Childhood Studies Childhood Studies and Leisure Studies
Utsa Mukherjee
  • LAST REVIEWED: 27 June 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 June 2022
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791231-0258


Much like childhood studies, leisure studies is an interdisciplinary field of research drawing primarily on concepts and approaches from sociology, psychology, sport sciences, social policy, and to a lesser extent anthropology and history. Leisure, the very subject matter of leisure studies, is notoriously difficult to define. Some scholars refer to it simply as “free-time” or the antithesis of work, while others describe it in terms of specific activities, social institutions, a set of experiences, and even a state of mind. Leisure is also known to play a big role in our identities. It is an arena of being and becoming, of adopting and challenging social norms and roles, and of creating and dissolving social bonds. Notwithstanding the debates over its definition, leisure activities are central to the everyday lives of many children and therefore leisure studies has much to offer to the social studies of childhood in terms of thinking about the role of leisure in children’s lives, the way leisure informs the construction of normative ideas of childhood, and how children relate to themselves and the world around them through leisure. Given the importance of leisure to children’s lives, it is surprising that leisure studies as a field has largely been occupied with the study of adult’s leisure with very little attention paid to the leisure lives of children. Indeed, the very field started with studies that looked at the leisure lives of working men and youth in the global north which then became the basis for theorizing leisure and creating a blueprint for the growth of the field. Women’s leisure, especially that of housewives who do not engage in paid work, and the leisure of the unemployed, for whom the work-leisure binary does not apply, created an impetus for the field of leisure studies to broaden its horizons, and de-couple definitions of leisure from the particularities of men’s workdays. Despite these initiatives, leisure studies still remains a largely adult-centric field where children’s lived experiences have remained at the margins. Therefore, thinking about the overlap between childhood studies and leisure studies requires us to examine the scholarship on leisure produced by childhood researchers and as well as empirical work by leisure studies scholars who have engaged with children. Doing so creates a fertile ground for understanding and unpacking children’s leisure from the dual vantage points of childhood studies and leisure studies.

General Overviews

There are only a handful publications that provide a general overview of children’s leisure, or the overlap between childhood studies and leisure studies. Recent review articles by McGovern, et al. 2022 and Mukherjee 2020—both published in specialist leisure research journals—offer a state-of-the-field review of academic scholarship on children’s leisure. They both point to the lack of sustained dialogue between childhood studies and leisure studies. They underscore the pivotal role of leisure in children’s lives and advocate from greater scholarly investment in leisure as a lens for studying childhood. Among other relevant publications, Jeanes and Magee 2011 groups children and youth together and show little engagement with childhood studies for theorizing children’s leisure. Frønes 2009, on the other hand, represents a notable effort from within childhood studies to synthesis research on children’s leisure and paint a broad picture of this important research area without any engagement with leisure theories.

  • Frønes, Ivar. “Childhood: Leisure, Culture and Peers.” In Palgrave Handbook of Childhood Studies. Edited by Jens Qvortrup, William A. Corsaro and Michael-Sebastian Honig, 273–286. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009.

    This book chapter represents a childhood studies perspective on the phenomenon of children’s leisure. The author points out how children’s immersion in leisure has become synonymous with the cultural image of the child in contemporary Western societies. The chapter offers a broad overview of key debates around the over-scheduled child, gender and class disparities in children’s leisure participation, and the role played by leisure in children’s peer relationship and socialization.

  • Jeanes, Ruth, and Jonathan Magee, eds. Children, Youth and Leisure. Eastbourne, UK: Leisure Studies Association, 2011.

    This edited volume came out of the Children, Youth and Leisure conference held at the University of Central Lancashire. The focus of the chapters is primarily on youth and sports, rather than younger children. However, some of the chapters including the editors’ introduction offer overviews of the field and comment on the way the changing nature of leisure and sports has impacted children and youth leisure geographies.

  • McGovern, Rachel A., Ericka J. Olschewski, and Camilla J. Hodge. “Where Have All the Children Gone? A Review of the Presence of Children under 6 Years in Leisure Publication Outlets.” Journal of Leisure Research 53.2 (2022): 290–308.

    DOI: 10.1080/00222216.2021.1916799

    This is an integrative review of nine major leisure research journals where the authors focused specifically on works that centered around the leisure of children under six years of age. They found that in the last fifty years, only eight articles reported data from child participants and five others relied on the accounts of adults. It quantitatively illustrates the absence of children’s voices within the field of leisure studies.

  • Mukherjee, Utsa. “Towards a Critical Sociology of Children’s Leisure.” International Journal of the Sociology of Leisure 3.3 (2020): 219–239.

    DOI: 10.1007/s41978-020-00060-5

    This article points out that there has been little dialogue between childhood studies and leisure studies to date. It therefore calls for a critical sociology of children’s leisure that draws on and contributes to theories and debates in both childhood studies and leisure studies. It also puts forward a conceptual “map” for studying children’s leisure across three interlocked “genres” of structured leisure, family leisure, and casual leisure.

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