Chris Rojek on the characteristics of life politics and why leisure is political

South Devon / Plymouth citizens mapping in  The Inquiry  this past October

South Devon / Plymouth citizens mapping in The Inquiry this past October

By Maria Dorthea Skov

Following on from last week’s blog on active citizenship as a leisure activity, we now dig deeper into sociologist and leisure theorist Chris Rojek’s research and thesis.

In the abstract to his article on ‘Leisure and Life Politics’ Rojeks says:

From the debate on the transformation of society, two theses have emerged which are of central relevance to social thought regarding leisure. First, the post work thesis argues that society is moving into a condition in which the cybernation of labor dramatically reduces the working week and the concomitant notion of the work career.

One task of social theory is therefore the review of resource distribution, notably time allocation, in the light of the radically revised demand for labor.

The second thesis is that the established institutions of politics, especially party politics, are of declining significance in everyday life and that they are being replaced by life politics, that is, a syncretic, non-party form of social and cultural orientation focusing on issues of lifestyle, environment, and globalization.

This article shows the relevance of the life politics and post work arguments for understanding the future of leisure. It examines the concept of civil labor and points to tensions with traditional ideas of leisure.

It is a contribution to the debate on leisure policy and the projection of trends in leisure practice. Finally, it concludes that the relationship between leisure and citizenship rights will be of dominant importance in the unfolding debate on the future of leisure.

This also summarize one of the main narratives that we convey here on the Daily Alternative, and have since the beginning. We increasingly experience how official, left-right party politics have very little relevance to our everyday life and are in many ways disconnected from the issues that actually matter to us.

Therefore we turn our gaze towards those who are embedded in real life issues and the possible solutions. To those ‘on the ground’ where ‘life politics’ are alive. Our view is that this is where politics must begin and whatever structure that lies above is a direct response to - or reflection of - what’s arising from the ground.

While portraying the work of these small p, politically active citizens (or AlterNatives as we like to call them) we have also followed the development in automation and AI. How we can use these as tools to improve our wellbeing. In addition the research and experiments into shorter working weeks and Basic Income. We see all of these as essential components of a future in which active citizenship can become the norm and ‘life politics’ can flourish.

The academic theory of ‘life politics’ was first introduced by Anthony Giddens in Modernity and Self-Identity (1991) as “concerning political issues which flow from processes of self-actualisation in post-traditional contexts, where globalising influences intrude deeply into the reflexive project of the self, and conversely where processes of self-realisation influence global strategies”. Associated with the concept is a widespread revitalization of the debate about the rights and responsibilities of citizenship and the limits of nation-state power.

In his book ‘Leisure Theory: principle and practice’ (2005) Rojek presents these characteristics of life politics:

  • Rejection of old Left/Right divisions.

  • Focus on the politics and ethics of embodiment (everyone’s actions are influenced by their genetic composition, mental–physical attributes, stage in the life cycle, gender, class, race, status and other relations of power) and environment (everyone is spatially and culturally positioned, and their position is associated with distinct beliefs, values and networks of relations)

  • Acceptance of new civic responsibilities in caring for others and preserving the planet.

  • Emphasis on social inclusion not exclusion.

  • Recognition of globalization and cosmopolitan citizenship.

  • Commitment to a mixed market with a flourishing third sector (for example voluntary organizations and charities).

  • Scepticism about large-scale bureaucracies and multinational autonomy.

  • Rejection of political clientelism.

  • Support for multilateral solutions to global problems.

  • Recognition of the social transition to multicultural society and respect for difference.

And he connects it to the practice of leisure and in particular that of active citizenship:

The implications of life politics for leisure practice run deep. Under the old politics of Left and Right in the West, leisure was treated as a private resource. Although formally defined as separate from work it carried no obligation to extend participation in civil society.

The most powerful expression of private leisure was hedonism, that is, the individual’s pursuit of pleasure for its own sake. Left-wing approaches following the principles of romantic organicism sought to harness private leisure for collective benefits. Yet, in general, they recognized the ultimate, personal character of leisure choice and practice.

In the context of life politics leisure is no longer treated as a private resource because the effects of private practice are acknowledged to have ethical and functional consequences for the self and others. Hedonism remains a prominent cultural value. Yet unbridled hedonism, pleasure-seeking as an end in itself, is scorned because it leaves no space for exercising and enlarging citizenship rights and responsibilities, with respect to the self, others and the environment.

At the heart of life politics is the concept of the informed, active citizen. A corollary of this is that leisure is now concerned with both intrinsic satisfaction and equipping individuals to play an informed active role in social and environmental protection and enhancement.

Informed, active citizens need to be briefed about the dynamics of socio-economic inequality, racial injustice, sexual exploitation, disability rights and environmental risks.

Mass communications provide a conduit for these data and their role under leisure in life politics is pivotal. Through mass communications citizens gain the information that enables them to be active and productive in social intervention. Local networks of information through schools, universities, workplaces and neighbourhoods provide a significant supplement of information and knowledge.

Ideologically, active citizenship is presented as good for the citizen and good for the society. Leisure partnerships between citizens, corporations and the state are presented as more fulfilling and enriching than the donatory models of leisure provided by either the market or the state.

This is especially important at a moment when the state is scaling down the doctrine of the universal provision of education, health and care enshrined under the welfare state. Instead, the state is encouraging a ‘do it yourself’ attitude, albeit crucially within the ethical circumference of care for the self and care for the other.

When we connect the practice of leisure, which in it’s nature is uncoerced or voluntary and spring from a personal wish that influences a choice of how to spends one’s free time, with the concept of citizenship, we form the practice of active citizenship from which life politics can develop.

On Rojek’s list of characteristics, one in particular stands out - acceptance of new civic responsibilities in caring for others and preserving the planet. Citizenship is often associated with a sense of duty, in it’s negative connotation, to voting or paying taxes for example.

We have responsibilities but they are not necessarily chosen by us and we might not feel connected to who, or what, we have those responsibilities to. But what Rojek is referring to is a more light sense of personal responsibility arising from a heartfelt wish for a safer, healthier, happier, more fulfilling life for oneself, others and the planet and an awareness of how our actions and choices can influence and shape our own and other’s conditions and quality of life. While Giddens describes it as ‘a remoralising of daily life’, we sense that we might need new words to describe the combination of emotional integrity and creative agency citizens can experience from this new way of being political.

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