Serious leisure

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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 (leisure) career in acquiring and expressing a combination of its special skills, knowledge, and experience. The adjective "serious" (a word research interviewees often use to describe their free time passion) 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. The interviewees said their leisure is serious and therefore fundamentally different from what some called “casual” leisure, or the hedonic pleasures of life (see casual leisure).

Three Basic Types

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, though 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.

Hobbyists are classified according to five categories: 1) collectors, 2) makers and tinkerers, 3) activity participants (in non-competitive, 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 6) the enthusiasts of the liberal arts hobbies, which are primarily focused reading pursuits.

Volunteers, whether pursuing serious, casual, or project-based leisure, offer uncoerced 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 (the volitional conception), but rather that of volunteering as unpaid work (Stebbins, 1996). 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. The term "career volunteer" is often used to distinguish serious leisure participants from volunteers seeking casual or project-based volunteering.

Distinguishing Serious Leisure

Serious leisure is further distinguished from two other forms of leisure – casual and project-based – by six qualities found exclusively or in highly elaborated expression only in the first. These qualities are 1) need to persevere at the activity, 2) availability of a leisure career, 3) need to put in effort to gain skill and knowledge, 4) realization of various special benefits, 5) unique ethos and social world, and 6) an attractive personal and social identity. Several personal and social rewards (e.g., self-fulfillment, contribution to the group or community) help further explain a person’s interest in serious leisure, which is at bottom, his or her leisure experience. These six are elaborated in Stebbins (1992; 2007) and many other publications.


Robert A. Stebbins began studying amateurs (classical musicians) in late 1973. This was also the start of his 15-year study of eight samples of amateurs (and in some instances professionals as well) in art, science, sport, and entertainment (summarized in Stebbins, 1992). The initial conceptual statement of the concept of serious appeared in the early 1980s (Stebbins, 1982). Eldon Snyder (1986) became the first to apply the idea of serous leisure to the study of hobbyists, in this instance, elderly shuffleboard players. Initial theory and research on volunteering as serious leisure came somewhat later. Even before Stan Parker wrote his conceptualization of volunteering as serious leisure (Parker, 1992), he had already gathered data on volunteers for peace (Parker, 1987).

As the Serious Leisure Perspective website shows, Stebbins has almost exclusively pioneered this field theoretically (aided by Parker, 1992; Yoder, 1997; Siegenthaler & O’Dell, 2003). He has also contributed a good amount of empirical research to it. Today, however, hundreds of scholars and practitioners across the world have carried out a wide range of studies that examine and apply the Perspective and deepen understanding of its three forms leisure (serious, casual, and project-based). As evidence of the conceptual maturity of the field, James Gould was able to lead a team in developing the Serious Leisure Inventory and Measure (SLIM). This scale estimates whether a person has a serious or casual approach to a given activity (Gould et al, 2008).

The Future

Recently Stebbins has been thinking increasingly in terms of the interrelationship of serious, casual, and project-based leisure. The umbrella framework for this level of analysis and theorizing he dubbed the “serious leisure perspective”. To date the principal reading on the Perspective is Serious Leisure (Stebbins, 2007). This book shows, among other things, the considerable extension of the idea of serious leisure into related applied fields as varied as tourism, arts administration, therapeutic recreation, and library and information science.


Gould, J., Moore, D., McGuire, F., & Stebbins, R.A. (2008). Development of the Serious Leisure Inventory and Measure. Journal of Leisure Research, 40 (1), 47-68. Full Text Permalink

  • Abstract: In this investigation, the serious leisure inventory and measure (SLIM) was developed from convenience and target samples. The multidimensional frame-work of serious leisure contains six qualities from which 18 operations were employed. With the use of a q-sort, an expert panel, and confirmatory factor analysis, the 72 item SLIM demonstrated acceptable fit, reliability and equivalence across samples. Mean differences and correlation patterns found between samples demonstrated preliminary evidence for the predictive ability of the new measure. The SLIM short form (54 items) demonstrated good model fit and construct validity. Future replications are needed to adequately address the psychometric complexities of the SLIM within the network of interrelated leisure constructs.

Parker, S.R. (1987). Working for peace as serious leisure. Leisure Information Quarterly, 13(4), 9-10.

Parker, S.R. (1992). Volunteering as serious leisure. Journal of Applied Recreation Research, 17, 1-11.

Siegenthaler, K.L., & O’Dell, I. (2003). Older golfers: Serious leisure and successful aging. World Leisure Journal, 45(1), 45-52.

Snyder, E.E. (1986). The social world of shuffleboard: Participation among senior citizens. Urban Life, 15, 237-53.

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 and Kingston, ON: McGill-Queen's University Press.

Stebbins, R.A. (1996). Volunteering: A serious leisure perspective. Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly, 25, 211-224. Full Text

  • Abstract:  A handful of observers have suggested that volunteering can be defined and described as a leisure activity. Extending this reasoning, it is argued that many kinds of volunteering, because they foster the acquisition and expression of a combination of special skills, knowledge, and experience, can be looked on as serious leisure. The serious leisure perspective not only defines and explains volunteers and volunteering as self-interested leisure but also opens the way to a more comprehensive theoretical statement of leisure volunteering than was heretofore available. In this artick, the author explores the leisure components of all volunteering to learn where the serious leisure model applies. Distinctions are drawn between types of volunteering: career and casual, formal and informal, and occupational and nonoccupational. The perspective fails to fit each type equally well. It fits best the types of volunteering classifiable as formal and nonoccupational, types in which wlunteers normally find substantial leisure careers.

Stebbins, R.A. (2007). Serious leisure: A perspective for our time. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction.

Yoder, D.G. (1997). A model for commodity intensive serious leisure. Journal of Leisure Research, 29, 407-429. Full Text Permalink

  • Abstract: This study explored tournament bass fishing, compared it with the conventional model of serious leisure and investigated the relationships among various groups in the sport. Data were collected using a mixed methodological approach that combined a review of documents, participant observations, in-depth interviews and self-administered surveys. Research subjects included members of two local bass fishing clubs, their significant others, ex-tournament bass fishermen and professional bass fishermen. Although the organizational model of serious leisure developed largely by Robert Stebbins provides a valuable framework for understanding many leisure activities, it is insufficient to explain this commodity intensive sport. This article posits a new model that recognizes the influential roles of commodity agents and professionals/commodity agents. In recognizing the conflictual elements as well as the functional elements in this particular social world, this research provides a more complete understanding of the relationships between the groups in commodity intensive serious leisure activities.

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