Relationship between Leisure and Self-Identity
(Graduate student of Dept. of Philosophy, National Chengchi University)
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. Thus, it is the purpose of this paper was to
examine the relationship between leisure and the process of identity
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
Keywords: identity formation, leisure participation
In my paper “The Meaning of Leisure Life in Human Rights – A Study
on the Concept of Play”, presented in Paris last year, I derived the
conclusion that leisure has strong connection with cultural rights from the
analysis of the concept of play. But why do I focus on the concept of
cultural rights? Because the rights to access culture is much more closely
related to human dignity. Moreover, according to the preamble of the
UDHR(Universal Declaration of Human Rights), they are foundations of
The term ”culture” is a complicated term. Some definitions define it as
the accumulated spiritual and material heritage of humankind. Others
related it to creative activities. Recently, there has a broad conception of
culture. Not only art, science, literature and education, but popular music,
films, the mass media, and various leisure activities are in the field that
culture is seen to comprise. If we take this conception, freedom of speech,
Kivel, B. D. and Kleiber, D. A.(2000),. p.227.
freedom of religion, freedom of association, the right to self-determination,
the right to choose one’s identity, the right to receive information, the right
to education and the right to use language that one chooses are all included
in the broadest understanding of the expression “cultural rights”.
No matter what definition we will agree in conclusion, the basic idea
behind the cultural rights we need to acknowledge and to protect is that all
human beings shall be entitled to participate in cultural life. Only in this way,
human beings have opportunity to produce cultural goods that would
flourish human society, and have equal access to those goods to develop
themselves as individuals in society.
As an individual in society, one needs to affirm her identity. She can do
this through a variety of mechanisms, including the leisure activities she will
select and participate in. Through the feedback of leisure selection and
participation can provide a context in which individuals are able to affirm
their identity and express this identity to others. This is my main concern,
identity formation, that I will describe and analysis below.
Everyone as an individual must have her inner life and interpersonal
relationship with others, if she lives in a real society. She needs to strive to
understand herself and be understood by others. Thus, she continually
derives from any activities in which she participates 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 herself 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
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
Because of using this term will cause some confusion in metaphysics. I proposed my understanding
in this footnote. When using the term “personal identity” in the processing of identity formation, it
indicates personal characteristics or traits, but not the same quantity across different time.
Deaux K. (1992), p.17.
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. For the
purpose of finding the relationship between leisure and identity formation, I
will spend more time on this important stage of human life.
Ⅲ.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 herself 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
Haggard L. M. & D. R. Williams(1992), p.1.
Kivel, B. D. and Kleiber, D. A.(2000), p.218.
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 6 , 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.
Ⅳ.Potential issues in leisure activities
1.Issue from gender assumption underlying 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
These challenges also imply personal involvement with others and testing of alternatives.
Kivel, B. D. and Kleiber, D. A.(2000), p.224.
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.
In the traditional attempts to define the concept of leisure, the way from free time, voluntary
activities and existential/spiritual statues constitute the main viewpoints in leisure definition. But from
any one aspect of these viewpoints, it always seems to be more suitable for males. And because this
situation makes the definition cannot be general.
Shaw, S. M., Kleiber, D. A., and Caldwell, L.L.(1995), p.248.
Gilligan (1979; 1982) argued that developmental theory as proposed by Erikson and others is based
on male only.
The development process of females is always closely tied to the connectedness with others, but
their separateness from others must be viewed as same important as their connectedness relations.
Young males also need to challenge their stereotypic roles and explore more alternative 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.
2.Issue from heterosexual assumption underlying leisure activities
Typically, adolescents have many opportunities to meet others and to
develop relationship with them, and for experimentation of many
self-images. However, these same opportunities are limited in many aspects
for homosexual young people. Public settings such as school parties and
dance clubs are contexts in which young people usually participate and
engage in heterosexual behaviours. It is unclear to what extent homosexual
young people avail themselves of these opportunities. What role does leisure
play as a context for identity formation among young people who
self-identity as lesbian or gay? Kivel and Kleiber (2000) proceeded from four
themes: reading myself, seeing myself (media consumption), playing myself
(sports) and expressing myself (music) to respond to this question.
The process of reading and the choice of reading are viewed as
significant because this activity provides participants with time to be
self-reflective. Through reading books, comic books and magazines in
homosexual young people’s lives, they gather information about lesbian and
Shaw, S. M., Kleiber, D. A., and Caldwell, L.L.(1995), p.259.
gay issues and also “used reading to find characters with whom they could
identify generally and in terms of their sexual identity.”14 According to the
young people participate in Kivel’s study, they thought that being openly
lesbian and gay in society would be difficult for them, but reading about
others who were lesbian, gay or bisexual give hope for them and make their
lives somewhat different.
As similarity as us, participants in Kivel’s study use media as a way of
understanding the world around them and themselves (identifying with
characters in various TV shows and films). They use those images (appears
in TV shows and films) to help them see characteristics in others, such as
strength and sensitivity, that they want to have. Those images also help them
embrace the internal knowledge that they were lesbian or gay. Yet, those
images and their identification with those characters cannot move them any
closer to embracing an openly lesbian or gay identity.
Sports provide contexts for participants challenging themselves and/or
resisting traditional gender roles. This point we have seen in Shaw, Kleiber
and Caldwell’s finding. But more has been shown in Kivel’s study. According
to participants in her study, they use sports as a context to further confirm
their sexual identity and/or to confirm why they do not want to participate
in sports. They valued sports only for its instrumental component, e.g.,
sports can assist them with personal identity formation and provide the
social context for attracting same gender as them (especially, females). “…
Participants seemed less interested in sports for its inherently expressive
qualities or for the opportunities to affirm the social identity of an athlete”15.
Rather, especially for male participants, they dislike of sport just because its
conventional norms of masculinity and heterosexuality.
Music, like sports, provides participants with a context for
understanding themselves and for challenging traditional gender norms
either. Kivel and Kleiber indicated that social norms and customs seem to
dictate the choice of musical instruments along gender lines. Take drums for
an example, it was typically an instrument that males played. So lesbian
participants who played drums in high school band would think it is a cool
thing to do, because it was such a male-dominated type of instrument. By
choosing this particular instrument, they thought other women would find
them to be attractive. They did not publicly claim their lesbian identity, nor
want to identify themselves as drummers. Gay participants make their
Kivel, B. D. and Kleiber, D. A.(2000),. p.222.
Kivel, B. D. and Kleiber, D. A.(2000),. p.225.
choices of musical instrument in a different way. One of gay participants
who would have preferred to play the saxophone, but he decided to choose
to play trumpet. He has a stereotype in his mind that guys were not
supposed to play saxophone and he didn’t want to leave any hints that I
might be gay. Thus, in order to convey the social identity of a heterosexual
male, he chose to play trumpet.
According to the four contexts mentioned above, Kivel and Kleiber
indicated that “the motivation for participation seemed to have little to do
with acquiring a skill associated with a particular leisure activity, but “more
to do with using leisure in instrumental way to confirm various aspect of
personal identity.”16 Moreover, some homosexual participants even choose
to not to engage in certain leisure activities that may have publicly identified
with them as lesbian or gay identity. Leisure participation can provide
contexts contribute to identity formation, but the underlying assumption
may make various activities are largely positive not always be the case.
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
Kivel, B. D. and Kleiber, D. A.(2000),. pp.225-6.
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
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. Journal of Leisure Research,