Leisure, Culture and Lifestyle
di Anthony. J. Veal (Fonte)

This paper examines the place of the concept of lifestyle in leisure studies in the light of three recent publications. In Leisure and Contemporary Society Ken Roberts (1999) concludes that lifestyle is not a key concept for leisure studies because it has not replaced factors such as age, gender and social class in providing individuals with a sense of identity. In Leisure and Culture, Chris Rojek (2000) reviews the distinctive features of the dominant theoretical paradigms of leisure studies/leisure sociology over the last thirty years, and suggests that, while cultural studies has had a major influence on leisure studies, in practice it has been preoccupied with class. He therefore suggests that a renewed focus on culture could provide a way forward for leisure studies/leisure sociology. Steven Miles (2000), in Youth Lifestyles in a Changing World, argues that the concept of subculture, traditionally used in studies of youth, has been compromised by its association with the structural, neo-Marxist paradigms of the cultural studies tradition of the 1980s and 1990s, and that therefore the term lifestyle is a more suitable concept for studying the lives of young people today. In the light of these and other recent contributions to leisure theory, the paper therefore argues that the concept of lifestyle remains a useful concept which can make a significant contribution to the development of leisure studies.


1 The concept of lifestyle has a long history in numerous disciplines and fields of study, including leisure studies. But in the latter context, despite a growing literature, it has generally been marginalised from the mainstream of theoretical debate and empirical enquiry. This paper provides a brief review of the “underground existence” of the lifestyle concept, with particular reference to the British leisure studies tradition since the 1970s. It then reviews some of the more recent contributions to leisure theory, notably those by Roberts and Rojek, and explores the relationships between these developments and the concept of lifestyle. The aim in the paper is not to rehearse the features of the concept of lifestyle, which has been done extensively elsewhere (Veal, 1993, 2000), but to explore the relationship between the concept of lifestyle and what might be termed mainstream leisure theory.

2 A major feature of the history of leisure studies has been the quest to explain variations in patterns of leisure participation among individuals and groups of individuals. The earliest approaches to explanation of leisure behaviour, in the 1960s, simply related participation to variables such as age, income and social class, leading to quantitative, “econometric” style statistical modelling of demand (Christensen, 1988). While such modelling produced quite low levels of statistical explanation in North America (Kelly, 1980), British experiments were more promising (Settle, 1977; Veal, 1987); nevertheless, among sociologists, this approach was seen as somewhat sterile and lacking in theoretical underpinning. This research tradition might, on the face of it, appear to have little to do with the idea of lifestyle, but in fact, some of the early work on “leisure styles” by Proctor (1962) has clear links with subsequent research on the same theme (eg. Gunter and Gunter, 1980; Kelly, 1983; Glyptis, 1981), which has clear links with later work on the concept of lifestyle. In Britain in the 1970s, the major contributors to the development of the sociology of leisure did not generally relate their ideas to the idea of lifestyle but, in relating leisure behaviour to the wider contexts of work (Parker, 1971), social class (Young and Wilmott, 1973) and the “family life-cycle” (Rapoport and Rapoport, 1975), they laid the foundations for considering leisure in a broad social context.

3 The most significant development in the field in 1970s Britain was the emergence of a neo-Marxist analysis of leisure studies from within cultural studies, culminating in the publication of Clarke and Critcher's The Devil Makes Work: Leisure in Capitalist Britain (1985), which placed a Marxist class analysis at the centre of its theoretical model. Equally significant was the rejection of this approach by Ken Roberts, in his book Contemporary Society and the Growth of Leisure (1978), in favour of what he called a “pluralist” perspective. This he explained as follows.

In Britain and other Western societies there exists a variety of taste publics that possess contrasting interests generated by their different circumstances. ... In recreation and other spheres the public uses its leisure to nurture life-styles that supply experiences which the individuals concerned seek and value. “Freedom from” is a condition of leisure. But there is also a positive side of the coin that involves individuals exploiting their “freedom to” and leads logically to socio-cultural pluralism, meaning societies in which various taste publics are able to fashion life-styles reflecting their different interests and circumstances (Roberts, 1978, p. 86).

5 The implicit challenge of Roberts' approach was to operationalise the concept of lifestyle. A considerable volume of literature did indeed appear during the 1970s, some proposing lifestyle as a theoretical concept and some exploring the idea empirically. Most of this work, however, appeared in fields other than leisure studies, including such diverse areas as: studies of migrant communities (Pryce, 1979); urban studies (Marshall, 1973; Miller and Sjöberg, l973); market research (Wells, 1974); futurology (Toffler, 1970, p. 276-293); community politics (Page and Clelland, 1978); tourism (MacCannell, 1976, 6, p. 31-2); and social theory in general (Bell, 1976, xxiv, p. 36, 38; Feldman and Thielbar, 1972; Filipcova, 1972; Gans, 1974, p. 68-9). Simmel's (1976) theoretical discussion of style of life should also be noted here; although originally published at the beginning of the century, it became available in English translation at this time.

The lifestyle concept in the 1980s

During the 1980s, the concept of lifestyle received further attention from sociologists concerned with social structure in general (eg. Sobel, 1981; Bourdieu, 1980; Scheys, 1987) and a number of commentators drew attention to the potential of the concept for leisure studies. Chris Rojek (1985, p. 73) stated that “one of Weber's most durable legacies to the sociology of leisure is the concept of lifestyle.” Significant contributions to the debate were made by Tokarski (1984, 1985), Paré (1985), Ouellet (1981) and Sue (1986). Gattas et al. (1986, p. 3) put forward an agenda for research in leisure and lifestyle and drew attention to “... the attraction of the life-style 'bridge', with its promise to unravel the interconnections between an individual's leisure experience and the larger social order”. Chaney (1987) concluded that, if sociologists were to progress in “disentangling the cultural significance of different forms of leisure ... we will have to work on the constitution of Life-worlds and Life-styles”. de la Durantaye (1988) called for multidisciplinary research on leisure and lifestyle and Moorhouse (1989, p. 31) argued that “... the concepts of status group and lifestyle could be one way to a more academically sophisticated and adequate analysis” of leisure. At the end of the 1980s, a substantial collection of papers on the topic was published by Research Committee 13 of the International Sociological Association (Filipcova, Glyptis and Tokarski, 1990).

7 There was, however, resistance to the use of the lifestyle concept: a 1989 paper published in Leisure Studies, suggesting that a Weberian approach to lifestyle could provide a framework for the development of leisure studies (Veal, 1989a, 1989b) was firmly rejected by neo-Marxist (Critcher, 1989) and feminist (Scraton and Talbot, 1989) scholars and has continued to be dismissed by critical sociologists (Jarvie and Maguire, 1994, p. 79-80) and feminists (Wearing, 1998, p. 11-14).

The lifestyle concept in the 1990s

8 Despite this criticism, support for the lifestyle concept continued to grow during the 1990s. Mommaas (1999) related the concept to the work of Veblen, Weber and Simmel; Critcher appeared to modify his earlier position in suggesting that lifestyle was one of a number of “middle range” concepts which should be explored in leisure studies (Critcher, 1992, p. 120); a number of contributions to the discussion were made by Paré (1992, 1993); Rojek (1997, p. 388) suggested that the concept had survived some of its structural feminist critiques; and a substantial review of the concept was published in the journal Leisure Studies (Veal, 1993). In a book-length treatment of the subject, David Chaney concluded that:

... the social phenomenon of lifestyles has been an integral feature of the development of modernity, not least in the idea that lifestyles are a particularly significant representation of the quest for individual identity that is also such a defining characteristic of modernity (Chaney, 1996, p. 158).

The lifestyle concept today

10 Two publications which bring the debate on lifestyle up to date are discussed here, namely: Ken Roberts' Leisure in Contemporary Society (1999) and Steven Miles' Youth Lifestyles in a Changing World (2000).

11 In Leisure in Contemporary Society, Roberts (1999) reaffirms his earlier rejection of “grand theories”, such as Marxism and structural feminism, and favours a neo-liberal view of leisure choice in which market processes are seen to give expression to, and to meet, most of people's leisure needs and wants. In searching for a theoretical framework to analyse this situation, he presents two chapters, one on “Consumption and Consumerism” and one on “Lifestyles and Identities”. In the chapter on consumption and consumerism, Roberts rejects the theoretical perspective which sees consumers as being passive victims of manipulative marketers; rather, he argues that consumers have genuine choice and that suppliers in the contemporary competitive marketplace effectively meet people's leisure needs. It is notable, however, that this analysis, as presented, is basically economic rather than sociological. In mainstream economic theory, the efficiency and effectiveness of the market are seen to be based on some fairly simplistic – though not necessarily wholly wrong – assumptions about individual consumers' motivations (the basis of the terms “economic rationalism” and “economic man”): the social dimension is largely neglected.

12 In the chapter on lifestyles and identities, Roberts rejects the proposition that the phenomenon of lifestyle can replace social class, gender and age as the basic structuring concept in leisure analysis. In fact, most analyses of lifestyle involve age, gender and social class (in the sense of a variable based on occupation) as key components but, in developing his critique, Roberts seems to go so far as to deny altogether the usefulness of the concept of lifestyle in the study of leisure. His argument is based on a number of observations about the lifestyle concept, including the question of whether it is a new concept, whether it transcends class, its stability, questions of style and identity, particularly youth identities, and its value compared with traditional analyses using age, gender and social class. These topics are discussed in turn below.

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