Origins of the Leisure Studies Association

(Originally published in LSA Newsletter No. 87, November 2010)

Professor Ken Roberts

This is a personal memoir. Ken Roberts was present at all the events that are referred to. Invaluable assistance in preparing this article has been received from Mike Collins, John Haworth, Jonathan Long, Myrene McFee and Tony Veal. 

Smith M A, Parker S and Smith C S, eds (1973), Leisure and Society in Britain, Allen Lane, London.

Haworth J T and Smith M A, eds (1975), Work and Leisure, Lepus Books, London.

These are the books that demonstrated the burgeoning academic interest in leisure. The main entrepreneur, an editor of both volumes, was Mike Smith, a sociology lecturer at Salford University. His collaborators were Cyril Smith, who had a background and interest in youth work but had become a lecturer at the Civil Service Staff College; and Stan Parker whose PhD had become the basis of the book, The Future of Work and Leisure (MacGibbon and Kee, London, 1971). Stan had moved into the Office of Population, Censuses and Surveys (now the Office for National Statistics) but retained links with Regent Street Polytechnic, which became part of the Central London Polytechnic and is now part of Westminster University. John Haworth was then a psychology lecturer at Manchester University.

Mike Smith was to create a Centre for Leisure Studies and Research at Salford, which was basically a shell for his own work. In 1973, following the publication of Leisure and Society in Britain, he and John Haworth organised a one-day conference at Salford where the schedule and the designated room were overwhelmed by the numbers attending. Some of the papers presented became the contents of Work and Leisure (above). Another outcome was a Directory of Leisure Scholars and Researchers, edited by Mike Smith and Stan Parker, first issued by Salford University in 1973 and re-issued in an expanded form in 1975. Probably the most significant outcome was the formation of a Leisure Research Group (alternatively known as the Leisure Studies Group). This group co-organised (together with the Sociology of Sport and Games Group of the British Sociological Association) a conference at the Polytechnic of Central London in January 1975. A further conference was held in Birmingham in May 1975 where the Leisure Research Group became the Leisure Studies Association. The proceedings of these two 1975 conferences became publications 1 and 2 in the ongoing LSA series.

At that time leisure studies, and the LSA, had the backing of a number of academic heavyweights who gave the project credibility. Terry Coppock, Professor of Geography at Edinburgh University, had created a Tourism and Recreation Research Unit (TRRU) in 1967, whose early staff included Brian Duffield and Jonathan Long. Barry Cullingworth and Gordon Cherry, and subsequently Tony Travis, all professors at Birmingham University, were running a Centre for Urban and Regional Research (CURS) whose agenda included research to inform planning for leisure. Tony Veal and Judy White became involved in leisure studies at CURS. Alan Patmore and Brian Rodgers, professors of geography at the universities of Hull (Patmore), and Keele then Manchester (Rodgers), were both sport enthusiasts and were members of the Sports Council Advisory Group (SCAG). Patmore had also written an influential book, Land and Leisure (Penguin, Harmondsworth, 1972). Robert and Rhona Rapoport had created a London-based Institute for Family and Environmental Research which was conducting research into leisure and people's needs. The results were incorporated into their book, Leisure and Family Life Cycle (Routledge, London, 1975).

There was also strong support for leisure research from a number of public sector bodies, and key individuals within them. These included Michael Dower, who had formerly been at the Devon-based Dartington Amenity Research Trust (DART), then became the first Director-General of the Countryside Commission, and Roger Sidaway, also of the Countryside Commission, where a Countryside Recreation Research Advisory Group (CRRAG) had been created in 1968. A general reorganisation of local government in 1974 led to the creation of omnibus departments with 'leisure' and''recreation' in their titles, and many of the directors of these new departments were keen to foster (and in some cases were willing to fund) research which would lay a knowledge base for their activities. The Sports Council research officers, especially Mike Collins, Head of Research, Planning and Strategy, who was subsequently joined by Sue Glyptis, were keen to promote social science research into sport and leisure via the Sports Council Advisory Group (SCAG). These were among the key lobbyists who persuaded the Sports Council and the Social Science Research Council to set up a Joint Panel to fund a programme of leisure research. The initial venture of the Joint Panel was to commission a series of 26 state of the art reviews, which were followed by 12 research projects, all between 1978 and 1985.

Sociologists, economists and psychologists were involved in the formation of UK leisure studies, but the strongest contributions in the 1970s were from geography and public administration / planning. Sociology (loosely interpreted) gradually became more prominent, then dominant.

The locations of the first six LSA conferences (London, Birmingham, Manchester and Edinburgh) are explained by the locations of Stan Parker, Mike Smith and John Haworth, TRRU and CURS.

The SSRC (later ESRC)/Sports Council Joint Panel had to decide how to use its budget. One possibility was to concentrate the funding on one or more of the existing leisure research centres (Edinburgh and Birmingham). This would have elevated one or both into major centres of leisure research. The decision instead was to disperse the funding and hope to attract new talent into leisure research. On balance, and with hindsight, the strategy was probably unsuccessful. Too many projects went to researchers who were pre-selected and invited to bid. The most successful projects were probably those awarded following open competitions. One was the Sheffield study: Green E, Hebron S and Woodward D, Women's Leisure, What Leisure? Macmillan, London, 1990. It is probably still on reading lists, and likewise Jeff Bishop and Paul Hoggett's study of clubs (Organizing Around Enthusiasms, Comedia, London, 1986). I don't think any of the other outputs have enjoyed such longevity. Most of the talent that was drawn into leisure studies moved out as soon as their projects ended. Nevertheless, the state of the art reviews, and the publications from the funded projects, set alongside the lengthening series of LSA conference papers, created a research-based UK literature that could be used by the leisure courses that were being launched throughout UK higher education (mainly in the polytechnics).

By the early-1980s the UK's leisure researchers were producing a sufficiently healthy stream of output to encourage the LSA to launch a journal, and Leisure Studies first appeared in 1982. This was not the world's first scholarly journal in its field. That title belongs to the Journal of Leisure Research, first published by the (US) National Recreation and Parks Association in 1969 (if we discount the World Leisure Journal which began life as a newsletter which grew into a professionally-oriented magazine and became a full-refereed scholarly journal only at the end of the 1990s).

In 1984 the LSA held its first international conference, hosted by the Chelsea School, University of Brighton, at the University of Sussex in Brighton which still holds the record as the largest ever LSA event (275 attended). Ever since then LSA conferences have been widely regarded as among the top events for attendance by leisure researchers from all over the world.

In 1987 the home of LSA Publications, which had been at the Polytechnic of North London, moved to the University of Brighton at Eastbourne with Alan Tomlinson as publications officer aided by Myrene McFee, and in 1993 LSA Publications began to produce books of edited conference papers as opposed to the previous 'conference proceedings'. The income from LSA publications, and [latterly] royalties from Leisure Studies, have given the LSA a solid foundation and a stable administrative base, which enables the association to punch above the weight that one might expect from a scholarly body with a membership fluctuating around 200.