In other words, the Life-world is of a ‘natural’ order perhaps best exemplified in what the philosopher Emmanuel Levinas calls the il y a, the unconditional ‘there is’ of life lived just then, at that moment, before theoretical interpretations get in the way. In attempting to overcome this epistemological gap between the Life-world and theory, in Leisure Life (Blackshaw, 2003) I attempted to make knowable the leisure life-world of a group of working-class ‘lads’ with whom I had grown up. The aim of the study was to enable its readers to experience the way ‘the lads’ actually experience their leisure lives. This meant that it was about their leisure life-world, my leisure life-world, but also our leisure life-world. Consequently, as a researcher, I occupied a strange dual position in this life-world – Tony Blackshaw as an insider and Tony Blackshaw the researcher as an outsider on the inside. I used this special position to not only make sense of how ‘the lads’ live their leisure lives, but also to allow the reader to know how they and we feel that collective experience, individually together. Leisure Life offers not just, or even primarily, an advance in ethnography in Leisure Studies. It involves two specific elements that are important to the present study. One is its appeal to the sociological imagination – that empathetic way of interpreting social life that is not only attentive to human complexity but is also capable of presenting us with new understandings since it re-imagines the Life-world in a different way, shifting our ethical sense of things in the process. The second element is its recognition that, when applied to leisure, the Lifeworld is in fact a concept that defies the convention of thinking in totalities. What this second element suggests is that not only do we insert ourselves into the Life-world rather than find ourselves ‘born out of it or sited inside it from the beginning’ (Bauman, 1997: 169), but also that the Life-world is in fact best understood in the plural. Implicit to this understanding is the idea that modernity can no longer be represented as a coherent whole; second, that we can no longer assume that it has a definite or manageable order; and third, that the world has become diversified and multiple as never before (Nancy and Barrau, 2015). This is a view that is also critical of the assumption that the theoretical world is the only horizon from which really existing realities take their meaning, and which argues that when we understand the world in the plural, then we recognize that there are different existential possibilities. In other words, the twenty-first century is one of all kinds of leisure life-worlds. Some in Leisure Studies will no doubt argue that I am not offering anything new in making this last argument. Attention to pluralism has a long history in the study of leisure. Two figures stand out in this regard. In almost all his publications, which first appear in 1970, Ken Roberts has consistently argued that the
pluralism we find in people’s actual leisure interests and activities presents a strong challenge to the monological implications of grand theory originating, for example, in Marxist accounts (see Roberts, 1978, 1981; and Clarke and Critcher’s (1985) critical response). The second scholar who has consistently attempted to liberate our understandings of leisure from grand theory is Chris Rojek. Nowhere is this more explicit that in the implication of his decentring thesis, which is of course that we are living in a postmodern era of radical pluralism – that anything goes. This last observation notwithstanding, it is a third approach, diverging both from Leisure Studies and Rojek’s postmodernist decentring thesis response to it that I shall be exploring in this book. Neither Leisure Studies nor the postmodern approach, in my view, gives an adequate account of the pluralism found in twenty-first-century leisure. Moreover, their shortcomings have a common root, or at least are, in fact, connected. Leisure Studies is debilitated by a kind of blinkeredness that deprives some social groups of their entitlements. The obvious criticism of the postmodern way of decentring is that it treats leisure as nothing more than a pawn in the ‘language games’ that are being played out at the level of culture (for a fuller discussion of postmodern understandings of leisure see chapter 5 in Blackshaw, 2010). Both approaches show a marked reluctance to address fundamental questions of leisure: not just what it is or means but what it does, how it works for individuals as a form of artistic life practice, as a wellspring for different kinds of belonging. To borrow one of the great American philosopher Richard Rorty’s favourite aphorisms: the difference between what I am attempting to achieve in this book and Leisure Studies is the difference between someone who can remember and use a range of different vocabularies at the same time and a subject field that can use only one. What I am offering here is an orientation rather than a perspective; I am a sociologist as poet who is keen to use words in ways they have never been used. My mission is to shape the old language of Leisure Studies into new ways that I envisage will extend the possibilities of the sociology of leisure. To reiterate, my cognitive framework is metaphorical, its objective being to sweep you into a world you think you already know and make you see it all with a startled second sight. It is in this sense that its ethos is hermeneutical: metaphor trips a switch and a connection is made. With this thumbnail sketch of my alternative cognitive frame in place, I am now in a position to give a chapter-by-chapter run down of the book’s central arguments and its thesis. The first two chapters deal with the crisis in Leisure Studies and what to do about it. I am acutely aware that the criticisms of Leisure Studies I have outlined so far call for proof rather than simply assent. With this in mind it is argued in Chapter 1 that ‘Leisure’ as it is understood in Leisure Studies is dead and some good (pluralistic) reasons are offered as to why this is so. It is subsequently argued that there is a crisis in Leisure Studies, which has its roots in the deep structure of sociology – the academic discipline that provides its critical perspective – which has led to the end of Leisure Studies.