Nonwork Obligation: Its (often troublesome) Place in the Study of Leisure

Wednesday, 13 July 2016: 14:15
Location: Dachgeschoss (Juridicum)
Oral Presentation
Robert STEBBINS, Sociology, University of Calgary, Calgary, AB, Canada
Starting with my book on positive sociology – Personal Decisions in the Public Square (Stebbins, 2009) -- I have been analyzing leisure life according to three domains: work, leisure, and nonwork obligation. The third of these is a new concept in the social sciences, even while it has been recognized since time immemorial in such commonsense terms as “chores,” “duties,” “pains” (in the neck), and “hassles.”  This domain is the classificatory home of all we must do that we would rather avoid that is not related to work (including moonlighting). To be sure certain obligations have been studied, particularly in the present, in spheres where they are notoriously contentious, namely, housework, do-it-yourself, and parents’ facilitation of the school and extracurricular activities of their children. But the academic literature in these areas has little to say about the history of such activities or about them as constituting a special domain in modern life.

          Yet, nonwork obligation as a domain of life absorbs a significant amount of time that could otherwise be dedicated to work or leisure interests. Moreover, in the face of widespread understanding of the concept of nonwork obligation, both leisure and work are sometimes confused with it, in both commonsense and science. Volunteering exemplifies well this problem, as does, for some people, doing health-promoting exercises and routinely shopping for groceries. Bringing nonwork obligation into our sights in leisure studies can help us sharpen our understanding of both domains. It will also help us sharpen our leisure education as it bears on work-life balance by examining where and how in this third domain participants might abandon disagreeable activities to find more time for leisure (serious, casual, project-based). One fruitful approach to cutting back on nonwork obligations lies in the program proposed by the voluntary simplicity movement.