"The serious leisure perspective” (SLP) is the name of the theoretic framework (see diagram) that bridges and synthesizes three main forms of leisure, known as serious leisure, casual leisure, and project-based leisure. Research began in 1973 on the first of these, and has continued since that time, while work on casual leisure and then on project-based leisure came subsequently (see History section of this site for more details). Within each form, a variety of types and subtypes have also emerged over the years. That this Perspective takes its name from the first of these should, in no way, suggest that it is to be regarded, in some abstract sense, as the most important or superior of the three. Rather, the Perspective is so titled, simply because it got its start in the study of serious leisure; such leisure is, strictly from the standpoint of intellectual invention, the godfather of the other two. A map of the SLP is available at the SLP Diagrams page of this website.
Leisure is defined in the SLP as un-coerced, contextually framed activity engaged in during free time, which people want to do and, using their abilities and resources, actually do in either a satisfying or a fulfilling way (or both).
Serious leisure is the systematic pursuit of an amateur, hobbyist, or volunteer core activity that is highly substantial, interesting, and fulfilling and where, in the typical case, participants find a career in acquiring and expressing a combination of its special skills, knowledge, and experience (Stebbins, 1992, p.3). The adjective "serious" (a word Stebbins' research respondents often used) embodies such qualities as earnestness, sincerity, importance, and carefulness. This adjective, basically a folk term, signals the importance of these three types of activity in the everyday lives of participants, in that pursuing the three eventually engenders deep self-fulfillment.
Amateurs are found in art, science, sport, and entertainment, where they are inevitably linked, one way or another, with professional counterparts who coalesce, along with the public whom the two groups share, into a three-way system of relations and relationships. By contrast, hobbyists lack the professional alter ego of amateurs, although they sometimes have commercial equivalents and often have small publics who take an interest in what they do. The professionals are identified and defined in (economic rather than sociological) terms that relate well to amateurs and hobbyists, namely, as workers who are dependent on the income from an activity that other people pursue with little or no remuneration as leisure (see Stebbins, 2007, pp. 6-8).
Hobbyists are classified according to five categories: 1) collectors, 2) makers and tinkerers, 3) activity participants (in noncompetitive, rule-based, pursuits such as fishing and barbershop singing), 4) players of sports and games (in competitive, rule-based activities with no professional counterparts like long-distance running and competitive swimming) and 5) the enthusiasts of the liberal arts hobbies, which are primarily reading pursuits.
Volunteers, whether pursuing serious, casual, or project-based leisure, offer un-coerced help, either formally or informally, with no or, at most, token pay, for the benefit of both other people (beyond the volunteer's family) and the volunteer. Nevertheless, the reigning conception of volunteering in nonprofit sector research is not that of volunteering as leisure (volitional conception), but rather volunteering as unpaid work. This latter, economic, conception defines volunteering as the absence of payment for a livelihood, whether in money or in kind. This definition largely avoids the messy question of motivation so crucial to the volitional conception. A theoretic typology of volunteers and volunteering is available in Reflections 16 (Digital Library). Also see the Map of the SLP (Resources).
Occupational devotees are people who are inspired by“occupational devotion,” by a strong, positive attachment to a form of self-enhancing work, where the sense of achievement is high and the core activity (set of tasks) is endowed with such intense appeal that the line between this work and leisure is virtually erased (Stebbins, 2004b). “Devotee work” is serious leisure from which the worker gains a livelihood.
Serious pursuits is the umbrella concept encompassing serious leisure and devotee work (Stebbins, 2012). See the SLP map in Resources.
Serious leisure is further distinguished from casual leisure by six characteristics found exclusively or in highly elaborated form only in the first. These characteristics are: 1) need to persevere at the activity, 2) availability of a leisure career, 3) need to put in effort to gain skill andknowledge, 4) realization of various special benefits, 5) unique ethos and social world, and 6) an attractive personal and social identity.
Casual leisure is immediately, intrinsically rewarding; and it is a relatively short-lived, pleasurable activity requiring little or no special training to enjoy it. It is fundamentally hedonic; it is engaged in for the significant level of pure enjoyment, or pleasure, found there (Stebbins, 1997). It is also the classificatory home of much of the deviant leisure discussed by Rojek (1997, pp. 392-393). Among its types are: play (including dabbling), relaxation (e.g., sitting, napping, strolling), passive entertainment (e.g., TV, books, recorded music), active entertainment (e.g., games of chance, party games), sociable conversation, and sensory stimulation (e.g., sex, eating, drinking). Casual volunteering is also a type of casual leisure as is "pleasurable aerobic activity," or casual leisure requiring effort sufficient to cause marked increase in respiration and heart rate (Stebbins, 2004a). Casual leisure is considerably less substantial, and offers no career of the sort just described for serious leisure. In broad, colloquial language casual leisure, hedonic as it is, could serve as the scientific term for doing what comes naturally. Yet, despite the seemingly trivial nature of most casual leisure, I argue elsewhere that it is nonetheless important in personal and social life (Stebbins, 2001b).
Project-based leisure is a short-term, moderately complicated, either one-shot or occasional, though infrequent, creative undertaking carried out in free time (Stebbins, 2005). Such leisure involves considerable planning, effort, and sometimes skill or knowledge, but for all that is not of the serious variety nor intended to develop into such. Nor is it casual leisure. The adjective "occasional" describes widely spaced undertakings for such regular occasions as arts festivals, sports events, religious holidays, individual birthdays, or national holidays while "creative" stresses that the undertaking results in something new or different, showing imagination, skill, or knowledge. Although most projects would appear to be continuously pursued until completed, it is conceivable that some might be interrupted for several weeks, months, even years.
The foregoing is the heart of the serious leisure perspective - a view of some of its basic concepts - as pulled together from the sources in the Basic Bibliography (see below). The broadest, detailed presentation of the entire Perspective is available in R. A. Stebbins (2007) Serious leisure: A perspective for our time. For a somewhat fuller summary of it, see Leisure Reflections 13 in the Digital Library.
Rojek, C. (1997). Leisure theory: Retrospect and prospect. Loisir et Société/Society and Leisure, 20, 383-400.
Stebbins, R. A. (1979). Amateurs: On the margin between work and leisure. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage Publications.
Stebbins, R. A. (1982). Serious leisure: A conceptual statement. Pacific Sociological Review, 25, 251-272.
Stebbins, R. A. (1992). Amateurs, professionals and serious leisure. Montreal, QC: McGill-Queen's University Press.
Stebbins, R. A. (1996). Volunteering: A serious leisure perspective. Nonprofit and Voluntary Action Quarterly, 25, 211-224.
Stebbins, R. A. (1997). Casual leisure: A conceptual statement. Leisure Studies, 16(1), 17-25.
Stebbins, R. A. (2001a). New directions in the theory and research of serious leisure. Lewiston, New York: Edwin Mellen.
Stebbins, R. A. (2001b). The costs and benefits of hedonism: Some consequences of taking casual leisure seriously. Leisure Studies, 20(4), 305-309.
Stebbins, R. A. (2002). The organizational basis of leisure participation: A motivational exploration. State College, PA: Venture Publishing.
Stebbins, R. A. (2004a). Pleasurable aerobic activity: a type of casual leisure with salubrious implications. World Leisure Journal, 46(4), pp. 55-58.
Stebbins, R. A. (2004b). Between work and leisure: The common ground of two separate worlds . New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction.
Stebbins, R. A. (2005). Project-based leisure: Theoretical neglect of a common use of free time. Leisure Studies, 24, 1-11.
Stebbins, R. A. (2007). Serious leisure: A perspective for our time. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction.
Stebbins, R. A. (2012). The idea of leisure: First principles. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction.