Hanging Out: Chapter 2

Time’s Mutation and Meaning

A black Jamaican woman attending a UNESCO-sponsored conference on “Technology and the Arts” explained the way her people regard the temporal.  “We believe,” she said, “it is more important to be in time, than on time.”  She said this during the course of a conversation among an internationally diverse group of conference members.  They were discussing the impact of television technology on music, especially spontaneous music like the involvement of black people in a worship service.  “The music doesn’t necessarily start on time but it is in time,” she said.  Many others concurred.  The service may be ten or fifteen minutes late starting.  That is unimportant, really.  Music announces the start of the service for black church goers and there is no precise moment it must conclude. To do so would disturb its spontaneity and its authenticity.  This will not do for television programming in the United States which is geared to precise beginnings and endings.  Thus TV technology’s requirements distort the rhythmic cadences of black worship.

This example of a social time specific to black religious groups expresses well what this concept means.  Every group has its own social times or rhythms. These times are the creations of multiple social interactions of a group’s members. These social rhythms are not intruders from outside but the result of how the group decides they shall order their activities. Time is one of the most powerful organizing mechanisms of group life.  

A school has a calendar which is quite different from those of a factory, church, or political party.  We all live in multiple social time zones. In order to get a handle on unemployment, work and leisure, let’s look at their rhythmic cadences.

We have already mentioned the mutation in time’s use. Time’s ordering framework has dramatically shifted, a direct result of the changes in the industrial system itself. The three social times of unemployment, freedom from paid work, and leisure are the results of new technologies which have reduced the need for human workers while increasing production.  Some of these workers have arranged to share their time at work with each other resulting in fewer working hours, days, and years while maintaining an increasing income.  In other words, as we shall later see, the historic increase in free time from employment has been a result of a vast system of job sharing. Each economic cyclical downturn has resulted in trying to lessen the unemployment by spreading the work among all workers.  Each worker, by virtue of this toils fewer hours, or weeks, or years and when he/she is not working others take their places.  Add to this specific arrangements two or three persons have made among each other and with the employer by which they each work a segment of the time of the one job.  That segment is shorter than a full-time position.  For instance, two persons might share a post as curator of a museum.  One works one-half year full-time while the other has free time from employment.  The second half of the year the second person occupies the post on a full-time basis.  General part time and temporary work are also a segment of this picture.  We shall look at this whole question of job-sharing in much greater detail later on.

Others have suffered the disabling status of losing their jobs to these machines. Since then, they have been unable to find paid work because they are unskilled and/or the positions are simply not there.  Hence, while some have free time from the job, others must deal with a “time without work.”  They are the army of the unemployed.  Both are products of a rapidly changing industrial order.

This is the silent, unnoticed revolution that has crept into our petty pace of everyday.  The extraordinary thing is that we now have much more time away from paid employment than we have on it.  Those now entering the work force can expect to work at a paid job less than twenty percent of their lifetime waking hours, while eighty-two percent of those waking hours will be outside the workshop!  Of this time without work, some estimate nearly ninety percent of it is leisure. (Dumazedier, 1986)  Is unwanted free time, leisure?  Is there a difference between leisure and free time?  What does all of this mean?

First, that time which a person has on his hands because of a lost job or a plant closing, or a business moving to a new location, is not free time.  It is unwanted, and therefore, unoccupied time.  (Dumazedier, 1985)  Free time is those free periods from paid work and household/family work; periods of layoffs or searching for work are qualitatively different.  They are “unfree.”  Why?  Because people are not “free” to enjoy it.  They “should” be out there job hunting. Current tradition holds that people earn real free time by working at a job for certain periods and then going home, quitting the work place for a while. Workers have as well collectively fought for reduced working hours, days and years. They have done so for three reasons: the need to share the work with others who can’t find it; their general deep dissatisfaction with the kind of work they must do; and they themselves have come to value the time periods outside of paid work as a time for their own personal enjoyment and enrichment, including service to the community, to others. They want it.  

Women have become conscious of their plight as the domestic workers of industrial societies even when they are holding down a job outside the home. This is particularly necessary today because of the expanding numbers of households headed by women.  Also, many intact families require two incomes in order to maintain the level of living they need to survive or they have come to expect. Women’s growing consciousness of this situation underlines a point we’re making here, that household work and child care are not free time. Lamentably these do not figure into the national accounts of the United States. Yet, the actual worth of persons doing housework has been computed.  Court cases abound in which, for purposes of calculating alimony or distribution of family holding between spouses in the process of divorce, such accounting has been done.  Family work has both economic and domestic importance.   It is particularly important now to include this in our national accounting system.

We see then that free time is that time available after paid work and family responsibilities are over.  The children are in bed or at summer camp.  This time is free in that one may choose to use it certain ways. The French think tank, Echange et Projets, makes an important point in their book La révolution du temps choisi, (1980).  The Revolution in Optional Time has occurred.  Free time is a fact of life for modern industrial societies.  They go on to note the incongruity between an increasing desire to have more time off to do what one wants to do and the existence of growing unemployment.  They also take into account the inequality of free time’s availability.  These are issues we shall consider at length in Chapters 4, 5, and 6.  For now, suffice it to say the authors of La revolution du temps choisi have put forward a significant thesis.  Incidentally, this book greatly influenced the French socialist government– elected in 1981–in its decision to create a Ministry of Free Time, the first western democracy to do so.  Though the Ministry was later absorbed into that of Sport and Youth, the very fact the French government took such a step is important.  Free time, time one chooses to do with as he/she desires, is growing.

This mass of free time is made up of a number of social times: social-political, social-spiritual, and leisure time, the latter for self-development.

One use of free time is participating actively in a politically oriented group with certain political goals to accomplish.  A political party is an example; likewise a voluntary association like “The Free South Africa Movement” or the American Friends Service Committee.  Other groups such as the Audubon Society, which is dedicated to bird study, might at first glance seen primarily leisure oriented; however, they have in the last twenty years become heavily involved in the ecological, Green movement, a nation-wide effort to protect and renew the physical and cultural environment of this nation.  Time budget studies which try to determine how people use their time by asking them to keep careful diaries of daily activities report that only about ten percent of the active population are “politically” involved.  As to actual amounts of time, they spend only about eleven minutes a day working for the Audubon Society or something similar.  (Robinson, 1985)  Like the economy or the family, polity (government) is a necessary and fundamental institution of society.  Citizenship involves participation in such groups in sufficient numbers that a viable democracy will continue to exist.

Another use of free time is committing oneself to a religious group. Again, religion is one of those vital requirements of society if it is to persist in time.  Religion is a fundamental source of stability, caring, and compassion, and is one of the  moral foundations of the social order.  About 42 percent of the United States population regularly attend religious services. Yet these persons spend less than 10 minutes a day following some religious practice or activity. Often in the United States the political and spiritual overlap, making the amount of actual free time spent on both of these activities even less.

The gist of these observations is that a little more than ten percent of a person’s free time in this society goes towards either political or spiritual activities.  More of the free time is devoted to the family.  However, family use of free time from employment is often mixed with leisure.  Perhaps as much as thirty percent of free time is devoted to the family.  Still, the majority of free time (60 to 65 percent) is leisure.  


What is leisure time?  As I shall use the term in this book “leisure” is that part of free time a person can spend doing those activities which allow for self-development, self-expression and self-enhancement. These activities are “self-fulfilling,” to use Daniel Yankelovich’s term (1982).  In research carried out from 1970 to 1980 he and his colleagues discovered that nearly eighty percent of their national sample of the adult population of the United States were affected in their personal philosophy of life by these great shifts in culture subsumed in the notion of self-fulfillment. (89)

Twenty percent of the people, about 34 million, hold on to traditional norms:  

[this group] includes many older people, particularly in rural areas.  It includes Americans who are conservative in their cultural outlook.  And it also includes some poorer Americans, black and white, who, having been excluded from the affluence of the past, nonetheless do not question the merits of the old getting/giving compact.  Owning a fine car and home, living in a nice neighborhood, maintaining an intact family life, working hard for these goals, sacrificing self-expression for the sake of an education or for their family–these remain their unqualified values.  Their life styles and philosophy have not changed from the outlook that dominated America in the nineteen-fifties and earlier periods.” (Yankelovich, 1982: 89)

However, the majority are questioning the old rules and once that starts to happen, it is hard to know where to draw the line. Yankelovich notes that “our studies show a strong increase in recent years in aimlessness, especially among young people, and also in hedonism as people find themselves abandoning the old rules without having as yet adopted new ones they can believe in.”  (90)  

Bellah, et al, in their Habits of the Heart, powerfully describe the preponderant presence of individualism as the central theme of American culture to the detriment of tradition and community.  As the time-budget studies continue to show, much more free time is devoted to leisure (self-fulfillment) or individual expression than to the needs of the community.  There is a hedonistic quality to this search for individualistic outlets and self-fulfillment.  It is worrisome for the future of the polis, a problem we will return to in Part II of this book.

The following Table compares these three types of time:

                   (Insert Table I about here)

An important factor to think about is that “unemployed time” is currently outside of free time.  However, the magnitude of unemployment, time without work, is forcing this society as well as all other industrial and Third World societies to reconsider how we regard unemployment and its social time.  We are arguing here that we no longer have the luxury of looking at unemployment through the same lenses we have up to now.  We exist in a new situation which calls for a re-examination of our attitudes, policies and practices.  The old ones are unsuitable.

Free Time’s Will-O-Wisp Character

Free time is a slippery term.  When researchers and journalists ask people how they consider time away from the job, they reply it is time off after work when you can loaf, kick off your shoes, take a nap, shoot a game of pool, go fishing, play golf, putter around the house, watch TV, or visit the in-laws.   

All free time is leisure.  Everyone seems to agree the terms are the same, but this has the result of muddying the issue. Very little thought goes into thinking about free/leisure time. Why?  Because most persons regard such time as having only secondary  importance.  Paid work is what counts and all that counts, really.  That’s the official line we have cultivated and carefully learned.  Making money, being a success, increasing in this success, i.e., making more money, is what we ought to be doing.  Oh, you can rest, lay back and take it easy if you’re on vacation, or you’re retired. You’ve earned it.  But the real thing about living is paid work.  Each Labor Day affirms this.  Political parties of all stripes emphasize it.  Working hard for pay is patriotic. Idleness is not.

However, another characteristic of free time is that it seems to be in short supply.  People talk of free time as something they do not have. “Only the rich have free time and I wouldn’t want to have their problems,” is a common response.  Associated with this attitude is the sense of feeling rushed, of not having enough time.  People have what Geoffrey Godbey calls “time famine.” (in Parker, 1976) People seem always to be busy.  They work while on vacation; they carry beepers connecting them to their office even when they are “free.”

The Swedish economist, Staffan B. Linder, wrote somewhat with tongue in cheek a book about The Harried Leisure Class in which he noted that rather than being at ease, people who have gained leisure seem to have gained little in freetime for their own use.  They feel harried because they have no time.  Linder illustrates his thesis by pointing out how each labor saving device needs to be fed and kept in running condition.  Each piece of recreational equipment, such as a boat for fishing or a VCR, requires its owner to plan fishing trips or to rent movies in order to justify having the contraptions.  So the more we have, argues Linder, the more we must find the time to use each item.

However, neither Linder nor Godbey and Parker seem to have examined sufficiently time budget studies to find out how much time people actually have which they consider free.  Nor did they have available the studies which ask the question, “Do you feel rushed?”  Both of these sources, the time budget studies and question on how rushed do you feel, discovered that the block periods of free time are real and significant to most people, that only a minority feel hassled and harried.  

If we grant that a significant percentage of persons really seem to suffer from what they perceive as having insufficient time to do with as they want, in all likelihood it is their “definition of the situation”.  That situation is not real as the recent time budget studies clearly illustrate (Robinson, 1982) but they act on it as if it is real.  That is what counts as far as their behavior and their mind set goes.  Free time is real.  Overcoming this definition of the situation which denies it is real constitutes a good part of the agenda of this book.

Free time suffers from having a bad press.  In this land of the work ethic, people are not supposed to admit they have or like free time, that they seek it, want it, or know how to use it.  To do any of these is to be faintly un-American. Again, the Yankelovich studies cited above show how patently wrong this attitude or definition of the situation actually is in terms of how people are living.

This bad press may have started with Thorstein Veblen’s biting, ironic critique of the leisure class as he saw it at the turn of the century in America.  The super rich occupiers of the topmost rungs of the status ladder were conspicuous consumers of leisure.  They shunned all productive work, enterprising effort, useful employment or unemployment. Work was beneath them.  Conspicuous leisure was a certain sign of wealth and social status:  

… the characteristic feature of leisure-class life is a conspicuous exemption from all useful employment.  The normal and characteristic occupations of the class in their mature phase of this life history are in form very much the same as in its earlier days. These occupations are government, war, sports, and devout observances.  Persons unduly given to difficult theoretical niceties may hold that these occupations are still incidentally and indirectly “productive” but it is to be noted as decisive of the question in hand that the ordinary and ostensible motive of the leisure class in engaging in these occupations is assuredly not an increase of wealth by productive effort. At this as at any other cultural stage, government and war are, at least in part, carried on for the pecuniary gain of those who engage in them; but it is gain obtained by the honorable method of seizure and conversions.  These occupations are of the nature of predatory, not of productive, employment.

Abstention from labor is not only an honorific or meritorious act, but it presently comes to be a requisite of decency … Abstention from labor is the conventional evidence of wealth and is therefore the conventional mark of social standing.  And this insistence on the meritoriousness of wealth leads to a more strenuous insistence of leisure. According to well-established laws of human nature, prescription presently seizes upon this conventional evidence of wealth and fixes it in men’s habits of thought as something that is in itself substantially meritorious and ennobling; while productive labor at the same time and by a like process becomes in a double sense intrinsically unworthy. Prescription ends by making labor not only disreputable in the eyes of the community, but morally impossible to be a noble, freeborn man, and incompatible with a worthy life.  (Veblen, 1959:  44-45)

True, there was a secret admiration of this leisure class. Pilgrims (tourists) still make their way by the tens of thousands to Newport, Rhode Island and St. Simeon in California, to gape at the magnificent mansions to Mammon these privileged elite built as trophies of their conspicuous leisure and consumption. But going beyond this, most everyone seems to agree with Veblen’s acerbic critique of the superficial world of the lazy, unproductive, super rich. Real people work for a living. Free/leisure time is non-productive activity, tainted with slovenly disregard and irresponsibility. At best, free time is for recuperation, re-creation, so one can return recharged to the serious world of work. Above all else, there is no such thing as a free lunch.  Free time is left over, residual, after work hours, days, weeks and years.  But you have to work to have free time.

The badge, then, of authentic membership in real society has been paid work.  A 19th century hymn of industrializing America says it well:

Work for the night is coming,
Work through the morning hours;
Work while the dew is sparkling;
Work ‘mid springing flowers;
Work when the day grows brighter;
Work in the glowing sun;
Work, for the night is coming,
When man’s work is done.
Work, for the night is coming;
Work through the sunny noon;
Fill brightest hours with labour;
Rest comes sure and soon.
Give every flying minute
Something to keep in store;
Work, for the night is coming,
When man works no more.
Work, for the night is coming,
Under the sunset skies;
While their bright tints are glowing,
Work, for day-light flies.
Work till the last beam fadeth,
Fadeth to shine no more;
Work while the night is darkening,
When man’s work is o’er.

This hymn lives on.  Free time’s tarnished image continues in two ways.  First, critics like Amitai Etzioni see enjoyment, happiness, and I would add free time, as being examples of the culture of narcissism. The least damning attitude of this type judges self-fulfillment as a positive goal, but the opinion remains that it is fundamentally selfish. Free time is self-centered.

Second, the popular press itself puts down programs of leisure and recreation studies as being lightweight and without substance.  Such programs exist in 400 colleges and universities in the United States alone.  Most of these programs are open to criticism.  They are tied into official and quite narrowly defined ideas of what free time means. But these assessments miss the main point.  They dismiss the seriousness of the free time/leisure fact.  These rigid attitudes ignore the current situation: that free time from work makes up the major part of a lifetime’s waking hours. To be sure, the majority of that free time people choose to use as leisure, and this may be a source of future trouble, for leisure is self-centered and by virtue of this negates communal bonds.

Leisure and Recreation

Most often leisure conjures up physical activities of play, sport, games and the like.  Here in the United States we link leisure with recreation. Cheek and Burch rightly argue (1976) that recreation is institutionalized leisure. Recreation is “routinized” enjoyment.  Cheek and Burch draw upon the sociology of Max Weber, whose overriding concern was with the growing rationalization of modern life in the 20th century.  Bureaucracy is rationality’s handmaiden, dominating every aspect of contemporary existence. Modern bureaucracy underlines efficiency and cool, impersonal, impartial behavior.  Often the very efficiency it promotes falls victim to the foibles of bureaucrats themselves.  But their intent is what counts.  Rationalization and efficiency frustrate feeling, affect, and personal sentiment to assure that the officials do their assigned jobs in the most productive manner. Feelings and personal attachments take up valuable time and energy or lead to special favors which undercut standardized treatment.

Cheek and Burch regard leisure as “generally referring to behavior that is engaged in because of the enjoyment being experienced by those persons participating in it.” (Ibid.: 222) Leisure is spontaneous:  “The event may or may not take place.  Thus, leisure behavior tends not to be routinized.  It is in this sense … spontaneous.” (Ibid.: 223)

Another feature of leisure is that it is a behavior which is complete in and of itself, is disinterested, has no place it must go: “It is behavior which is self-contained and detached; it is non-sequential in character.” (Ibid.) Leisure is “out of this world,” extra-ordinary, transporting the participants to another realm.  

The “new leisure” we know is a product of the continuing division of labor or social differentiation, the hallmark of modern, industrial societies.  Recreation is likewise a result of this division of labor, one expression of leisure.  Leisure, like everything else, is subject to the modernizing impulses of technological innovation, commercialization of goods and, above all, bureaucratic organization.  Recreation is the bureaucratic outcome of leisure.  

Recreational departments of industry, county and municipal governments have programs which are mainly utilitarian, recuperative, and highly organized.  In this way much that is positive within leisure fails to realize expression.  Recreation is only an aspect of leisure, its organized segment. However, recreation dominates our thinking and shapes our perceptions of leisure, thus limiting what could be real choices for people to make.   

Most of the programs of leisure studies in United States colleges and universities are recreational in nature. Physical Education departments control the majority of them.  The rationalization of modern life, which Weber feared would be “an iron cage,” has permeated leisure as well. Yet, leisure is something more, including activities associated with the arts, the intellect, contemplation, enjoyment for its own sake, creativity and celebration.  Leisure, itself, may be that element which can break the iron bars of rationality’s cage, a rationality which threatens feeling and affect, the spirit of Dionysus himself.  As we have seen, leisure rules free time and within its domain recreation has the upper hand. Leisure’s qualities of spontaneity and creativity may be positive sources of community dreams and communal visions, both of which we need so desperately.

We noted above how leisure seems to undermine and limit the participation of people in those activities related to politics and religion.   Modern citizens opt to spend their free time in activities which are for their own self-fulfillment and self-development. However, what they think is their own self-fulfillment is made for them by the social forces of the economy.  Many times this takes the form of passive participation at large-scale sports events such as American football, baseball, and basketball.  If they don’t watch in person the TV screen provides the solution.  As the Caesars of old said, “give them bread and circuses”, and they will be quiet.  Few if any will raise questions of import about the state and status of the populations when immersed in recreational games, above all as passive spectators. Moreover, resistance and potential violence against injustices are defused “in the stands” and before the ubiquitous tube. Competition finds support which is the mechanism for success in American society. And the winner takes all.  Life is a zero sum game.  Therein lies the reason the polis is in trouble.

However, one must take into account the violence that sometimes erupts in the stands during and after the games of soccer, American football, or ice hockey. John Wilson (1988) writes perceptively about how sports have been throughout history a powerful means of social control by the ruling classes.  When violence erupted during soccer matches in England in the early 1960s, for example, it was not until 1969 that an inquiry was made into it, mainly due to the victims being primarily other working class people. Also the level of property damage was climbing and the presence of too much violence would drive patrons away. Here Wilson makes an important point:  “this essentially ‘law-and-order’ response to crowd violence, largely ignoring the wider social context of unemployment and displacement fostering the violence, but possessing the virtue of immediacy and directness, resonated well with the generalized unease among working-class people themselves, many of whom responded to Prime Minister Thatcher’s law-and-order campaign by electing her into office.” (Wilson 1988: 42) Wilson also notes that sports originated with the working classes but when they became commercially profitable the working class lost control of them.  The roots, then, of violence among sports spectators are complex and multi-faceted.

Predominantly in our society leisure expressions are recreation choices, organized and utilitarian, programmed for a population which the recreationists think are still searching for recuperation from the paid job.  As we now know, this recreational purpose is only relevant to certain persons.  Most of us live not for a paid job but for the free time away from employment. The purpose of free/leisure time is much more than simple recuperation to go back to work the next day, week, or year.

In the next chapter we will spell out just how and why paid work time has diminished as free/leisure time and unemployment have increased creating, the modern mutation in values which is affecting every institution in this society.