The Making of Modern Leisure: The British Experience c .1850 to c .1960

Authored by: Dave Russell

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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Historical periods are always intellectual constructs rather than objective categories. The period considered here contains numerous sub-divisions, and might easily have been extended, certainly at its beginning, or shortened; the years from about 1870 to 1950 found the culture under discussion at its most pronounced. No fundamental discontinuities are posed between the ‘traditional’/‘pre-industrial’ age that preceded it or the ‘post-modern’/‘post-industrial’ one that followed. Industrialization did not create leisure as a new category, with a buoyant middle-class commercial leisure culture clearly identifiable in eighteenth-century Britain and a more popularly rooted one emerging from around the 1780s (Burke, 1995; Borsay, 2006: 8–16; Harvey, 2004). Similarly, many elements of the twenty-first-century leisure landscape would have been broadly familiar in the nineteenth century. Overall, however, the century or so from 1850 – best viewed, arguably, as a very long Victorian age – has a powerful degree of coherence. Driven by a mature industrial economy and continuing urbanization, the middle years of the nineteenth century ushered in a dynamic new phase in the history of leisure, defined by a set of trajectories in which all sectors of leisure provision, and not least the commercial one, grew dramatically: patterns of leisure activity became ever more national and marked by a passage from ‘class’ to ‘mass’; were structured by the rhythms of urban and industrial rationality rather than by rural ritual and task orientation; and became ever more privatized. The culture thus created was far from exhausted in the 1960s, but the social, economic and cultural changes of that decade undeniably pointed to a far more fragmented and increasingly globalized leisure world (Marwick, 1998).

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