyed while raising their children to leisure having more
complexity, which is appealing for its greater potential for fulfilment
than their earlier casual leisure.
In using the serious leisure perspective to analyze leisure across the
life course as leisure varies in complexity of its core activities according
to the interests, needs, and life circumstances of individual actors, it is
best that the Perspective be reasonably coherent. Coherence results from
careful, logically integration of the concepts that knit together the three
forms. Achieving this coherence is the goal of chapter 4, where the three
forms are linked to each other using a variety of related concepts leading
to a synthesis of the Perspective.
1. The distinction between pleasurable/enjoyable and satisfying/rewarding, although
it appears to be valid in the commonsense world of leisure participants, often
goes unrecognized in the social psychology of leisure. In this field, enjoyment is
regarded as one possible correlate of flow, well-being, or even leisure in general.
See, for example, studies by Haworth and Hill (1992) and Haworth and Drucker
(1991). Still, Mannell and Kleiber (1997, pp. 185-186) define satisfaction in
much the same way as I defined fulfilment in chapter 1. Moreover, they link their
conception of satisfaction with rewards and motivation, as I did in that chapter.
52 Serious Leisure
Synthesizing the Forms
A number of social scientific concepts have emerged over the years
that, each in its own way, helps synthesize the three forms, thereby making
for a truly integrated, theoretic perspective. In the main this integration,
which I refer to as a synthesis, is accomplished by situating the forms,
which, at bottom, are experiential (each of the three forms refers to a
distinctive kind of experience found in the core activity), in broader social
scientific context. That is each concept has its own place in the larger
social scientific literature, while also finding a special place in one or
more of serious, casual, and project-based leisure. In other words they
synthesize the Perspective as much by being differentially manifested
within it as they do by occupying certain common ground across two or
three of the forms.
Let there be no mistake: these synthesizing concepts are as much a part
of the serious leisure perspective as the basic concepts, those fundamental
ideas undergirding the basics presented in chapters 1 and 3. For both sets
of concepts help explain the three forms, including their similarities,
differences, and interrelationships, in addition to serving as guides for
research. The following synthesizing concepts and bundles of concepts
are considered here, with relevant research noted where it exists: (1)
organization (groups, associations, social worlds, etc.); (2) community
(family; work; gender; social class; contributions, including civil society,
citizen involvement, and social capital; deviance); (3) history; (4) lifestyle
(including discretionary time commitment, optimal leisure lifestyle); and
(5) culture (commitment, obligation, values, selfishness).
The chief point to be made in this section is that leisure, whichever its
form, is often organized in one or more of several ways. Note that I say
“often,” for many kinds of leisure also appear to allow for, if not require,
54 Serious Leisure
solitary participation, volunteering being the chief exception. Thus, one
can, in solitude, play the piano or the guitar, collect rocks or seashells, sit
and daydream, or assemble a complicated electronic device from a kit.
Volunteering, however, is inherently organizational in the broad sense
of the word, since by definition, it involves directly or indirectly serving
other people, as individuals or in groups. What, then, do I mean by “the
broad sense” of the concept of organization?
“Organization” is used here as shorthand for the range of collectivi-
ties that add social and psychological structure to leisure life, extending
from dyads, triads, small groups, and social networks through larger
organizations of various kinds to the broadest formations, notably tribes,
social worlds, and social movements. Accordingly, discussion in this sec-
tion will center primarily on these different types manifested as leisure
organizations rather than on the community or societal organization of
leisure, as seen in the sweeping communitarian arrangements that make
available leisure services and opportunities.
In keeping with the announced procedure of this book, readers wanting
a fuller treatment of the organization of leisure should see my book on
the matter (Stebbins, 2002). The present book requires only an aperçu of
the different kinds of organization common in leisure. So some leisure is
organized in dyads (e.g., brother and sister organizing a surprise birthday
party for a parent, two friends going to the cinema), triads (e.g., three
men on a fishing trip, a classical music trio), or small groups (e.g., church
basketball team, several friends who routinely hike together, four couples
who dine monthly at a restaurant). These three types of organization are
found in all three forms of leisure.
The definition of social network that best fits the small amount of
work done on this form of organization within the domain of leisure is
that of Elizabeth Bott (1957, p. 59). Her definition is simple: a social
network is “a set of social relationships for which there is no common
boundary.” In the strict sense of the word, a network is not a structure,
since it has no shared boundaries (boundaries recognized by everyone
in the social network) and no commonly recognized hierarchy or central
coordinating agency. Nevertheless, interconnections exist between others
in the network, in that some members are directly in touch with each
other while others are not.
As individuals pursue their leisure interests, they develop networks
of contacts (friends and acquaintances) related in one way or another to
these interests. As a person develops more such interests, the number of
networks grows accordingly, bearing in mind that members of some of
Synthesizing the Forms 55
these will nevertheless sometimes overlap. For instance, a few members
of John’s dog breeding network—they might be suppliers, veterinarians,
or other breeders—are also members of his golf network—who might be
suppliers, course personnel, or other golfers. Knowing people’s leisure
networks helps explain how they socially organize their leisure time. In
this manner, as Blackshaw and Long (1998, p. 246) point out, we learn
something new about leisure lifestyle.
In one of the few studies of leisure networks, Stebbins (1976) examined
those of amateur classical musicians. One analytic characteristic of social
networks is their reachability, which denotes in a person’s network the
number of intermediaries who must be contacted to reach certain others
in it. Reachability is relatively great when few or no intermediaries are
needed for this purpose, as opposed to when many are needed. Thus, in a
community orchestra, the concertmaster usually has greater reachability
than any other instrumentalist in the ensemble, because of responsibilities
demanding direct contact with the majority of its members. For example,
this person may be simultaneously assistant conductor, chief recruiter,
and disciplinarian, all in addition to being the orchestra’s subleader. In
the field of leisure studies, Stokowski has devoted by far the most at-
tention to social networks (see Stokowski, 1994, for an overview of her
contributions to this area).
At the next level of organization—the grassroots association—
serious leisure predominates, though some examples can also be
found in casual leisure. The very nature of project-based leisure
would seem to preclude grassroots associations from developing
there. According to Smith (2000, p. 8): “grassroots associations are
locally based, significantly autonomous, volunteer-run formal non-
profit (i.e., voluntary) groups that manifest substantial voluntary
altruism as groups and use the associational form of organization
and, thus, have official membershi
ps of volunteers who perform most,
and often all, of the work/activity done in and by these nonprofits.
The term formal in this definition refers in fact to a scale of structure
and operations that, in an actual association, may be informal, semifor-
mal, or formal. Moreover, the line separating grassroots associations
from paid-staff voluntary groups—treated of in the next paragraph as
volunteer organizations—is unavoidably fuzzy, distinguishing the two
being primarily a matter of gradation. Both types fall under the heading
of voluntary groups: “nonprofit groups of any type, whether grassroots
associations or based on paid staff, and whether local, national, or inter-
national in scope” (Smith, 2000, p. ix). Accordingly all the groups listed
56 Serious Leisure
in the preceding paragraph are also grassroots associations, as are such
formal entities as Girl Guide troops, stamp collectors societies, singles
clubs, and outlaw bikers organizations.
By comparison, volunteer organizations offer leisure only to career
and casual volunteers and to volunteers serving projects. Volunteer or-
ganizations are distinguished by their reliance on paid staff, and by the
fact that they are established to facilitate work for a cause or provision
of a service rather than pursuit of a pastime. They nonetheless depend
significantly on volunteer help to reach their goals.
Pearce (1993, p. 15) holds that by far the largest number of
volunteers work in these organizations. But some volunteer or-
ganizations may be staffed entirely by remunerated employees,
volunteers only being involved as unpaid members of their boards
of directors. Hospitals and universities are two main examples.
Many foundations can be similarly classified. Other volunteer
organizations have a more even mix of paid and volunteer per-
sonnel; they include Greenpeace, Amnesty International, and the
Red Cross. Finally, some have only one or two employees, with
all other work being conducted by volunteers. They are, at bottom,
grassroots associations that have grown complicated enough to
justify hiring someone to help with certain of the group’s routine
Leisure service organizations are not voluntary groups, as just defined.
Rather, they are collectivities consisting of a paid staff who provide one
of more leisure services to a certain clientele. To be sure, these clients are
engaging in particular leisure activities, but the organizations providing
them are not themselves leisure organizations of the sort considered in
this book. Leisure service organizations are established to either make
a profit, the goal of many a health spa, amusement park, and bowling
center, for example, or in some instances, simply make enough money
to continue offering their services. This is the goal of charitable, non-
profit groups like Meals on Wheels, the YMCA and YWCA, and the
Elderhostel Programs.
The next two types of organization germane to leisure have either been
covered, in the case of social worlds (chap. 1), or in the case of tribes,
will be covered later in this chapter. Let me add here that the richest
manifestation of social worlds can be observed in serious leisure, and if
found at all in casual and project-based leisure, they are by comparison
much simpler in composition. That leaves for the present section discus-
sion of social movements.
Synthesizing the Forms 57
The first question here is whether participation in a social movement
is a leisure activity. The answer is both yes and no, for it depends on the
movement in question. Movements abound that gain members through
their own volition, suggesting that the members experience no coercion
to become involved. Some religious movements serve as examples, as do
movements centered on values like physical fitness and healthy eating.
Still, the latter two also attract people who feel pressured by outside forces
to participate, as when their physician prescribes exercise or weight loss
or face an early death. Thus some social movements are composed of
enthusiasts who are there for leisure reasons and other people who are
compelled to be there (not leisure). Finally, there are movements that seem
to find their impetus primarily in people who feel driven to champion a
particular cause, such as the celebrated temperance movement of early
last century and the vigorous antismoking movement of modern times.
A strong sense of obligation fuels their participation. Those who make
up the gun control and nuclear disarmament movements seem cut from
the same cloth. Whether this is leisure must be determined empirically
through interviews with members.
Social movements, be they primarily of the leisure variety, the forced
variety, or a combination of the two, have left a prominent mark on mod-
ern and postmodern life. A social movement is a noninstitutionalized set
of networks, small groups, and formal organizations that has coalesced
around a significant value, which inspires members to promote or resist
change with reference to it. Thus, considered alone, a social movement
is a distinctive form of organization, which provides serious and casual
leisure for volunteers. Further there are also likely to be leisure projects
for volunteers, as they become involved for a limited period of time with
a movement through participating in a fund-raising campaign, organizing
a major rally, or lobbying for a certain piece of legislation.
Community is a large subject, and by no means all possible aspects of
it have been brought to bear on the serious leisure perspective in the name
of that framework. There has nevertheless been research or discussion,
sometimes both, on family, work, social class, contributions of the three
forms to the community, and deviance. We turn first to family.
In much of the discussion that follows “family” is a summative term
for spouses, partners, boyfriends, girlfriends, and other members of im-
58 Serious Leisure
mediate or locally available extended family. At times, to be sure, such
global treatment of the subject will not do, at which point I will be more
My research on amateurs routinely covered the relations the respon-
dents had with their families as these bore on their serious leisure (see
Stebbins, 1992a, pp. 108-111). The aforementioned concept of uncon-
trollability was born of these discussions, signaling that family relations
may, on occasion, become contentious and testy over such issues as
expenditure of time and money on the leisure activity in question. From
such conflict talk of divorce sometimes arose, which was sometimes fol-
lowed by dissolution, the serious leisure of the respondent being cited
as a primary cause of it.
But the same research on amateurs suggests that serious leisure may
also have a favorable effect on family life. For example it can contribute
to stronger bonds between two or more people when all share an inter-
est in the activity (“a family that plays together stays together”). The
serious leisure of one member may become a rallying point for other
members, as in the parent or spouse who supports (presumably as an
agreeable obligation) the amateur, hobbyist, or volunteer involvements
of the participant. And the sense of well-being generated by most seri-
ous leisure can favorably affect the family, in that the participant is, as
a result, content, high-spirited, and possibly more accepting of others
in the household.
There no equivalent research on family in casual or project-based lei-
sure, that is research done under the rubric of these two forms. It is likely
that much of what have been observed for serious leisure could also be
observed for these two, albeit differently expressed. Thus a husband can,
in the eyes of his wife, spend too much time before the television set or
at the neighborhood pub, provoking thereby frequent marital spats. By
contrast both could enjoy time spent together at the cinema, going out
for dinner, or taking a walk. In general casual leisure is less regimented,
less bound by schedules and rules, than its serious counterpart, leaving
fewer grounds for family conflict in this area. But the relationship of
family and casual leisure is vastly understudied, so little can be said here
that is not speculative.
It is likewise with project-based leisure; no research exists yet linking
it to family. There is reason to expect differences, however, for its limited
duration could well keep conflict to a minimum. Family members could
well reason that it is better not to contest a member’s involvement in a
project that is due to end soon, especially if that person finds it fulfilling.
Synthesizing the Forms 59
And the possibility exists that other members might participate in the
same project, giving all concerned a shared, appealing, leisure interest.
Or the project might benefit one or more other members of the family,
as might a new sweater, stone wall, or developed basement.
My research on amateurs also routinely covered the relations the
respondents had with their jobs as these relations bore on their serious
leisure (see Stebbins, 1992a, pp. 111-114). Conflict here has been found
to be infrequent, though serious leisure participants of all types try to
avoid work that could create major tension with their free-time passion.
This was especially evident in the study of the three mountain hobbies,
where many of the respondents not only sought work that had flexible
hours but also pointed out how much more exciting and interesting their
hobby was compared with their job (Stebbins, 2005c, pp. 108-111). Still
we may say for serious leisure, in general, that work comes first in any
showdown between the two.
Looking at participation in serious leisure from a managerial stand-
point, McQuarrie (1999; 2000), in a unique set of studies in this area,
examined the issue of organizational support for employee commitments
associated with such free-time activity (e.g., time off to present a noon-
hour play, travel to a distant city to run a marathon). Her results show
that the amount and type of organizational support for such employee
commitments vary widely. Moreover she found positive organizational
support for serious leisure to have a positive influence on the job-related
attitudes of employees. She discovered, further, that supervisors and co-
workers differed in their level of support for such leisure, with the latter
being more encouraging than the former.
As with the family we lack research specifically focused on the rela-
tionship of work and casual leisure as well as work and project-based
leisure. It is hard to imagine employers being as generous as the ones
McQuarrie studied, were their employees to ask for time off to, for in-
stance, sleep in during a work morning, spend an afternoon at the beach,
or even take in the local community fair. But, from the point of view of
the typical employee, casual leisure may well look better than the job he
or she must hold to maintain personal economic existence. Beauschesne
(2005) reports data from a Workopolis poll indicating that nearly one in
five Canadian employees dread going to work, while another three in
five feel their employment is merely a job, a significantly disagreeable
obligation. Belbin’s (2003) set of interviews with working-age women
60 Serious Leisure
who had left the workforce, considered with the Workopolis data, sug-
gest that leisure, when juxtaposed with most work, seems for many
people to be the more appealing of the two. For most of these people
this leisure is of the casual variety, since serious leisure is not estimated
to be widespread (Stebbins, 1992a, pp. 125-126).1 Project-based leisure
is possibly more sympathetically viewed, providing however, that it is
one-shot volunteering or other activity having obvious benefit for the
local community.
Turning now to another link between leisure and work, note that all
three forms of leisure may be experienced as employment-based volun-
teering: volunteering done at the request of the volunteer’s employer.
Such activity, Thompson (1997b) observes, may amount to an agreeable
assignment for the volunteer (experienced as leisure) or a disagreeable one
(experienced as disagreeable obligation). What are variously known as
“corporate,” or “employee,” “volunteer programs” are designed to enable
and encourage employees in a work organization to serve as volunteers,
whether of the career, casual, or project-based kind.
Finally, work organizations may foster other kinds of extracur-
ricular leisure, some of it serious, some of it casual. Serious leisure is
offered when a company holds an intra-organizational golf tournament
or arranges for an outing of fishing at a remote camp. By contrast the
company picnic or annual Christmas party and dinner, is classifiable as
casual leisure.
The matter of the gendered nature of serious leisure was examined
in the preceding stock-taking (Stebbins, 2001a, pp. 158-159), which
included a review of research to that date. Exploration in serious leisure
has continued since. Bartram (2001) found that female kayakers were
sometimes rejected by males as partners on kayaking trips on grounds that
the former are insufficiently aggressive and tolerant of risk and injury to
provide rescue should such be required. King’s (2001) study of quilters
centered on an essentially female hobby, the products of which express
the “women’s voice.” Major (2001) found that male and female runners
were distinguished, among other ways, by a fear for personal safety felt
exclusively by the latter.
When research gets more systematically underway on casual and
project-based leisure, we should expect gender differences to sometimes
be evident here as well. Consider, as an example, party shopping. In an
event that is almost exclusively female, a woman organizes in her own
Synthesizing the Forms 61
home a shopping party the centerpiece of which is a set of products she
hopes to sell to invited guests and their interested friends and relatives.
In the casual leisure (sociable conversation/sensory stimulation subtypes)
atmosphere of such gatherings, some food and drink is served as those
present talk socially among themselves, while examining and sometimes
seeing demonstrations of commodities they may want to buy. The or-
ganizer gets a prearranged share of the profit from such sales, with the
remainder going to the manufacturer and wholesaler of the products
vended. It is possible that Tupperware (house wares) started, perhaps as
far back as fifty years, the party shopping trend, which is now emulated
by Shaklee (health care products), Pampered Chef (kitchen ware), Fifth
Avenue Jewelry (jewelry), among several others (Stebbins, 2006a). In
rare look at party shopping as leisure, Storr (2003) studied Ann Summers
Parties (lingerie and sex toys) in Britain. Leslie Bella’s (1992) research
on the “Christmas imperative” (the cooking, baking, buying gifts, and
decorating of the home for Christmas done by the mother/wife of the
household) sometimes exemplifies occasional project-based leisure.
But Bella also found an unsettling problem: a number of the Canadian
women she interviewed came, over the years, to think of this project as
disagreeable obligation, as drudgery.
Although gender differences will not always be found in studies of
serious, casual, and project-based leisure (e.g., Shinew and Parry, 2005),
it is wise, when conducting exploratory research on these three forms,
to treat gender as a “sensitizing concept.” This is Blumer’s (1969) term
for basic social science ideas that help guide open-ended inquiry, lead-
ing thereby to new data on the subject in question. By asking ourselves
if there are important gender issues in the activity we are exploring, we
will avoid overlooking them when they are, in fact, there.
Social Class
The issue of social class and serious leisure was addressed earlier
(Stebbins, 2001a, p. 112), where is it was noted that a great deal of such
leisure, at least that studied so far, has been of, broadly put, middle-
class participants. There (p. 106) I also noted that we should be on the
lookout for serious leisure activities, where the working/middle-class
ratio may be nearly 50:50 or possibly reversed. It may turn out that the
predominantly working-class activities are mainly hobbies, among the
possibilities being pool, snowmobiling, snowboarding, dirt-bike racing,
motor sports, and the martial arts. Other hobbies like darts, hunting, and
fishing may be found upon examination to attract a reasonably even mix
62 Serious Leisure
of middle- and working-class enthusiasts. The snowboarders Stebbins
(2005, p. 112) interviewed can be described, using as measures levels
of education and occupation, as working-class. Still, they were also a
young group (average age: twenty-four), suggesting that some of them
might eventually achieve middle-class status. Harrington, Cuskelly,
and Auld (2000, p. 432) found that those associated with motorsport in
Australia, including the volunteers they studied, were generally working
class. Adorjánÿ and Lovejoy (2003), using the novels of Australian writer
Robert G. Barrett and arguing in contrast to the element of purpose in
serious leisure, found that his principal characters indulged in a variety
of casual leisure activities salted with the attitude of working-class re-
sistance to middle-class values.
Class is not an issue when it comes to casual leisure, in the broad sense
that all classes appear to engage in some form of it. Of course, such factors
as money, time, and taste undoubtedly separate who goes in for what, so
that class patterns could be determined should researchers investigating
casual leisure as such care to do this. The same may be said for project-
based leisure. It is, in principle, classless, but the different classes would
seem to go in for different expressions of it (e.g., building a stone wall
[working class] vis-à-vis taking a special, one-shot, expensive trip to a
remote region of the world [upper-middle-class]).
In sum, serious leisure is the only one of the three forms that may
have a built-in class bias, skewing overall participation toward the more
moneyed and educated groups. Parker (1996) argues that, at least in part,
this pattern can be traced to finding a leisure career there, career being, he
says, a middle-class idea. But much research remains to be done on this
question, for not all serious leisure is expensive (e.g., reading hobbies,
collecting natural objects [e.g., leaves, rocks], much of volunteering) and
therefore out of reach for low-income people. In fact it may be, more
than anything, a matter of leisure education (see chap. 5), of informing
all people in all classes about the serious leisure perspective and what
is in it for them.
Also at issue here is whether people of all classes can find a leisure
career in a serious leisure activity. The idea of a work career may be for-
eign to some working-class folks (as Parker argues), but leisure careers
for them are quite another matter. As observed in chapter 1, they are
based on the person’s sense of acquisition of skill, knowledge, and so
forth in a core leisure activity. So far as we know, these acquisitions are
available to anyone, regardless of class, acknowledging the constraints,
stated above, that some kinds of serious leisure do require sufficient time
and money to pursue it.
Synthesizing the Forms 63
Contributions to the Community
Much of what I have written in the past under this heading has borne
on contributions serious leisure participants make to culturally enriching
their local community. Thus the local civic orchestra provides classical
music to it or the local astronomy club may offer an annual “star night”
for public observation of the heavens using the telescopes of members.
And local model railroaders sometimes mount for popular consumption
exhibitions of the fruits of their hobby.
A broader contribution to the community (and sometimes even the
larger society) comes from pursuing serious leisure activities as well as
becoming involved in some project-based leisure. This contribution is
known as “community involvement” or “civil labor.” Community involve-
ment is local voluntary action, where members of a local community
participate together in nonprofit groups or other community activities.
Often the goal here is to improve community life (Smith, Stebbins, and
Dover, 2006). Civil labor, which is synonymous with community involve-
ment, differs only in its emphasis on human activity that is devoted to
unpaid renewal and expansion of social capital (Rojek, 2002, p. 21). Beck
(2000, p.125) says that civil labor comprises housework, family work,
club work, and volunteer work. This is an extremely broad conception,
however, which encompasses the wide field of unpaid work, or unpaid
Rojek (2002, pp. 26-27) argues that, for the most part, civil labor is
the community contribution that amateurs, hobbyists, and career volun-
teers make when they pursue their serious leisure. Civil labor, however
conceived of, generates social capital, defined here as the connections
among individuals manifested in social networks, trustworthiness, acts
motivated by the norm of reciprocity, and the like that develop in a com-
munity or larger society (Putnam, 2000, p. 19). The term is an analogy to
the concepts of human capital and physical capital (e.g., natural resources,
financial resources); it emphasizes that human groups of all kinds also
benefit from and advance their interests according to the salutary inter-
connections of their members.
With one exception casual leisure appears not to make this kind of
contribution to community. True, people are sometimes joined in such
leisure with strangers, especially these days, over the Internet. This also
happens with tribes: fragmented groupings left over from the preceding era
of mass consumption, groupings recognized today by their unique tastes,
lifestyles, and form of social organization. Maffesoli (1996) identifies and
64 Serious Leisure
describes this postmodern phenomenon, which spans national borders.
In this regard, he observes that mass culture has disintegrated, leaving
in its wake a diversity of tribes, including the followers of heavy metal
music and those youth who participate in raves. Tribes are special leisure
organizations, special ways of organizing the pursuit of particular kinds of
casual leisure. Tribes are also found in serious leisure, but not, however, in
project-based leisure (see Stebbins, 2002, pp. 69-71). Tribes, social worlds,
casual leisure, and serious leisure are related in figure 4.1.
Figure 4.1
Structural Complexity: From Tribes to Social Worlds
Taste-based Activity-based Activity-based Social Worlds
tribes (e.g., tribes: consumers tribes: buffs (e.g., of (e.g., amateurs
amateurs, music, (e. g., jazz, basketball) StarTrek, opera) career volunteers)
least most
complex complex
Casual leisure Casual leisure Serious leisure Serious leisure
From: R.A. Stebbins, The organizational basis of leisure participation: A motivation
exploration. State College, PA: Venture, p. 70.
But no contribution is made to the community in the casual leisure
just mentioned. Hence it cannot be qualified as civil labor. The glaring
exception here is, of course, casual volunteering; it is done expressly
for this reason. And, in the course of doing it, volunteers may well meet
and serve with people never before encountered. This, too, is civil labor.
So we can conclude that such labor is not limited to serious leisure and
volunteer project-based leisure, but also finds its place in one type of
casual leisure.
As for project-based leisure it may, in at least two ways, have po-
tential for building community. One, it can bring into contact people
who otherwise have no reason to meet, or at least meet frequently. Two,
by way of event volunteering and other collective altruistic activity, it
can contribute to carrying off community events and projects. In other
words some project-based leisure (mostly one-shot volunteer projects, it
appears) can also be conceived of as civil labor, as just defined, suggest-
ing that such activity is not strictly limited to serious leisure. In fact the
mountain hobbyists studied by the author (Stebbins, 2005c) occasionally
rounded out their leisure lifestyles by undertaking or participating in
(typically volunteer) projects of this kind.
Synthesizing the Forms 65
Chris Rojek (1997, pp. 392-393) has been virtually alone in his critique
of leisure studies as having, in general, “turned a blind eye” to deviant
leisure. He noted that, if scholars in this field want to know about this
kind of leisure, they must, for published material, turn to the study of
crime and deviance. Nevertheless, studying deviant leisure is extremely
important for leisure research, for “students of leisure will not only throw
light on a shadowy area of leisure activity; they will also contribute to
a clearer understanding of how the rules which shape normal leisure
practice operate.
Treatments of deviant leisure have now begun to appear (see Steb-
bins, 1996d, 1997; Rojek, 2000, chap. 4; Cantwell, 2003; special issue of
Leisure/Loisir, v. 30, no. 1, 2006), and readers interested in it are encour-
aged to turn to these sources. What is important to note with respect to
the serious leisure perspective is that deviant leisure may take either the
casual or the serious form (there appears to be no project-based deviant
leisure). Casual leisure is probably the more common and widespread
of the two.
Casual or serious, deviant leisure mostly fits the description of “toler-
able deviance” (exceptions are discussed below). Although its contraven-
tion of certain moral norms of a society is held by most of its members
to be mildly threatening in most social situations, this form of deviance
nevertheless fails to generate any significant or effective communal at-
tempts to control it (Stebbins, 1996d, pp. 3-4). Tolerable deviance under-
taken for pleasure—as casual leisure—encompasses a range of deviant
sexual activities including cross-dressing, homosexuality, watching sex
(e.g., striptease, pornographic films), and swinging and group sex. Heavy
drinking and gambling, but not their more seriously regarded cousins
alcoholism and compulsive gambling, are also tolerably deviant forms
of casual leisure, as are the use of cannabis and the illicit, pleasurable,
use of certain prescription drugs. Social nudism has also been analyzed
within the tolerable deviance perspective (all these forms are examined
in greater detail with accent on their leisure qualities in Stebbins, 1996d,
chaps. 3-7, 9).
In the final analysis, deviant casual leisure roots in sensory stimula-
tion and, in particular, the creature pleasures it produces. The majority
of people in society tolerate most of these pleasures even if they would
never think, or at least not dare, to enjoy themselves in these ways. In
addition, they actively scorn a somewhat smaller number of intolerable
66 Serious Leisure
forms of deviant casual leisure, demanding decisive police control of, for
example, incest, vandalism, sexual assault, and what Jack Katz (1988,
chap. 2) calls the “sneaky thrills” (certain incidents of theft, burglary,
shoplifting, and joyriding).2 Sneaky thrills, however, are motivated not
by the desire for creature pleasure, but rather by the desire for a special
kind of excitement, namely, going against the grain of established social
Beyond the broad domains of tolerable and intolerable deviant casual
leisure lies that of deviant serious leisure, composed primarily of aber-
rant religion, politics, and science. Deviant religion is manifested in the
sects and cults of the typical modern society, while deviant politics is
constituted of the radical fringes of its ideological left and right. Deviant
science centers on the occult which, according to Truzzi (1972), consists
of five types: divination, witchcraft-Satanism, extrasensory perception,
Eastern religious thought, and various residual occult phenomena revolv-
ing around UFOs, water witching, lake monsters, and the like (for further
details, see Stebbins, 1996d, chap. 10). Thus deviant serious leisure, in
the main, is pursued as a liberal arts hobby or as activity participation,
or in fields like witchcraft and divination, as both.
In whichever form of deviant serious leisure a person participates, he or
she will find it necessary to make a significant effort to acquire its special
belief system as well as to defend it against attack from mainstream sci-
ence, religion, or politics. Moreover, here, the person will discover two
additional rewards of considerable import: a special personal identity
grounded, in part, in the unique genre of self-enrichment that invariably
comes with inhabiting any marginal social world.
Youth Deviance
Leisure studies research, such as that of Iso-Ahola and Crowley (1991),
shows that boredom in free time is an antecedent of deviant leisure, as
when bored youth (the group most commonly examined) seek stimula-
tion in drugs and alcohol or criminal thrills like gang fighting, illegal
gambling, and joy riding in stolen cars. The authors were primarily
concerned with substance abusers, citing research indicating that these
deviants are more likely than non-abusers to seek thrilling and adven-
turous pursuits, while showing little taste for repetitious and constant
experiences. In other words, such youth were looking for leisure that
could give them optimal arousal, that was at the same time a regular
activity -- not sporadic like bungee jumping or roller coaster riding -- but
that did not, however, require long periods of monotonous preparation.
Synthesizing the Forms 67
Such preparation is necessary to become, for instance, a good football
player or skateboarder.
To the extent that wayward youth have little or no taste for repetitious
and constant experiences, then what kind of leisure will alleviate their
boredom? Some forms of casual leisure, if accessible for them, can ac-
complish this, but do so only momentarily. Such leisure is by definition
fleeting. As for serious leisure, though all activities do require significant
levels of perseverance, not all require repetitious preparation of the kind
needed, say, to learn a musical instrument or train for a sport. For ex-
ample, none of the volunteer activities and liberal arts hobbies calls for
such preparation. The same can be said for amateur science, hobbyist
collecting, various games, and many activity participation fields. Spe-
lunking, orienteering, and some kinds of sports volunteering exemplify
non-repetitive serious leisure that is both exciting and, with the first two,
reasonably adventurous.
Yet, the problem here is, rather, more one of lack of known and acces-
sible activities that amount to true leisure, than one of being forced into
inactivity or to do something boring (Stebbins, 2003a). Being coerced
suggests to the coerced person that no palatable escape from his condi-
tion exists. Thus, he must work, since money for necessities will come
from nowhere else, or he must give the mugger his money or risk getting
shot or beaten. With boring activities, however, palatable alternatives do
exist, some of which are deviant, as we have just seen, some of which
are not.
Those that are not must nevertheless be brought to light, which is a
central goal of leisure education. But what would leisure educators (in-
cluding leisure counselors and leisure volunteers) teach to chronically
bored youth? In general, in keeping with what will be said about leisure
education in the next chapter, they should focus not on so much casual
leisure but largely on serious and project-based leisure. So this is not the
last word on the matter.
There is a general history of leisure, of which serious, casual, and
project-based leisure are most certainly a part (the standard reference
here is Cross, 1990). Of interest in this synthesis of the serious leisure
perspective, however, is the history of leisure activities as defined and
explained according to one or more of the three forms. In this regard the
main point to be made in this section is that, where it is possible to frame
an activity in historical perspective, this should be done. The history pre-
68 Serious Leisure
sented gives another context, another face on the prism, through which
to describe, analyze, and thereby understand the activity in question.
Many serious leisure activities have histories, especially the amateur
fields, but so do some hobbyist and volunteer fields. Examples of his-
torical framing of research data are available in entertainment magic,
Canadian football, stand-up comedy, barbershop singing, volunteering,
and selected mountain hobbies (Stebbins, 1993a; 1993c; 1990; 1996a;
1998d; 2005c). Gelber (1999, pp. 11-12) provides a general history of
American hobbies, which he briefly acknowledges are serious leisure.
Some casual leisure is amenable to historical framing. For instance a
study of contemporary television watching could undoubtedly be enriched
by historical data, as could studies of contemporary mass tourism, dining
out, social nudism, recreational drug use, and patronization of cinemas.
Other casual activities such as napping, window shopping, and informal
sociable conversation might be difficult to find or generate historical data
on. The same seems to hold for project-based leisure: some types, like
volunteering for major events, would be amenable to historical descrip-
tion and analysis, whereas others, like the many personal projects people
mount (e.g., a genealogy, rock garden, surprise party) have a chronology
of personal decisions and actions, but not a formal history. The very
short-term nature of project-based leisure would seem to discourage, if
not obviate, historical treatment of much of it.
A definition of lifestyle that fits well in the serious leisure perspective
is the following: a distinctive set of shared patterns of tangible behavior
that is organized around a set of coherent interests or social conditions or
both, that is explained and justified by a set of related values, attitudes,
and orientations and that, under certain conditions, becomes the basis for
a separate, common social identity for its participants (Stebbins, 1997b;
see also Veal, 1993). At bottom leisure lifestyle centers on the ways people
allocate their minutes, hours, days, weeks, and so on to free-time pursuits.
In leisure studies free time has long been considered a key resource for
the individual to manipulate to his or her personal ends.
In other words people taking their leisure make discretionary time
commitments, which are essentially, noncoerced, allocations of a certain
number of minutes, hours, days, or other measure of time that a person
devotes, or would like to devote, to carrying out an activity (Stebbins,
2006e). Such commitments are both process and product. That is people
either set (process) their own time commitments (products) or willingly
Synthesizing the Forms 69
accept such commitments (i.e., agreeable obligations) set for them by oth-
ers. It follows that disagreeable obligations, which are invariably forced
on people by others or by circumstances, fail to constitute discretionary
time commitments, since the latter, as process, rest on personal agency.
In short, this conception of time commitment finds expression in leisure
and the agreeable sides of work (which, in effect, are experienced as
leisure, see Stebbins 2004b).
Note, however, that we can, and sometimes do, make time commit-
ments to carry out disagreeable activities, whether at work or outside
it. Such commitments—call them coerced time commitments—are,
obviously, not discretionary. Hence they fall beyond the scope of this
discussion and, with some interesting exceptions, beyond the scope of
leisure (see discussion on leisure costs, chap. 1).
More generally we commonly speak of past, present, and future time
commitments (discretionary and coerced) at work, leisure, and in the area
of nonwork obligations. The kinds of time commitments people make
help shape their work and leisure lifestyles, and constitute part of the
patterning of those lifestyles. In the realm of leisure the nature of such
commitments varies substantially across its three forms.
Generally speaking serious leisure requires its participants to allocate
more time than participants in the other two forms, if for no other reason,
than that, of the three, it is pursued over the longest span of time. In addi-
tion certain qualities of serious leisure, including especially perseverance,
commitment, effort, and career, tend to make amateurs, hobbyists, and
volunteers especially cognizant of how they allocate their free time, the
amount of that time they use for their serious leisure, and the ways they
accomplish this.
There are many examples. Amateur and hobbyist activities based on
the development and polishing of physical skills (e.g., learning how to
juggle, figure skate, make quilts, play the piano) require the aspiring
entertainer, skater, quilter, and so on to commit a fair amount of time on
a regular basis, sometimes over several years, to acquiring and polish-
ing necessary skills. And once acquired the skills and related physical
conditioning must be maintained through use. Additionally some serious
leisure enthusiasts take on (agreeable) obligations (Stebbins, 2000b) that
demand their presence at certain places at certain times (e.g., rehears-
als, matches, meetings, events). But most important, the core activity,
which is the essence of a person’s serious leisure, is so attractive that
this individual very much wants to set aside sufficient time to engage in
it. In other words, serious leisure, as mentioned earlier, often borders on
70 Serious Leisure
being uncontrollable; it engenders in its practitioners a desire to pursue
the activity beyond the time or the money (if not both) available for it.
So, even though hobbies such as collecting stamps or making furniture
usually have few schedules or appointments to meet, they are nonethe-
less enormously appealing, and as such encourage these collectors and
makers to allocate, whenever possible, time for this leisure.
Project-based leisure may be accompanied by similar demands. There
are often scheduled meetings or responsibilities, if not both, and though
of short range, the condition of uncontrollability can also be a concern.
But project-based leisure does not, by definition, involve developing,
polishing, and maintaining physical skills, this being one of the key dif-
ferences in use of discretionary time separating it from serious leisure.
Furthermore, with project-based leisure comes a unique sense of time
allocation: time use is more or less intense but limited to a known and
definite period on the calendar (e.g., when the athletic games are over,
when the stone wall is built, when the surprise birthday party has taken
place). Indeed one of the attractions of projects for some people is that
no long-term commitment of time is foreseen.
Finally casual leisure may, in its own way, generate time commitments,
as in the desire
to set aside an hour each week to watch a television
program or participate as often as possible in a neighborhood coffee
klatch. Further some casual leisure, famously watching television,
is attractive, in part, because it is often available on a moment’s
notice—call it “spontaneous discretionary time commitment”; it
can fill in gaps between discretionary and coerced time commit-
ments, and in the process, stave off boredom. Additionally casual
volunteering commonly has temporal requirements, as in joining
for the week
end an environmental clean-up crew, serving on Thanks-
giving Day free meals to the poor, and collecting money for a charity by
going door-to-door or soliciting on a street corner.
Moreover, in fashioning their leisure lifestyles, people blend and
coordinate their participation and allocation of free time in one or more
of the three forms. In this regard, some people try to organize their free
time in such a way that they approach an “optimal leisure lifestyle” (Steb-
bins, 2000a). The term, refers to the deeply rewarding and interesting
pursuit during free time of one or more substantial, absorbing forms of
serious leisure, complemented by judicious amounts of casual leisure or
project-based leisure or both. People find optimal leisure lifestyles by
partaking of leisure activities that individually and in combination help
them realize their human potential, leading thereby to self-fulfilment and
enhanced well-being and quality of life.
Synthesizing the Forms 71
I draw here on Alan Tomlinson’s (1993) idea of “culture of com-
mitment, my intent being to generalize it to a broader conception of
culture in the sphere of leisure. Tomlinson wrote about the commitment
“of human actors to the collective forms of everyday cultural life” (p.
9), centering his observations on the creation of cultural products by
participants in serious leisure. By generalizing his concept, we may also
speak of a culture of obligation, key values, and selfishness, all as related
to leisure. They, too, bear on creating the cultural products of serious
leisure, and I will argue, those of project-based leisure. Furthermore
this is culture that participants both produce and consume, hence most
casual leisure, which is only consumptive and not productive, must be
excluded from this discussion. As before, the principal exception is
casual volunteering.
One, although seemingly illogical according to common sense, is
the proposition that serious leisure is characterized empirically by an
important degree of positive commitment to a pursuit (Stebbins, 1992a,
pp. 51-52). This commitment is measured, among other ways, by size-
able investments of time and energy in the leisure made by its devotees