Karl Spracklen: Leisure


RC13 Sociology of Leisure presents


The Futures We Want: What Sociology of Leisure Can Tell Us About the Struggles for a Better World


Karl Spracklen


In the cultural genre of science fiction, shows such as Star Trek show us a future where people have the free time and resource to take part in any and all sorts of leisure activities. The Federation culture of Star Trek has abolished money, solved technological and medical problems, and made the inequalities we know too well in our societies a distant memory. So people who do things in their leisure time do so because those people feel those things have meaning and purpose to them. In the original Star Trek, Captain Kirk is shown appreciating plays, as well as exercising in the gym and, notoriously, sleeping with women. In the television series Star Trek: The Next Generation the crew is often entertained by other members of the crew playing classical or jazz music. They choose what we might call communicative leisure experiences, activities that help them develop as rounded individuals, either alone or in groups. Leisure helps them live better lives as Federation citizens, respecting each other as equals, respecting learning and admiring culture in all its diversity. When we see dystopian cultures that the federation encounters, leisure lives are often constrained or controlled. In the original series, Captain Kirk finds gambling syndicates running gladiatorial games with slaves; in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, we see the ways in which alien cultures such as the Klingons use free time and leisure spaces to bond, to train soldiers and to teach young people about class, elitism, gender, belonging and exclusion.

Sociology of leisure critiques the idea that our leisure lives are unimportant and somehow untouched by the structures and tensions that shape other parts of our lives such as work and family. We say that leisure is as constructed as work in modernity, that leisure is a space for constraints to operate on individuals, groups and societies. Our modern leisure lives are as controlled as those of the Klingons. But the idea of leisure is also a dangerous one for capitalism, because it is a space or time in which individuals might choose to do something over which the usual structures have no control. There is potential now for leisure to be used to resist, that is, for leisure to be used to create alternative forms of belonging, to challenge gender orders, racial hierarchies, and the global North. Our collective hope for the future, as sociologists of leisure, is a world where everybody has the freedoms and resources to do the things they want to do, where they can grow as individuals and members of a better world through choosing the right kind of leisure.

Karl Spracklen is Vice-President for Publications of ISA Research Committee Sociology of Leisure (RC13) and professor at Leeds Beckett University, UK.

Banner Image: Captain Kirk and the crew of the spaceship USS Enterprise in the series Star Trek. (Web screenshot from film under fair use provision for purpose of commentary.)

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