Leisure and free time

Leisure can be confused with tourism in the sense that tourists have a lot of free time which can be used in the space-time of the routine (leisure) and non-routine (tourism). In East Asia, there is no real distinction between tourism and leisure. How do the two concepts fit together?

Free time: a contemporary notion of the industrial revolution

Free time is a moment that has been present in societies for a long time. In the Middle Ages, there was the Latin otium and the concept of leisure time, ranging from popular festivals to games, hunting, fishing and performances (Verdon, 2003). The industrial revolution introduced a break in the structure of time, as the transition was made from God’s time to working time. From this point on, industrial work in factories constituted a break with the artisanal mode of production carried out in the home (Corbin, 1995). The proto-industry ensured a transition.

This led to greater constraints on the individual. For Norbert Élias and Eric Dunning (1994), this new division of time enabled the development of industrial civilisation by allowing individuals to relax and temporarily get away from ‘routines’ by partaking in practices including ‘sport’ (Élias and Dunning, 1994). We have cited the terms these authors used, but their analysis goes much further.

The spectrum of free time

They analyse in a spectrum the different components of free time and identify three main categories: routine actions; intermediary activities serving mainly periodic needs for guidance and/or self-contentment and self-development; and leisure activities in the etymological sense of the term mihi licet, that which is left to my own discretion. Therefore, leisure time is only a small part of free time (Ill. 1).

Ill. 1. Model of the distribution of free time, inspired by Norbert Élias and Eric Dunning (1994), produced by the authors.

The first category includes uses that are part of free time but restrictive due to their repetitiveness and the pressures they put on the individual. In particular, they cite ‘daily satisfaction of biological needs and personal care’ and ‘routine household and family chores’. The second group includes practices that are relatively restrictive but that individuals choose to impose on themselves, such as education, taking on roles of responsibility for an association, etc. Finally, leisure is limited to the third group, within which Élias and Dunning make further distinctions.

Three sub-categories are specified. The first two still include constraints, in a less marked way insofar as individuals do not take responsibility in organisation. Finally, the same authors highlight:

Tourism (‘holiday travel’) within leisure

Varied, less highly specialised, often multi-functional leisure activities that are generally of a pleasurable, non-routine nature: i.e. travelling on holiday, eating out for a change, having non-routine sex, having a ‘lie-in’ on Sunday mornings, engaging in non-daily personal care such as sunbathing, going for walks.

Élias and Dunning, 1994

We therefore note that tourism is a component of a part of leisure, the least specialised part — this dimension is developed further in the section on practices — and which has a non-routine aspect that is enjoyable.

Therefore, one can identify the relative share of leisure in relation to tourism and polytopic living developed by Mathis Stock (2006) (Ill. 2). The first unfolds in the space-time of daily life and concerns the local space of daily travel and sometimes, through transport, the national or international level if one lives in a capital and visits another (e.g., a Parisian spending the day in London). Tourism is in the space-time of the non-routine and new modes of residence illustrate the evolution of contemporary societies with the possibility of having double or multiple residences, the greatest extent being the ultra-wealthy.

Ill. 2. The time-spaces of tourism, leisure and new modes of residence (source: Knafou (ed.), 1997)

Philippe Duhamel and Philippe Violier


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