Sociology Leisure
Karla A. Henderson
  • LAST REVIEWED: 30 September 2013
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 September 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756384-0136


Leisure has been common in people’s lives throughout history. As a behavior, involvement in enjoyable games and activities has existed since humans first inhabited the earth. The first writings about leisure were done in ancient Greece, with individuals such as Aristotle arguing that the right use of leisure was the first principle of human activity. He believed that character developed only in leisure. However, only the wealthy and educated male citizens were entitled to leisure. The contemporary notion of leisure grew from the modern industrial age. Play and the playground movement as well as discussions of the value of recreation opportunities and activities within communities in the United States began more than one hundred years ago. Although leisure became more commonly acknowledged when time was demarcated as paid work or free time, the scholarly study of leisure was a phenomenon of the latter half of the 20th century. The examination of leisure related to human behavior was an initial focus of sociologists who explored the behavior of groups during their free time. With the growing importance of leisure in society, other disciplines such as psychology and economics also shaped understandings of leisure and the associated terms of recreation and play. Sometimes leisure and recreation are used interchangeably, but they are not necessarily the same. Recreation is generally focused on participation in activities such as sports, arts, the outdoors, or music. Play has traditionally been associated with children, although play as related to adults is similar to dimensions of leisure. The focus of this article is on leisure as a behavior that traditionally encompasses free time, activity, and/or a state of mind or a personal experience of intrinsic satisfaction. Leisure has many meanings and is associated with numerous activities. This article focuses specifically on resources that address leisure behavior as personal and social phenomena.

General Overviews

The books that are included in this general overview section make a contribution to understanding leisure related to society from broad interdisciplinary perspectives. Brightbill 1960 offered one of the first overviews of the emerging concept of leisure as it applied to contemporary society. The editions of Kelly 2012 about leisure examine leisure from interdisciplinary perspectives. Bammel and Burrus-Bammel 1982 offered an important early perspective about how leisure cannot be separated from social concerns. A personal perspective about the meanings of leisure is proposed in Godbey 2008 in the revised editions of the author’s books. Further, Ibrahim 1991 shows the commonalities and differences related to leisure across cultures. Best 2010 offers a 21st-century view about the status of leisure from both North American and British perspectives. Finally, Rojek 2010 provides a critical perspective that challenges the other overviews presented in this section.

  • Bammel, Gene, and Lei Lane Burrus-Bammel. 1982. Leisure and human behavior. Dubuque, IA: Brown.

    One of the earliest texts designed for undergraduates that integrates recreation and leisure into larger human and societal concerns, as opposed to treating them as separate entities apart from society. An interdisciplinary approach is used that focused on the role of leisure and recreation in modern life.

  • Best, Shaun. 2010. Leisure studies: Themes and perspectives. London: SAGE.

    The basis for this textbook is an examination of social theory regarding the meanings and structure of leisure. The focus is primarily on British and North American perspectives and presents a critical synthesis of ideas that have emerged over the years.

  • Brightbill, Charles. 1960. The challenge of leisure. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

    Brightbill predicts major changes in society such as three-day weekends. He raises the question of whether people will be prepared for this free time. He explores the challenge of leisure, its costs, and its relation to other human activity such as recreation, religion, science, art, health, and education.

  • Godbey, Geoffrey. 2008. Leisure in your life: New perspectives. State College, PA: Venture.

    This book, and its preceding editions, is about leisure in people’s lives and what it means as well as the potential it has for personal growth. The book focuses on the individual and how she or he makes sense of leisure as well as how leisure affects the lives of others.

  • Ibrahim, Hilmi. 1991. Leisure and society: A comparative approach. Dubuque, IA: Brown.

    Ibrahim takes an evolutionary perspective to examine leisure throughout the world. He describes the role of rituals related to leisure in various countries through a sociocultural analysis. Ibrahim examines factors that have shaped leisure behavior and the places where it occurs.

  • Kelly, John R. 2012. Leisure. 4th ed. Urbana, IL: Sagamore.

    Kelly’s editions of this book integrate history, current data and trends, and conceptual approaches to critically examine perspectives about leisure. He addresses the value of leisure, what people do in leisure and where they participate. He encourages readers to contemplate what is unknown about this human behavior.

  • Rojek, C. 2010. The labour of leisure: The culture of free time. London: SAGE.

    Rojek has written several books that provide a critical examination of leisure. In this book he argues how leisure has become a form of labor. He challenges the traditional understandings of leisure as freedom and free time and suggests it is wholly linked to emotional labor and intelligence.

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