Relationship between Leisure and Self-Identity
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Leisure plays an important role in identity formation. According to Haggard & Williams(1992), we can construct contexts that provide us with information that believe and confirm who we are, and provide others with information that will agree them to understand us more accurately through leisure participation. But how the detail this process takes will be needed more descriptions and studies. Some researchers, like Shaw, Caldwell, Kivel and Kleiber, reject that leisure participation always affords positive influence as some researches indicated or as we expected. From considering the issues about gender and/or sexual identity, “we know ourselves not only by what we do, but also by what we choose not to do”1. In their studies, therefore, the importance that we expect leisure participation can benefit to participants will be reduced.
Everyone as an individual must have their inner life and interpersonal relationship with others, if they live in a real society. They needs to strive to understand themselves and be understood by others. Thus, they continually derives from any activities in which they participate as the resources to form or reform her identity. General speaking, successful identity formation should involve the integration of personal identity2 and social identity. The former refers to core characteristics of an individual, such as one believes themselves as a smart or a kind person. The latter refers to a view of self in relation to others/groups and social identification, e.g., being a student, a son, an athlete, a writer and so forth. According to Deaux, the formed identity is “integrated [personal and social], internal and reasonably permanent”.3 Identity formation is thought to be the major developmental tasks of adolescence. Adolescent period is usually divided into three parts: early, middle and late stages.
The upper end of late adolescence is around 23 years of age(Santrock, 1990). Typically thinking, it is the time in which individuals begin the process of development of self-structure. Erikson(1968) suggested that it is this crucial developmental step associated with the transition from adolescence to adulthood. Other researchers, like Kleiber, Larson, and Csikszentmihayli(1986), also think that the identity development process bridge the gap between childhood play and adult work. What role does leisure play in identity formation?
Silberesian and Todt (1994) suggested that leisure might be considered the “fourth environment” for adolescent development in addition to school, family and peer groups. Hendry, Shucksmith, Love, and Glendinning (1993) claimed that leisure provides an extended context for those adolescents whose expect for advanced schooling. According to Hendry(1983), Kelly(1990) and Silberesian and Todt(1994) , leisure also provides an ideal context for experimenting with different roles and activities patterns. Moreover, from Haggard and Williams’ observation, researcher interested in self-concept developmental process have the belief that “leisure contributes to this developmental process in which human beings being actively seek to understand themselves in relation to the world around them, and to maintain a sense of self-consistency and positive regard.”4 Leisure provides an appropriate and positive context for developing one’s self identity. These views broadens the field of self-concept from examining what one believe themselves to be, to an exploration of the rich and varied array of self-relevant beliefs.
Through participation in leisure activities, adolescents draw meaning from their actions and interactions that tell them about themselves. They are motivated to bring the perceived self into consistence with the ideal self they have in mind. They are autonomous in choosing and through participation in various leisure activities offer many images of self, served as role playing, that are “primarily liberating in allowing one to test out alternatives.”5 In the process of participating in leisure activities, Haggard and Williams (1992) found, makes individuals affirm their leisure identities that served as an important source of motivation for participation in leisure activities. In the process of identity formation, young people have many opportunities to experiment many ideal self-images through engaging in various leisure activities. But they do not seek to validate all images equally. Rather, they will focus primarily on those images that are positive and desirable by their leisure identities. It is suggested that sports may be an important type of transitional activities for adolescents.
Not only do sports represent physical and mental challenges, but also they provide an identity based on a sense of competence or identification with a social group. Take being a pitcher or a basketball player for examples, many adolescents in Taiwan want to be Wang Chien-ming and Michael Jordan. In Kivel and Kleiber’s research, leisure activities(e.g., sports, especially) function as a context that “some participants used to search for individuals who were ‘similar’ to them, and it was a venue for developing friendships and potential relationships.”7 Similarly, according to Garton and Pratt(1987), social activities (public leisure activities) which constitute a large component of adolescent’s free time are considered to be beneficial, because they may facilitate the social relatedness aspect of identity formation. Thus, through leisure activities we construct contexts that provide us with information that affirm the self-images we desire to be, and provide others with information that agree them to understand us. Potential issues in leisure activities
Many researchers have suggested that leisure is an important context for identity formation. Larson’s (1994) research indicated that the context of leisure can provide opportunities for positive, healthy adolescent development. But not all the identity formation that occurs during leisure activities is necessarily good and healthy to individuals. Here comes the first issue from Shaw, Kleiber and Caldwell’s (1995) research. Although they didn’t deny that participation in leisure activities is one important component of adolescent lifestyle, which may potentially facilitate the formation of identity. But they also indicated the possibility that participation in leisure activities will make the process of identity more complicated. What do they worry about? Their worry may be an old issue arises from the inclination of androcentric thought and sexual discrimination exists in the definition of leisure8. So they suggested that “any analysis of relationship between leisure and identity development needs to take gender into account.”9 And they found that adolescent development of identity may vary by their gender.
Female developmental processes may differ from those of males in some fundamental ways. They have different needs for development and along a different developmental pathway from males. But this fact is usually ignored when research goes10. Shaw, Kleiber and Caldwell argued that the literature provides clear evidence to show the variation in leisure participation and interests are associated by gender. Adolescent activities are characterized by gender stereotype. Therefore, we can find easily in our society that sport player was usually associated with stereotypic male and cheerleader with female. And these social status and relative activities reinforce some character traits such as toughness, aggressiveness, competitiveness for males, and caring, fitting in and obedience for females. So it’s easy to see why identity development may be more complicated for females than males, because females live in a male-dominated society, and the separateness from others11 that be viewed as an important individuation component of identity development is not always available to females. Back to adolescent development, Shaw, Kleiber and Caldwell found that taking gender into account on research has implications for analysis of leisure and identity development.
For adolescent girls, they need activities that can promote their independence and autonomy, since many of activities they participate in during their free time tend to emphasize connectedness with others. In other words, it may be important for adolescent girls to challenge traditional feminine role through participation in non-traditional activities. This view is also suitable for adolescent boys and benefits male development12. Leisure activities should be gender neutral, that is, they are not stereotypically male or female. Sports have traditionally been viewed as stereotypically male and provide young men with a set of challenging and involving leisure activities. Males participate in sports tend to reinforce traditional notions of masculinity. Under this context that sports provide, participation might reduce the real exploration of alternative ways of thinking of self for young men. But, for young women, sports can provide physical and mental challenge, they may provide a new way of thinking of self which challenges traditional notions of femininity either.
This result is consistent with Kleiber and Kirshnit’s (1991) contention that while sports as an important component in positive identity formation for some, they also run risk of contributing to traditional stereotype in male athletes. Other leisure activities, such as TV watching, music listening and films, come to the opposite situations. Since those activities are traditionally identified as ‘feminine’, they might be more beneficial for males and provide more challenges to males than to females. Based on these researches, Shaw, Kleiber and Caldwell’s findings do suggest that leisure activities have both beneficial and harmful effects on the identity formation process of adolescents. Leisure activities may have positive influence on development as well as may have impact on developmental process itself. The relationships between participation in leisure activities and identity formation may depend on “the type of activity participated in and on the gendered nature of activity.”13 Therefore, the relationships are bi-directional rather than causal. Conclusion
According to Shaw, Kleiber and Caldwell’s study, their finding indicate that it is because leisure activities have its underlying gender assumption, leisure activities may have both beneficial and detrimental effects on the identity formation process of adolescents. Since most societies we live in are male-dominated, participation in non-traditional activities might have more positive benefits on young female adolescents’ development. Certain leisure activities (e.g., sports) which still have male rather female or gender neutral implication, may provide female to explore alternative opportunities in the process of determining their own independent sense of self. Thus, it seems that there is a need to distinguish traditional male and traditional female activities, and a requirement to take gender into account in understanding the relationship between leisure and identity formation, since they may have differential impacts on adolescent development.
Research on homosexual adolescents’ identity development, lead Kivel and Kleiber to the conclusion that the influence of leisure contexts, related to the integration of personal and social identity formation, was reduced by young people’s need to conceal their sexual identity. Thus, leisure contexts may only have explicitly contributed to participants’ personal identity, but may have less benefit to form their social identity. Ironically, for some participants in Kivel and Kleiber’s study, it was the choice to not participate in certain activities that seemed to be good for their identity formation. Because lesbian and gay participants felt that some leisure activities may have been a context that highlighted their sexual identity, so they distanced from participating in. Focus on my main concern. “What role does leisure play for identity formation?” Haggard and William will reply that leisure is an important context for identity formation, because it is a place where young people can not only experiment with identity, but can also affirm and then internalize different aspects of identity. Combined this answer with the finding in Shaw, Kleiber and Caldwell’s study is still consistent with the original thought that leisure may provide positive effects on identity formation, but they indicated that it may also not always be the case, too.
Plus with Kivel and Kleiber’s conclusion, positive effects that leisure contexts may provide will be reduced by young people’s need to conceal their sexual identity. Then, leisure contexts were beneficial in terms of private, personal identity formation, but not in terms of public, social identity formation. After understanding the content of these issues that arise from the underlying assumptions in leisure activities, it is easy to imagine that similar issues will arise from race, colour, and social classes. But there has no need to sink into pessimism. Within the fields of leisure studies, leisure is still generally assumed to be a positive context for adolescent development. The issues about leisure’s assumptions do no fatal destruction to the relationship between leisure and identity formation. Rather, I think, they provide another way of thinking and much more reflection. Kivel and Kleiber concluded in their study that it is important for researchers in leisure to trouble conventional assumption about leisure and pick fault on some leisure contexts provide development benefit one aspect of identity at the expense of other aspects. Future researches can depend on these comments and provide some available way to rectify prejudices exist in our society.
By this way, I believe, the more accurate understanding of the relationship between leisure and identity formation we get from new researches, the more positive contribution might have to development process than before. Identity development may be seen as a process of social construction of self. It is crucial to check its contexts in which development may occur, because the development process is thought to be largely affected by them. Unfortunately, these contexts have some conventional prejudices within them. Such as sexual-based prejudice may mitigate participant’s full commitment to leisure and heterosexual assumption may make lesbian and gay refuse to access to leisure. However, it is just because of these findings that we can use for directing our society to set up gender neutral and non-prejudiced social policies. Just like most feminists do, from academic domain to society issues, they operate their penetrative sensitivity and provide their distinctive viewpoints.
Their studies can always provoke deeper reflection and advanced understanding. The same as the crisis appear in leisure researches, through research of leisure activities make us understand more and more about what values and norms are conveyed through leisure contexts, to what extent might various leisure contexts reinforce prejudice and discrimination against individual as female, lesbian or gay, and etc. And take gender, heterosexism, and other factors that might affect leisure participation into account would be necessary for understanding identity formation. Surprisingly, from issues of underlying assumptions exist in leisure activities, we learn more and pin down the direction of future researches.
Deaux, K. (1992). Personalizing Identity and Socializing Self. In G. Breakwell (Ed.), Social Psychology of Identity and the Self-Concept (pp.9-33). New York: Surrey University Press. Haggard, L. M., & Williams, D. R. (1992). Self-identity Benefits of Leisure Activities. In B. L. Driver, P. J. Brown and G. L. Peterson (Eds.), Benefits of Leisure (pp. 103-119). State College, PA: Venture. Haggard, L. M., & Williams, D. R. (1992). Identity affirmation through leisure activities: Leisure symbols of the self. Journal of Leisure Research, 24(1), 1-18. Kivel, B. D. and Kleiber, D. A. (2000). Leisure in the Identity Formation of Lesbian/Gay Youth: Personal, but not Social. Leisure Science, 22, 215-232. Shaw, S. M., Kleiber, D. A., and Caldwell, L.L. (1995). Leisure and Identity Formation in Male and Female Adolescents: A Preliminary Examination.