Of the Unit Ideas in the Sociology of Leisure


  • Jiri Zuzanek University of Waterloo, Canada




Unity of idea, Sociology of Leisure, Tourism


Robert Nisbet, in The Sociological Tradition (1966), used the concept of unit-ideas in analyzing the sociological thought of the past and present. Unit-ideas are focal social concerns that generated and continue to invite conflicting interpretations, giving sociological thought its continuity and coherence. As examples of unit-ideas in the 19th century sociology, Nisbet listed alienation, the role of the community, relationship between the sacred and the secular. Several criteria need to be met, according to Nisbet, to qualify as unit-ideas. These ideas must have generality, be relevant to the present and the past, and be discernable in the works of the towering minds of an age.  As well, unit-ideas must be specific for the given area of study and combine insight with observation (p. 5). 

In this article, an attempt will be made to apply Nisbet’s notion of unit-ideas to the historical study of leisure and labor, the two concepts that, in Bennett Berger’s words, “have sociological meaning only vis-à-vis each other.” (p. 28)

Analysis of issues dominating the study of leisure and labor shows that discussion involving these phenomena centered historically upon several  key and controversial issues such as: (1) the role of leisure and labor in forming  human identity; (2) leisure and labor as stimuli of social change; (3) leisure’s and play’s role as sources of social stability; (4) leisure’s impact on the deepening or toning down of social inequalities; (5) division of labor and its alienating effects on leisure (spillover or compensation?); (6) future trends in the allocation of leisure time (will we live in a ‘society of leisure’ or of the ‘harried leisure class”?), and (7) leisure’s and labor’s contribution to subjective well-being (swb). While most of these issues fall predominantly into the domain of sociological inquiry, the interest in the relationship between leisure and swb is shared by sociology and social psychology.

The first three unit-ideas (leisure as a source of human identity, social stability and a stimulus of change), have been examined in the literature mostly from the historical and anthropological perspectives. The conflicting views about the alienating effects of labor, the stratification implications of leisure, the direction of leisure trends, and the well-being corelates of leisure have been subject of conceptual discourse as well as empirical examination.

My motivation for examining work-leisure relationships from the unit-ideas perspective is two-fold. I intend to show that these relationships are multifaceted and change with historical circumstances. I will refrain from the role of an arbiter, while discussing controversies surrounding the unit-ideas of leisure,’ and will leave their overall assessment to the concluding part of the article, showing there how these ideas reflect the “l’esprit du temps” (Zeitgeist), as well as ideological positioning of individual authors within it. In the concluding part, I will also address my second concern - the ‘partisan” or ‘lobbying’ position with regard to leisure often taken by leisure researchers. Leisure, to me, is a formidable challenge, but not necessarily a universal cure. The dividing line of the pros and the cons does not run between leisure and labor but within them. This is what this article will try to demonstrate. 


Download data is not yet available.


Anderson, N. (1961) Work and Leisure, New York, Free Press of Glencoe

Andreae, C.A. (1970). Okonomik der Freizeit. Hamburg: Rowohlt

Apostol, T.M. (1969) Calculus, Vol. II. John Wiley & Sons

Aquinas, T. (2006/1265-1274) Summa Theologica. Project Gutenberg.

Arendt, H. (1958) The Human Condition. The University of Chicago Press

Aristotle, (1996) Nicomachean Ethics, (translated by Rackham), Wordsworth Classic

Aristotle, (2009) The Politics and The Constitution of Athens. Ed. by S. Everson, Cambridge University Press

Bell, D. (1960) The End of Ideology Glencoe, Illinois, Free Press

Bell, Daniel (1973) The Coming of Post-Industrial Society. New York: Basic Books, Inc.

Berger, B. (1963) The Sociology of Leisure: Some Suggestions. In E.O. Smigel (ed.) Work and Leisure: A Contemporary Social Problem, New Haven, CT, College and University Press

Bourdieu, P. (1984) Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste, London, Routledge & Kegan

Bücher, K. (1899) Arbeit und Rhythmus. Leipzig, B. G. Teubner Verlag, 1899.

Burns, L. (1993) Busy bodies: Why our time-obsessed society keeps us running in place. New York: W.W. Norton & Co.

Carlyle, T. (2009/1843) Past and Present. Serenity Publishers.

Christensen, P. (2012) Athletics and Social Order in Sparta in the Classical Period, Classical Antiquity, Vol. 31, No. 2, pp. 193-255

Clark, J. and Critcher, C. (1985) The Devil Makes Work, Basingstoke, Macmillan

Comte, A. (2007/1830) Cours de philosophie positive, IV, p. 430

Dahrendorf, R. (1959) Social Classes and Class Conflict in Industrial Society. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

D’Angour, A. (2013) Plato and Play Taking Education Seriously in Ancient Greece, American Journal of Play, volume 5, number 3

De Grazia, S. (1962) Of Time, Work and Leisure. Garden City, NY Anchor Books

Dumazedier, J. (1967) Toward the Society of Leisure. New York: The Free Press. (Annecy)

Durkheim, E. (1964/1893) The Division of Labor in Society, New York: Free Press of Glencoe

Durkheim, E. (2012/1912) The Elementary Forms of Religious Life (The Project Gutenberg)

Elias, N. and E. Dunning (1993) Quest for Excitement. Sport and Leisure in the Civilizing Process. Massachusetts: Blackwell, 1993

Ellul, J. (1964) The Technological Society. New York: Vintage Books.

Engels, F. (2001/1883) Dialectics of Nature. www.marxists.org/archive

Fourastié, J. (1960) The Causes of Wealth. Glencoe, Ill.: The Free Press.

Fourastié, J. (1965). Les 40,000 heurs. Inventaire de l’avenir. Paris: Laffont-Gonthier.

Friedman, G. (1961). The Anatomy of Work, Labour, Leisure, and the Implications of Automation, Glencoe, Illinois: Free Press.

Galbraith, J. K. (1967) The New Industrial State. Boston, Houghton Mifflin.

Gershuny, J. and Fisher, K. (1999) ISER working paper No 99-03. Colchester, Essex: Institute for Social and Economic Research.

Greenberg, C. (1958) Work and Leisure Under Industrialism, in Larabee, E. and R. Meyersohn, Mass Leisure, Glencoe, Illinois: Free Press.

Groos, K. (1896) Die Spiele der Tiere. Jena (quoted in Plekhanov)

Grossin, W. (1969) Le Travail et le Temps. Horaires-durees-rythmes. Editions Anthropos

Hesiod (1988) Theogony and Works and Days. Oxford: Oxford University Press

Huizinga. J. (1955/1938) Homo Ludens: A Study of the Play-Element in Culture. Boston: Beacon Press

Hunnicutt, B.K. (2006) The History of Western Leisure. In: A Handbook of Leisure Studies. Ed. by C. Rojek, S.M. Shaw and A.J. Veal, Palgrave Macmillan

Iso-Ahola, S. (1980) The Social Psychology of Leisure and Recreation. William C Brown

James, W. (1904) What is Pragmatism. In: Writings 1902-1910, Library of America

Kant, I. (2018/1785) Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals. www. earlymoderntexts.com/assets/pdfs/kant1785.pdf

Kelvin, P. (1981) Work and leisure: The implications of technological change. Manuscript from SIRLS.

Keynes, J. M. (1930) Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren. In Essays in Persuasion, New York: Harcourt Brace, 1932, 358-373

Klapp, O. E. (1978) Opening and Closing.: Strategies of Information Adaptation in Society. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press

Kraus, R. (1971) Recreation and Leisure in Modern Society. Appleton Century-Crofts

Lafargue, P. (2011/1883) The Right to be Lazy: Essays by Paul Lafargue. Chicago: Charles H. Kerr

Linder, S. (1970) The Harried Leisure Class. New York: Columbia University Press.

Lundberg, G. A., M. Komarovsky and M.A. McInerny (1960/1934) Leisure: A Suburban Study. New York: Columbia University Press

Lüschen, G. (1963) Soziale Schichtung und Soziale Mobilität bei Jungen Sportlern. In Kölner Zeitschrift für Soziologie und Sozialpsychologie 15.

Malinowski, B. (1922) Argonauts of the Western Pacific: An account of native enterprise and adventure in the Archipelagoes of Melanesian New Guinea. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul

Marcuse, H. (1964) One Dimensional Man. Studies in the Ideology of Advanced Industrial Society. Boston: Beacon Press

Marx, K. (2009/1844) Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844. www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1844/manuscripts/preface.htm

Marx, K. (1953/1857) Grundrisse der Kritik der politischen Okonomie, Berlin

Marx, K. (2015/ 1883) Capital. www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1867-c1/p5.htm

McCormack, T. (1971) Politics and leisure, International Journal of Comparative Sociology, XII pp. 169-181

McLuhan, M. (1964) Understanding Media, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul Limited.

Meissner, M. (1971) The Long Arm of the Job: A Study of Work and Leisure. Industrial Relations 10, 239-60

Meyersohn, R. (1972) Leisure. In: The Human Meaning of Social Change, Ed. by A. Campbell and P.E. Converse, New York, Russell Sage Foundation

More, T. (2005/1516) Utopia. The Project Gutenberg.

Murphy, J. F. (1974) Concepts of leisure: philosophical implications. Prentice Hall

Neulinger, J. (1974) The Psychology of Leisure. Charles C. Thomas, Springfield

Newman, D.B., Tay, L., and Diener, E. (2014) Leisure Engagement and Subjective Well-Being: A Meta-Analysis, Psychological Bulletin 141(2)

Nietzsche, F. (2008/1882) The Gay Science. Cambridge Texts in the History of Philosophy. Cambridge University Press.

Nisbet, R. (1966) The Sociological Tradition. New York: Basic Books.

Ortega y Gasset, J. ([1929] 1930). The Revolt of the Masses. New York: Norton.

Orwell, G. (1968/1945) The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell 1903-1950. New York: Harcourt Brace and Company

Parker, S. (1971) The Future of Work and Leisure, London: Praeger.

Pericles’ funeral oration. www.greatbooksojai.com/Pericles_Funeral_Oration_Crawley.pdf

Pieper, J. (1952) Leisure. The Basis of Culture.

Plato (2004) Republic. Hackett Publishing Company

Plato (2008) Laws. The Gutenberg Project Ebook.

Plekhanov, G. (1899) Unaddressed Letters. www.marxists.org/archive/plekhanov/1912/art/index.htm

Plutarch’s Lives (1914) New York: The Macmillan Co.

Radcliffe-Brown, A. R. (1922) The Andaman Islanders: A Study in Social Anthropology

Rademakers, L. (2003) Filosofie van de vrije tijd. The Netherlands: Damon Publishers

Reid, I. (1998) Class in Britain, Cambridge, Polity Press

Richta, R. et al. (1969) Civilization at the Crossroads, Prague: International Arts and Sciences Press Inc.

Riesman, D. (1950). The Lonely Crowd, New York: Doubleday Anchor Books.

Rifkin, J. (1987) The time wars. New York: Henry Holt & Co.

Roberts, K. (1970). Leisure, London: Longman.

Robinson, J. P. (1977) How Americans Use Time. A Socio-Psychological Analysis of Everyday Behaviour. New York: Praeger.

Robinson, J. (1989) Time’s up. American Demographics, 11(7), 6–7.

Samaras, T. (2012) Leisured Aristocrats or Warrior-Farmers? Leisure in Plato’s Laws, Classical Philology, Vol. 107, No. 1, pp. 1-20

Say, J.-B. (1803) Traite d’economie politique, Book I, ch. viii (quoted in Durkheim’s DLS)

Scott, J. (1982) The Upper Classes: Property and Privilege in Britain, Basingstoke, Macmillan

Sennett, R. (1998) The Corrosion of Character: the personal consequences of work in the new capitalism, New York: Norton

Smith, A. (1979/1776) An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations. Indianapolis: Liberty Classics

Scheuch, E. K. (1965). Die Problematik der Freizeit in der Massengesellschaft. in: Universitatstage

Schor, J. (1991) The Overworked American: The Unexpected Decline of Leisure. New York: Basic Books.

Sorokin, P. (1937-1941) The Social and Cultural Dynamics. Cincinnati: American Book Company.

Tocqueville, A. (1954/1835-1840) Democracy in America, Democracy in America, New York: Vintage Books

Veal, A.J. (2018) Whatever Happened to the Leisure Society? Hardback Routledge, Critical Leisure Studies.

Veblen, T. (1953/1899) Theory of the Leisure Class. New York: Mentor Books.

Weber, M. (1958/1904-1905), The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons

Wilensky, H. (1963) The uneven distribution of leisure: The impact of economic growth on free time. In Work and Leisure. Ed. by E. 0. Smigel. New Haven, Connecticut: College and University Press: 107—145.

Wippler, R. (1970) Leisure Behaviour: A Multivariate Approach. Sociologia Neerlandica 6, pp. 51-67

Wundt, W. (2006/1886) Ethics: The Facts of Moral Life. Cosimo Classics

Xenophon, Apology of Socrates to the Jury. eBooks@Adelaide.

Zuzanek, J. What happened to the society of leisure? Of the gap between the “haves” and “have nots” (SIR, 2015)

Zuzanek, J. and Zuzanek, T. (2015) Of Happiness and of Despair, Is There a Measure? Time Use and Subjective Wellbeing, published in the Journal of Happiness Studies 16: 839-856.




How to Cite

Zuzanek, J. (2019). Of the Unit Ideas in the Sociology of Leisure. Anais Brasileiros De Estudos Turísticos, 8(3), 8–25. https://doi.org/10.34019/2238-2925.2018.v8.13863