Chris Rojek and Peter Bramham ‘In Converstaion’

Transcript of a Leisure Studies Journal 30th Anniversary Event, held at the Leisure Studies Annual Conference, Southampton Solent University, July 2011.

Beccy Watson – This event has been staged to mark the thirtieth volume of Leisure Studies (the Journal of the Leisure Studies Association) this year. We settled on a theme of ‘in conversation’ between Peter Bramham and Chris Rojek because, if there is such thing as a ‘Leisure Studies imagination’, they have both made a big contribution to it. The overall theme of the conference has been about ‘leisure in transition: people, policy and places’ and I think we should now be adding ‘potential’ because through the dialogue we hope to get a view of the prospective as well. Over to Pete…

Peter Bramham – Thanks very much and thanks very much of asking me to talk to Chris. I’d like to start by talking just a little bit about my background in that I was privileged to start teaching at Bradford and Ilkley Community College and it was a time where Recreational Studies and Human Movement Studies were the dominant form. I was lucky enough to belong to a Leisure Studies team, and in that team was Les Haywood who was chair of the Leisure Studies Association at the time, whose background was in PE and Ian Henry who had done a double degree at Strathclyde University and been a Leisure Practitioner manager in Middlesbrough. There was John Spink who was a Geographer and a professional town planner, John Capenerhurst who was an English graduate and had just trained in tourism, and Frank Kew who was another PE teacher but had a Masters in Philosophy and Dance from Leeds University. Then there was me joining the team as sort of a failed Criminologist. So that’s the background of my introduction to Leisure Studies and it highlights my worry of seeing Leisure Studies as a discipline. I think Leisure is a field of study and there is a variety of disciplines that contribute to the understanding of Leisure. It’s no surprise that there are crises in fields of study as there are always particular traditions, particular perspectives, particular issues that dominate and that’s the nature of the beast. The good thing that happened to me was that Les Haywood said we should publish a book, a text book, because there were no really good ones about. It fell to me, being the newcomer, to write the last chapter of this book which was Leisure Theory. The question that I asked when I had to write this chapter was ‘why is leisure theory so under-theorised?’ And you know there were some important books around at the time and for me Chris Rojek and his work had started to help me certainly to make sense of Leisure. So I’ll hand over to Chris and he can talk about how and why he was drawn into it….

Chris Rojek – How I was drawn into it, right. I was attracted as well, if I can characterise your history, your attraction by an assembly of misfits. I was attracted by that too and I always have been attracted by that. One reason why I don’t like the professionalization of the subject or of any discipline is that it acts as an antidote to misfits, it puts misfits off and I think that misfit culture is a very creative place to be. My approach to gaining entry into the subject was entirely Machiavellian. I had graduated from Leicester in 1979, a significant year for people of my age group as that’s the year Mrs Thatcher came into power and I was doing a PhD which I stopped doing because I realised there would be no jobs. What I didn’t realise was that the jobs outside of university were awful – I did various jobs like digging roads, washing, working in companies and not liking it at all […]I got back [to the PhD] in 1981. And my PhD had been on workers’ self-management in Yugoslavia because in the 1970s one of the key debates was ‘what will we do when we gain control of the state?’ This never happened.

Parallel to that there was a big debate about Leisure and it was being driven by the Americans; people like Max Kaplan were writing books on Leisure and although Max was a nice man to meet –as an academic he supported me – but his work I think was fairly thin in terms of Leisure theory. But the most interesting American theorist from my point of view was Veblen who wrote The Theory of the Leisure Class in 1899 and had, in an American context, virtually fallen from view. He wasn’t really taught and people didn’t read him. But I got more out of The Theory of the Leisure Class than anything else.  So I really thought that Leisure would be an area where there wouldn’t be that much competition, I wouldn’t have many opponents in getting a job in the area.

One of the things that struck me about British Leisure Studies 25 years ago was that it was very parochial. Ken Roberts and Stan Parker were by far the major figures and the debates were kind of ‘clubby’ I found. I wasn’t part of a club, I wasn’t part of a major university, I was really on the periphery and it wasn’t a particularly welcoming environment for me at that stage. That’s changed; Leisure Studies in the UK has become much more global [and] in a way is in a better shape.

What do I think about Leisure Studies now? It seems to me that all the big questions are still in Leisure Studies, it seems to me that the professionalization of the subject in Event Management, Tourism and Sports Studies, Sports Science leads us away from questions relating to Utopia. I think of Leisure Studies as a very utopian subject, ‘how can we have a better form of existing together which respects nature, which respects the planet and which respects other people?’ Marx, in the Communist Manifesto, I think defined Communism as the ‘free and full development of every individual’. Now, I’m not a Marxist but along with many other phrases in that extraordinary work of the Communist Manifesto that’s one that’s lingered with me. And I very much feel that’s what Leisure should be about; it should be looking at the free and full development of all individuals, that’s what we should be trying to do. And it seems to me that the professionalization in breaking down the subject into measurable categories is leading away from that to a certain degree.

Peter – To some extent when Leisure Studies was sort of setting off in the academy in the UK there was this possibility that there was a big project, that there was an alliance, some possibility of an alliance, a policy alliance, between leisure research, the emerging leisure departments in local authorities – it was all about the Leisure Society wasn’t it?

Chris – The Leisure Society as a concept was fairly sketchy. I know that some people disagree with me but I think that was the last big moment for this subject when the Leisure Society thesis was being debated and in America the Leisure Society thesis is still taken seriously by leisure academics there whereas in this country we were a bit more sceptical about it, we’ve moved on. That was the only time ordinary people en-masse we’re talking about leisure, in my life time. Ordinary people were talking about what shall we do with a shorter working week, what shall we do about earlier retirement age? If you look at the developments in the labour markets since then they’ve been in the opposite direction, we’ve abolished early retirement in this country, and unions are not pushing for lower working time. They’re doing the opposite because their members want more working time because they want more money.  And why that is, is something in Leisure Studies that we’re only beginning to engage with which is the way leisure activity has been colonised by consumption activity rather than quality of life issues. Much of our “free time” is spent on spending, on buying things, on being in shopping malls and so on. In my last book The Labour of Leisure I’ve been arguing that much of what we think of as leisure is a form of informal life coaching by looking at the television, by looking at magazines which we do in our free time, we’re picking up hints on how to present as more effective people. Those hints transfer both into the labour market where 7 out of 10 jobs (before the recession anyway) were in the service sector which requires people skills. But more importantly I think, or of equal importance is that life coaching transfers into the family, you learn how to be a better parent, a better husband, a better wife, by observing these things. When you actually look at what people do with their leisure what’s striking is the immense amount of activity that people are engaging in, they’re not just couch potatoes sitting in front of television sets, they’re actually always doing things, they’re multi-tasking, they’re doing more and more simultaneously.

One of the weaknesses [in my work] which I will immediately admit to [is that] what I just said is untested – I haven’t had an empirical study of people watching television and I take the line really from the person who eventually did supervise me in my PhD, the late David Frisbee who introduced me to Zygmunt Bauman and Benjamin (Walter) and so on, that we as Leisure students can do a vital and valid thing which is to engage with our times, to do an impressionistic engagement in our times. French Impressionist paintings are what he referenced in an attempt to understand what’s going on from another person’s point of view. That doesn’t necessarily mean you have a clipboard and interview them, it actually means you try and get inside their skin through an imaginative act and that’s the kind of social science that I’m interested in.

Questioner 1 – When you started up did you ever imagine that the internet would become such a huge leisure phenomenon?

Chris – No. Digital society didn’t really exist in 1979 so I didn’t think that. I think it leads to interesting difficulties for us because I’m not sure if internet exchange is the same as exchange in a coffee bar or exchange in a community. I think people can have intense connections but it seems to me that if we’re trying to be transformative if we do want to retain a Utopian strand to what we do that means changing things and engaging in political activity and it seems to me that the internet arguably fragments and fractures a response. It’s always struck me that one of the big gaps in what we do, and I wrote about this also in The Labour of Leisure is that we don’t look at corporations. Corporations have been around ever since I have lived and they actually dominate much of what we do in leisure and we don’t actually engage with them, instead we look at the internet or fragmentary raising consciousness events within the communities the many communities of leisure. We don’t look at what Apple Mac is doing to us, or what IBM is doing to us, or what Ford is doing. There are some articles on this and George Ritzer, a friend of mine, has written on the McDonaldisation of society if you’ve read it you will know about it. It’s a very depressing book because what he’s actually saying is that there’s no alternative, that this rolling process of increasing control, increasing regimentation which he gets from Weber is unstoppable and it will take over everything, in trying to oppose it, his argument is it gets co-opted by the McDonaldisation process. Now I don’t think he’s right about that but at least he’s looking at a brand and how a brand works in terms of ordinary life.

I’ll give you an example of brand culture and how important I think it is. Just before the tsunami in, the one in South East Asia (in 2005) I happened to be in San Diego. I was thinking about leisure things as I was walking around the boulevards and I came back to my hotel room and I put the television on and lo and behold who do I see? Richard Branson and what Richard Branson was saying is that the tsunami’s a terrible thing, the states, not just the United States but all states in the West, are rubbish, they’re not doing enough but he will give the Virgin Air fleet, Virgin staff, Virgin goods, Virgin time to go directly to South East Asia. Now this was free advertising, this was prime time advertising on Fox NBC channels, this would have cost millions of dollars to get. Now I’m not attributing to Richard Branson that he deliberately did that, but I bet you it was an element in how he thought Just as with the Live Aid event,  I think there was a lot of careerism. Some of the acts became internationally boosted by that event, U2 and Queen in particular, whether they did it deliberately or not, the effect of their performance was to become truly mega. That ambiguity interests me and in terms of my own work, in the last 5 or 6 years I’ve become much more interested in the social psychology of leisure, what is actually going on in our free time? When I look at mega events in the charity world, what strikes me is not just giving the fact that people give but they want to be seen to give, they want to witness, they want a recording of the giving process. And this in my mind connects up with other bodies of literature and one of which you will all know about, the work of Pierre Bourdieu in his book Distinction. You can see charity as a form of distinction and this is what Sennett argues in his book Respect. If you then go back to historians work on hospitality, charity, intimacy there’s a very different view of what those things mean, they’re not individualised in the way they are now, there’s a view that there’s a responsibility of the rich in Christian origins to look after the poor as a condition of good, respectful community life. We need research to find out, about the self-approval in the process. There is a sense in which people are actually saying look how generous I am, look how tuned in I am. And by implication look how un-tuned in you are, if you’re not giving you’re excluded or if you are giving you’re part of a right-on, hip community. That’s what I’m picking up on in the literature and it’s only early days for me to do that.

Questioner 2 – I’d agree with you that the big question where Leisure Studies might be contributing is the utopian one – what is the best society and basically we’re so much more wealthy than we were 20-30 years ago so how do we use that to make people’s lives better? Why’s that question disappeared in the agenda? What are the forces that make that disappear? To who’s advantage is it for that question to disappear?

Chris – Yeah, when Mrs Thatcher was around she was known in the press as Tina, There Is No Alternative, and that phrase that she coined I think has a chilly relevance still. I don’t believe that there is a collective alternative to capitalism that convinces people. I think there are lots of fragmentary movements and dispersed movements. And in Events Management (it’s in my mind so I will keep coming back to it probably quite a lot) you can see lots of informal events being arranged – like around the G8 summit where through the internet, the mobile phone, protesters are organising very high profile forms of resistance in public with widespread coverage so there is that going on. But in my view it does not amount to a movement that’s going to challenge Rupert Murdoch or Richard Branson. Seems to me on the contrary what actually has happened in the last 40 years is that capitalism has learned from consumer movements. Capitalism has become more tuned in to what consumers want but capitalism has retained in original and primordial responsibility of trying to achieve a monopoly situation on whatever it touches so News International, Rupert Murdoch’s corporation, is trying to get as much news control as possible but at the same time he’s saying he’s listening to the people and respecting the people. You can’t have it both ways, he’s not really doing that but capitalism has learned from the counter culture. Capitalism has taken things from the counter culture which has reassembled to actually increase accumulation.

Peter – You argue in The Labour of Leisure that there are sort of silences in Leisure Studies and one is, as you’ve already mentioned, about corporations, another is about globalisation and the other one is politics and this absence of any sort of political analysis. One of the things, one of the common themes in Chris’ work for me, is this idea about power, about legitimacy and authority. In 1975 everybody was talking about quality of life and we were talking about local authorities improving the health and equal access to leisure opportunities – sport, art, recreation, tourism. At the very time that was happening the economic base was disappearing, the global economy was going into retreat but you also had this neo-liberal project of we’re not going to have a welfare state, we’re not going to have a corporate local authority that’s going to provide leisure services for citizens. I think that’s the thing with Bauman’s work, he talks about we’re in a different sort of society now where  you’re bound in through consumption and you’re a consumer rather than a citizen. You know the power and relationships have changed and I think it seems interesting that in terms of a professional community we are missing an opportunity. We’ve never had a really very strong infrastructure in terms of the academy and in terms of funding agencies and in terms of the state to be able to protect these misfits – these Leisure scholars.

Chris – There are two things I’d say to that and I think you’re right. The first thing really is that, it’s a local comment and then a more global comment. A local comment, to go back to Event Management, that is an expression of neoliberalism in my view, it’s a populist response, a market response to social problems and in my head Leisure Studies departments are seen by lots of the public as sort of old fashioned and not very ‘sexy’ and not really on the ball. The contribution of state funded and municipal funded leisure departments is not recognised by the public and that’s partly a problem of leisure professionals in not selling themselves very well. It’s also partly a problem of the leisure municipal and state sector being seen in very much collectivistic rather than more flexible in its outlook. In terms of the politics of leisure I think yes, if we’re going to try and at least have the ambition of improving the world in which we live, from a leisure perspective as well as others we have to engage in politics, we can’t just say it’s got nothing to do with us. And I speak as someone who isn’t a member of a party and who doesn’t go on any marches. But it seems to me that in our discussions not just in Leisure Studies but more generally within the Social Sciences in this country and elsewhere, politics is prefigured in the agent, the individual or in a group changing things. I think that the other dimension that we ought to look at is the structure in which people operate and here I want to go back to a distinction about modernity that I made in a book called De-centring Leisure which came largely from my exposure to people like Foucault, Zygmunt, Benjamin through David Frisbee. I made the distinction that ‘modernity one’ can be seen as capitalism or socialism and they try to build things, they try to create the world around the market or the world around the state and make things clear, accountable, transparent, that’s what political activities are organised around. But in doing so they unintentionally create energies which I call ‘modernity two’ which works to unravel all of that, so you are creating a situation where there is an enormous amount of wealth in the world from a capitalist stand point but ‘modernity two’ kicks in by creating pollution, by creating disadvantage and so on and then you have to try and rectify it again. That dual process I think is what we are locked into in Western societies and it’s not a process we understand, we don’t quite understand why these well intended attempts to build state socialism or create a fair market, unravel and I think that most of our activity in terms of politics is too weighted into intentional changes, planned changes into our world and not enough at looking at the unplanned, the unintentional activities that we get subjected to develop and emerge. That really is a task not just for Leisure Studies but for the Social Sciences which it has had since the enlightenment and I think in terms of illuminating that two way structure that ‘modernity one’ and ‘modernity two’ works Social Sciences haven’t been terribly distinguished yet, they haven’t come up with terribly good answers yet.

Peter- Ok, you mentioned De-centring Leisure. Tony Blackshaw has written: “here was a dramatic irony in the mid-1990s, postmodernity had lost its magnesium flare flame. But at that very moment some in Sociology were gleefully driving a stake through its heart, Rojek was using it to give the study of Leisure a blood transfusion”. So can you talk about that because, for me, the work you’ve done after De-centring Leisure is of a different order than De-centring Leisure.

Chris – …You call me a postmodernist and I don’t think I am.

Peter – You don’t warm to that?

Chris – No because I see it that postmodernism in my view is more about diversity for diversity’s sake and making lack of commitments to things.

Peter – You’ve said elsewhere it’s a grand theory

Chris – Yes, that’s how I saw it. When I was at Leicester between 1973 and 79 and there was a professor who would, a lecturer not a professor, who would say every year to me, every year – this is why he didn’t become a professor,‘oh it’s going to happen on March 1st’ and I said ‘what’ and he said ‘workers will revolt, everything clearly points that way’. He really believed it. There was that kind of certainty from certain camps at that time that they were truly in possession of knowledge that would enable them to predict the future and they were kind of insufferable about this, there was a certain kind of Marxism for example, a certain kind of Feminism for example which wasn’t interested in debating in my experience because they felt they had the keys to the future in terms of knowledge. So along comes postmodernism and it blows all of that out of the water and that’s why I got interested in it because suddenly it became possible to speak openly after that. A lot of the open speech was nonsense and Baudrillard’s The Gulf War Did Not Happen had a serious undertone to it but it was a stupid title to his book because it did happen, people were killed and people thought postmodernism was irresponsible as a result of it. So no, I don’t think I was a postmodernist in the conventional sense of the term. In any case I think we are postpostmodern now, I don’t think, who are the postmodernist we know now, who writes, maybe Žižek possibly but there aren’t many…

Peter – I think the interesting thing in terms of the emergence of theory about Leisure and Leisure Studies was that there were these dominant traditions and key text books like Ken Roberts and Work and Leisure from Stan Parker, and part of the 1980s in Leisure Studies was inter paradigmatic …

Chris – I’m saying that there were these dominant figures when I started writing and going to conferences in Leisure Studies. A different generation but they also seemed to be leading different lives. To a certain extent that changed, I felt that Clarke and Critcher’s book and Aitchison’s’s work afterwards bringing this post-structuralist perspective was also important. But for me in ’85 Clarke and Critcher’s book really was saying something from a position I could identify with without being a Marxist. I could see where they were coming from. They were talking about issues like the lack of space in working class houses to enable people to enjoy themselves in leisure, they were living in cramped conditions and that seemed to me to be fundamental and I thought why has nobody pointed this out before or why have so few people pointed this out in the context of a political discussion about what we are going to do. The book is weak and I think if Chas was here he would agree because at the end they looked at this marriage between Marxism and Feminism and really at the time that didn’t seem a starter, it didn’t seem likely that that would happen nor has it happened in my view. Those two camps sort of dance with each other without actually getting married. So those were kind of the big artilleries that I was facing when I was first starting out in Leisure Studies and then along comes postmodernism which raises a question about do we really exist not does leisure exist and that takes it all onto another level and after that globalisation begins to bring things down to earth again. One of the interesting things I think that Leisure Studies needs to investigate is the relationship between the relative freedoms of the affluent societies and the absolute misery of the not so wealthy societies, the fact there is an interdependence in those relationships which Marx himself in Capital observes. He observed that the richer can only get richer by taking more from the poorest. How can we enjoy our leisure products when we know that in the Philippines, in Thailand, in much of Africa people are being paid nothing really to produce these products for us?

Peter – I was suggesting in a paper that we moved away from the Leisure Society and these particular traditions and postmodern Leisure Studies and that we’re moving into this globalised society and if you want big ideas to do research it’s, I was saying, sort of lifestyle and health and wellbeing you know and leisure’s got to contribute to that. But you’ve gone in a very different direction in The Labour of Leisure.

Chris – Yeah, I would say that it’s more, the culture in which we’re moving, is more flexible and monadic as in monad as more cut off really than they’ve been for a long time.

Peter – And that’s Bauman’s argument as well, isn’t it?  We’re talking about this powerful structure of forces and Bauman and you seem to be saying well there’s no such thing as society, we’re much more talking about sociability between different fractions of people and trying to make sense and gain security and identity in this very, very uncertain, hostile, risky, hostile world.

Chris – I think Zygmunt (Bauman) probably wouldn’t say it is just sociability, he’d emphasise the material level and I certainly would. It’s not just about how you get through life in the world, it’s the life chances you have, it’s the kind of the money that’s available to you, the options that you’ve got in front of you and I think that there is such a thing as society. But I don’t believe it can be confined to the territories of a nation, I believe that you have to look at it globally and the inter-dependencies that draw us all together and divide us have to be understood globally.

Questioner 3 – Chris, I’m interested in what you were saying about global rich and global poor and the interdependence that creates that. Now in other subject fields or disciplines like Geography, Sociology what came after postmodernism was of course colonialism but post-colonialism or postcolonial theory never really took hold of Leisure Studies and we’ve possibly passed or missed the moment and I’d be really interested in your view given your range of experience across the Social Sciences as to some sort of explanation as to why that just didn’t happen in Leisure Studies.

Chris – I think that the Social Sciences, and here I would include Leisure Studies, has for the last 30 years been critical without being constructively critical. If you look at the most successful disciplines in the Social Sciences, Business Studies, Economics, they say Capitalism is bad in many respects but they also say this is what we should do to try and get out from this bad situation. Now, we touch on that in Leisure Studies, though Sociology on the other hand as a whole just says that things are awful. But being constructively critical is what people want to hear, they don’t want to hear bad news from us all the time, they know it’s bad, they want us to give them substantiation to the bad news and show that it’s not just a myth or a series of imaginary situations that they’re living in, they want hard arguments and hard facts but they also want something positive…

Questioner 4 – Can you give us some examples of that then? I find it fascinating that you’ve continually made reference to Marx and Marxism and you’ve picked up Clarke and Critcher’s work as one of the most exciting contributions at the time and you’ve said that this is a political question ‘how do we get a better society?’ So how do you think we get a better society?

Chris – I don’t like the emphasis of class in Marxism, I don’t go along with it, I don’t believe that class is an agent in the way that many Marxists do. I think that there’s much more tension and friction within the dis-possessed and the possessed. I don’t think that all capitalists act as one. And I know where I live and when I meet people who are poor and rich and so on there’s tremendous diversity, some are very uneasy with class so that’s why I’m not really a fully paid up Marxist. Although who could not be impressed with Marxism? Who could not sit down and say well he was onto something here you know without having to go the whole hog…

Peter – All the time I’ve been in Leisure Studies there’s always been this crisis about where is the next generation of Leisure scholars coming from and you know what about the future and I think one of the positive things for Leisure Studies [at] a conference to encourage postgraduate students to present, postgraduate students to be involved and to sustain and support the next generation. I’m into generational analysis which happens when you get old. It’s probably a good time to stop.

Beccy – Well Pete said thank you and I think it’s good that we leave with some questions because you know when you leave a conference you should be thinking about what comes next, what’s in  the next conference and so on. So thank you very much.


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