My professor has been calling what I plan to do “leisure studies,” and it’s been bugging me. Bad.
Before I go any further, let me just put it out there that she’s fantastic, super supportive, creative, etc., etc. Just plain great. Really well respected and, especially for our department, more cutting edge.
But this leisure studies thing - I just can’t, and I’ve been trying to figure out why. I think it’s because:
(a) It just sounds so academically ghettoized. I know she doesn’t mean it as a put down and actually comes from a place where she finds value in such work, but there’s just something about tacking the word “studies” onto something that evokes less-than-ness in academia. Like, the rest of y’all are doing straight up anthropology, what with your women in ecuador or oil in trinidad, but I’m doing leeeeisure studies.
(b) What I’m often looking at, and the perspective I bring given my background, is not really leisure, but labor. Even though I know the field includes the work of leisure as a topic, to me, the label itself erases the production of its own conditions, focusing on those who leisure rather than labor.
(c) Finally, what I’m looking at is anything but leisurely. Like I said before, for many, it’s drudgery. Even if it’s for fun, it’s often hard fucking work. Physical, toiling work. Sometimes hours and days and weeks of preparation. And for a lot of people, it’s also conceptualized as an almost spiritual or political necessity, the shock of that adrenalized moment as a vital, if fleeting, line of flight from the docile body. The pleasure of a (cyborg-like?) body that is one with gear and element. Leisure connotes too much towards the uncommitted, the trivial, for what I’m thinking about.
I get that it’s shorthand for referring to my topic (which is really just a way to talk about embodiment and a nation/race/nature/gender/class assemblage, and in that sense, not really my topic at all). I also get that leisure studies can examine all this stuff I’m referring to. For me, though, “leisure studies” just feels like an easy (read: lazy) label that brackets these topics into a quirky boutique specialty.