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Emerging frameworks help steer theorizing

This is an excerpt from Race, Ethnicity, and Leisure by Monika Stodolska, Kimberly Shinew, Myron Floyd, and Gordon Walker.

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Race, Ethnicity, and Leisure.

Emerging Frameworks

Recent efforts to steer theorizing about race and ethnicity in leisure in new directions are informed by the theory of planned behavior, social and cultural capital theories, and critical race theory. The strongest critiques of theories of race–ethnicity and leisure originate with proponents of critical perspectives.

Theory of Planned Behavior

Although Ajzen’s (1991) theory of planned behavior (TPB) has been used frequently in research on leisure behavior and physical activity (e.g., Blanchard et al., 2004, 2007; Nigg, Lippke, & Maddock, 2009), Walker, Courneya, and Deng (2006) have been the first and the only leisure researchers so far to employ it to examine the behavior of minority populations. Walker and colleagues examined motivations for playing the lottery and ethnic and gender-based differences in the TPB constructs. They proposed seven hypotheses to examine why some Chinese Canadians and British Canadians play the lottery. Their findings showed that injunctive norm (i.e., normative beliefs about what others think one should do and motivation to comply) was an important predictor for playing the lottery for Chinese Canadian males and that controllability was an important predictor for Chinese Canadian females. The authors concluded that the study supported the cross-cultural applicability of the TBP and that TPB constructs vary in importance for different ethnic–racial groups.

Social Capital Theory

Social capital theory appears throughout the social sciences as a framework to understand social structures and social networks and how they facilitate purposive action (Glover, 2004). Social capital can be defined as the resources (tangible or symbolic) embedded in social networks that can be used to achieve individual or collective goals (Lin, 2002; Portes, 1998; Putnam, 2000). Researchers applying social capital theory to race–ethnicity and leisure have addressed two primary concerns: (1) the potential of public leisure spaces to bridge racial divides and promote social capital (Shinew, Glover, & Parry, 2004) and (2) the extent to which social capital is equally distributed and how its distribution associates with racial inequality (Glover, 2004).

Although Shinew and colleagues (2004) did not frame their study in terms of social capital, their findings demonstrated that public community gardens provided neighborhood spaces for increasing neighborhood cohesion, fostering friendships between African Americans and Whites, and thus offering opportunities to build social capital. In his study of community gardeners, Glover (2004) reported both positive and negative outcomes related to social capital. He observed that the gardening network was organized by race and socioeconomic status and that these factors led to differential access to social capital, creating advantaged and disadvantaged positions among the gardeners. Those in disadvantaged positions were not able to “appropriate resources associated with the garden network” (p. 157) such as keeping keys to locked garden gates and having meaningful influence in the decision making about the garden.

Cultural Capital Theory

Cultural capital is another form of social capital recently employed to frame a study of race and leisure. Associated with the writings of Pierre Bourdieu (e.g., Bourdieu, 1986), cultural capital consists of knowledge, skills, education, and “material objects and media (e.g., writing, paintings, monuments, instruments, etc.)” (p. 50) that convey higher social status. Erickson, Johnson, and Kivel (2009) used Bourdieu’s concepts of cultural capital and habitus as the theoretical basis for understanding nonvisitation to Rocky Mountain National Park among African American residents of Denver. Erickson and colleagues described the cultural and historical context surrounding local African Americans’ relationship to Rocky Mountain National Park. They reported that African Americans were not frequent visitors to the park because the idea of visiting national parks was not something passed down from their parents, because memories of and experience with legal segregation still existed, and because recreating in “the outdoors” held negative connotations (e.g., lynching and rural servitude). The authors concluded that “the cultural capital learned as a result of years of historical oppression” (p. 543) helped shape the current recreational preferences and behavior among the study participants. While others have made similar observations (e.g., Meeker, Woods, & Lucas, 1973; Taylor, 1989), Erickson and colleagues offered a compelling alternative account by linking their analysis to broader socio-historical, economic, and political contexts associated with the local Black community and the national parks.

Critical Race Theory

At its core, critical race theory (CRT) represents an aggressive and “unapologetic focus on ‘race,’ racism and anti-subordination” (Hylton, 2005) or (anti)racism (Arai & Kivel, 2009). According to Glover (2007), three principles guide CRT research:

  1. Recognition of race as a social construct rather than as biological given
  2. Rejection of the notion of a color-blind society in which merit supplants race in distribution of societal rewards and privileges
  3. Preference for a “racial epistemology that privileges story telling” by minority communities (p. 197) over traditional social science epistemologies that reproduce dominant discourses and maintain “hegemonic order” (p. 917)

Glover’s (2007) study of racism in youth baseball is one of a few empirical studies to apply CRT in leisure studies. Glover examined the formation of an urban recreational baseball league that was intentionally created to provide opportunities for African American youth. His interviews with league founders revealed the type of encounters with park agency youth leagues that led to the formation of a separate African American league. For example, teams were selected by a draft system, which often meant that there was only one Black youth on a team; games and practices were located outside of Black neighborhoods; and Black role models (coaches and instructors) were often lacking. Furthermore, the idea of separate neighborhood teams that would be all Black was strongly resisted by the park agency. In his analysis, Glover examined what was generally perceived as a color-blind, fair, and open system (little league baseball) and exposed a set of racist practices that ultimately “privilege(d) white youth while disadvantaging youth of color” (p. 195). Consistent with CRT, he used the findings to argue for a new model for distributing youth sport programs to address these constraints. His theoretical and methodological approach (e.g., use of storytelling) provided an example of how CRT can be used to identify and reform racist practices in leisure services.


Read more from Race, Ethnicity, and Leisure, by Monika Stodolska, Kimberly Shinew,
Myron Floyd, and Gordon Walker.
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