This international conference, organized by the Center for Western American and Asia/Pacific Studieswill be held at the Sorbonne November 12-13, 2004. It intends to redefine the boundaries of “leisure” within American society and investigate how leisure relates to our way of exercising freedom, individually or collectively.
Once considered as a prerogative of aristocratic elites, leisure has evolved towards less restrictive, more democratic forms, especially in North America where it has become some sort of standard consumer good, easily and largely accessible to the masses.
The proliferation of modes and forms of leisure in the US – whether dedicated spaces like fairgrounds, World Expos, theme parks or national parks, or deliberate explorations of space as implied by most forms of tourism – leads us to wonder how leisure connects with such essential values as liberty and work, how in North America it matches the Aristotelian definition which sees work as a mere agent of production for leisure time or how Americans managed to meet their need for freedom and happiness through leisure.
As social practice, leisure incorporates a strong desire for escape, which itself implies the existence of a difficult or imperfect relation to living conditions (especially in urban areas) or way of life. We might therefore inquire about the therapeutic power of leisure.
We want also to examine the institutional dimension of leisure, the assortment of legal and judicial tools that shape entertainment and recreation in the US, the various ways of organizing and managing leisure at all levels of institutional responsibility, local, state and federal. Is there anything like a “right of leisure” in America and how is it translated? As regards access, what progress has been made that would open wider the “territory of leisure” for the American people?
The conference will also focus on the structures of leisure, not just the facilities but the social policies which target the family, define and frame free time, entertainment or collective celebrations. We may here deal with holidays, fairs, festivals, sport venues, art shows, etc.
This social aspect of leisure cannot be severed from its moral aspect: we may wonder to what extent leisure matches up with the traditional protestant work ethics that underscores economic and social life in North America. Is the freedom to be idle compatible with the ideology of success, the philosophy of individual progress or even the “American Dream”?
On the contrary, should we submit to some sort of commitment to have fun ? Is there a social morality of pleasure that would fit Baudrillard’s “Fun system”, or what he calls “the duty of enjoyment”?
Leisure means profit: in the US it has now become a major economic activity and materialized Ben Franklin’s famous phrase, “American recreation is business”. The leisure market keeps on growing at a fast pace, much as the leisure industry which controls it. We are challenged to study the impact of this profit-making mass business (“Big Leisure”) which thrives magnificently these days. Has the creation of a “leisure society”, of more “democratic” forms of mass leisure, engendered a greater freedom for consumers?
Finally, we should redesign the outlines of an American model of leisure, and wonder if it assumes a canonical shape or offers several variants, according to place (regional models) or types of communities (urban/rural). Also, what measure of innovation can this model propose? Is this American model likely to be transplanted abroad? The financial results of Eurodisney, for example, may come as a denial. This kind of misfortune leads us to consider In the merchandized world of leisure the key to survival lies in a good capacity for renewing the sources and agents of entertainment or recreation (the astonishing growth of Las Vegas, of game and money leisure, as well as the evolution of the shopping malls towards entertainment – what is known as “retailtainment” -- prove it). the role of leisure in the construction of a collective cultural identity and to call into question the people’s adherence or allegiance to a national American culture.
Professor of American Studies
University of Paris 4- Sorbonne
1 rue Victor Cousin - 75230 PARIS CEDEX 05
Phone: +33 1 40 46 25 93
Fax: +33 1 40 46 25 12 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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