The hope of leisure, the leisure of hope

By David Crouch, Professor of Cultural Geography, University of Derby.

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So much of what leisure is and might be is imbued with hope: hope for those participating in it, hope for those who might assist others to do so. From the ‘day off’ at saints and feast days across different cultures, leisure has been accompanied by hope: hope as celebration, of meeting up, enjoyment, recovery, escape. Is this a misguided association?

Provision of leisure opportunities, facilities, time and so on has related to a hope that it will fulfil desire (intentions) for something else, something better, different or just more – or less. For both those needing leisure in times of little respite from hard and dirty work to the providers and visionaries who sought a case for leisure, the idea of leisure mingled with hope: hope that its availability will help people in need, deliver happier, or at least somewhat contented living; calm the masses and so please the powerful. Sometimes leisure was ‘encouraged’, and maybe still is somewhere, in order to shift participation from one leisure to another, working the land instead of going to the alehouse. It is not so easy to align leisure and hope in the ‘provision’ of much commercial profit-led leisure in commodity-provision, but there are some benign creators and inventors who have come across, or sought hard to produce some good leisure that then makes them a profit, even a livelihood. And leisure has been a character of voluntary, charitable and community efforts for a long time.

For individuals, families and many kinds of collectivities, their own hope is that by participating, using equipment, getting out of doors or staying in, in safety; having a chance to do something [different] in their available time, productively, for a myriad reasons, and amongst these that it will give ‘something’. Whilst much of this may be [often erroneously] considered mundane, there are deeper depths in this hope-doing relationship that touch things like achievement, fulfilment or exercising desire. Doing leisure can massage feelings of hope.

One of the most powerful moments of feeling through my own research was after I had completed a presentation on community gardens in life and in spaces, including a showing of my BBC2 film , in an art gallery in the middle of England. A tall, thin Indian woman looking very tired came up to me on the edge of tears. As her eyes lit up she told me that for once she felt connected and proud of what she enjoyed in her life. She discovered in the hard work of her chosen leisure, gardening, that she found a recovery of hope. Through thoughts and feelings (in both senses) of how we get through, negotiate, celebrate, suffer, cope with our lives, with each other and with ourselves, and the manifold things, contests and contexts that interplay with loss and want of future.

Hester Parr’s considerations of emergence in multi-faceted moments of doing leisure are an exemplary insight into the nuanced workings of my idea of gentle politics: enabling through support and encouragement (Parr 2008). In her consideration of the experience of dislocation and of belonging amongst both individuals with mental health problems, particularly living in dispersed, small locations in parts of Scotland and those who may seek to work with them, she finds potential and becoming. Hope moved along, used motivationally. Scenarios of well-considered ways of creatively engaging and building with the lived realities of mental health patients are presented so that fear, isolation, exclusion and stigma need not always dominate frames of reference and our feeling of belonging. Here is a progressive programme for re-engagement, re-identification and belonging: an acutely progressive collation of practices of empowerment and integration that justifies Parr’s shaping of her own ‘hopeful epistemology’ of mental health and its ‘social spaces’. These are works of wellbeing. Wellbeing is less an escape to a site of temporary enhancement of wellness [often a privileged, deceptive momentary event] than potential self- and life-discovery, becoming through confidence in new ways and inflections of how we live, do leisure: in numerous loosely-linked characteristics of our performing leisure, ourselves, our relations in the world (Crouch 2009).

There is a politics of relations in leisure that can sustain- or frustrate hope, in such as mutual regard. Ways in which values and meanings, however fluid, happen and are nurtured in practice with regard to other humans and other things. Mere hope can be empty and arid, self deceiving even frustrating. Hope and action can be a significant leisure in itself; manoeuvring towards making some leisure possible: campaigning, opposing, doing groundwork on a site, volunteering and so on. Hope has powered much of leisure’s progress. Hope, like the intricacies of performance in things we do, in becoming and in creativity, is not ‘good’ per se, yet it can be good too.

There is much room for balancing crisis-as-negative with hope through attention to the capacities and competence of love and hope in and amongst individuals. Hope can accompany enchantment, and without modes of enchantment we might not have the energy and inspiration to enact leisure as human and ecological projects; to safeguard its possibility and contest ugly and unjust modes of leisure’s commercialization, or to respond generously to human beings’ hopes for better, more or different leisure possibilities.

Some references

Crouch, D. (2009). Constructing feelings of wellness in R. Bushell, P.Sheldon eds. Wellness and tourism: mind, body, spirit. Cognizant: New York. 114-124

Parr, H. (2008). Mental Health and Social Space: Towards Inclusionary Geographies? RGS-IG series, Blackwell Wiley.

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