The Leisure Class

From Veblen to Linder to MacCannell

Authored by: David Scott

Routledge Handbook of Leisure Studies

Print publication date:  April  2013
Online publication date:  July  2013

Print ISBN: 9780415697170
eBook ISBN: 9780203140505
Adobe ISBN: 9781136495595


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On several occasions I have heard colleagues say that the sociology of leisure, and Leisure Studies more generally, lacks a solid theoretical foundation. I contend there are at least three powerful archetypes for understanding leisure in contemporary society, each representing thoughtful models of how moderns behave. The first comes from Thorstein Veblen’s (1899) The Theory of the Leisure Class (Veblen, 1934). Veblen’s classic work is grounded in the idea that people use leisure to seek status. Veblen used the term ‘emulation’ to describe a deep-seated motive that drives people to grade themselves (and others) in regard to worth. Conspicuous consumption and conspicuous leisure are two mechanisms people use to create favorable impressions. The second archetype comes from Staffan Linder’s (1970), The Harried Leisure Class. Status was of secondary importance to Linder. A key premise of his work was that as the pace of work becomes frenetic so does leisure. Moderns pursue leisure and consumption with an eye toward maximizing the yield on time. Given the plethora of goods and experiences that people can afford, they are constantly reminded that time is scarce. The final model is based on the work of Dean MacCannell. In The Tourist: A New Theory of the Leisure Class, MacCannell (1976) begins with the assumption that differentiation in contemporary society has resulted in acute alienation as people feel disconnected from stable communities and institutions. For MacCannell, the tourist is a metaphor for the human condition as people are driven to seek authentic experiences. Leisure is about people’s endless quest for self-discovery and meaning. In this chapter I examine the relevance of these three scholars’ ideas for understanding leisure in contemporary societies.

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