Deviant Leisure at the European Society for Criminology Conference

Oliver Smith and Tom Raymen recently presented a paper on Deviant Leisure at the European Society for Criminology in Porto. We used this opportunity to try and build on some of the ideas that have been raised within this blog and elsewhere. Within the paper, entitled ‘Deviant Leisure, Rethinking Leisure and Harm’ we called for a more critically engaged exploration of leisure activities, which place direct and indirect harms at the centre of defining deviant leisure. Somewhat fortuitously from our perspective, we followed a presentation by Stuart Taylor (LJMU), which provided analysis of some of the preliminary qualitative findings from an evaluation of a sexual offense prevention campaign. The paper contained data that encapsulated the embedded and to some extent culturally tolerated forms of sexual violence that occur within the night time economy, and hinted at a rather bleak social landscape which highlighted the futility of poster campaigns at the site of consumption (in clubs, bars and pubs). These poster campaigns, however well intentioned are destined to wilt in the powerful glare of the massed energy and seemingly limitless influence of the branding and marketing associated with the alcohol and broader leisure industries.


Indeed, much of the focus group data on the efficacy of the campaigns appeared to suggest that marketing campaigns do little to interrupt the cultural scripts around female sexual permissiveness that align inappropriate or invasive touching and groping as a harmless ‘gauging of interest’. Somewhat tellingly, one of the data sets contained the incisive critique from a male participant that the poster campaign depicting a victimised female and a predatory male might be more effective if the female was more attractive and was baring more skin.

bud-pinchStuart’s work neatly ties into the Deviant Leisure project, as the data illustrates the interpersonal and social harms associated with the commodified leisure environs of the NTE. These harms are largely tolerated and accepted, a troubling state of affairs illustrated by the title of his paper, drawn from a quote contained within the data – It was only a grope…


The data contained within Stuart’s presentation provided us with a point of departure from which to consider the prevailing definition of Deviant Leisure emanating from Leisure studies. Hagan (1993) describes Deviant Leisure as necessarily encompassing:

“Considerable agreement about its wrongfulness; a harsh community reaction; and a judgement that it is especially harmful” (Hagan, 1993: 11-12)

Taking Stuart’s example of sexual aggression in the NTE, we doubt that there is ‘considerable agreement about its wrongfulness’. Victims themselves appear to accept inappropriate touching, unwelcome sexualised comments and so on as an inevitable part of the night out. Harsh community reactions are few and far between, with perpetrators even in the worse cases only being asked to leave the premises, while often no action will be taken at all if cases are reported to the management or door staff. Of course, there is no judgement that such behaviour is viewed as especially harmful – indeed the NTE thrives on the promise and allure of sex, as the marketing materials for alcoholic beverages, as well as bars and clubs clearly indicates.

In this sense, at the core of our paper was an assertion that in understanding deviant leisure, we need to pull together the concepts of deviance and harm much more closely. For us, the notion of harm within deviant leisure is best conceived as:

domination and subjugation through practices existing within the related spheres of economy, society, culture and technology, violently melded through the cultural and economic demands of the leisure industries

Harm is of course clearly identifiable in many illegal forms of leisure – extreme forms of violence and pornography, child abuse and so on, but is perhaps obscured by cultural scripts of acceptance and commodification elsewhere. We talked briefly about Black Friday shopping, and the symbolic violence associated with consumerism in its broadest sense, drawing a link between the interpersonal forms of symbolic violence engendered buy the desire to elevate the self from others, and the harms caused by the fashion and culture industries themselves – rising levels of self-harm, body dysmorphia, eating disorders and so on. We looked at the social harms associated with the rise of the gambling industry, drawing upon early data collected by Tom as part of his new project on gambling and gamblers that illustrates the problematic links between payday loan companies, loan sharks and what can happen when ostensibly non-problem, recreational gambling around sports and casinos are integrated by the self as a constituent part of their identity.

We highlighted the environmental harms associated with the cultural pressures to experience holidays and honeymoons in far flung places. Using the example of the Maldives, we illustrated the harms associated with the island chain disposing of escalating levels of waste associated produced by keeping up with the demand for fishing trips, scuba diving etc for the 600,000 visitors a year, all of whom expect an experience to match the cover of the magazines that are littering their coffee tables at home.


The environmental cost of the perpetuation and democratisation of this holiday experience is perhaps immeasurable in terms of species depletion and coral erosion, but is starkly illustrated by the images of Thilafushi – the garbage island sacrificed to piles of waste and the smoke of incinerators in an effort to expand what the industry euphemises as its’ ‘environmental carrying capacity’.


These initial thoughts are to be expanded in forthcoming publications, which inevitably conclude that criminology and the broader social sciences need to look beyond the legal-illegal construction in examining leisure practices and the leisure industry. Rather than looking individually at the various interpersonal, social, gendered, and environmentally harmful forms of ‘deviant leisure’, we need to look at the changing nature of leisure more collectively and, most importantly, interrogate its relationship to consumer capital. Furthermore, understanding Deviant Leisure from a critical criminological perspective requires a rejection of the cultural relativism that tends to dominate post-modern discourse on the relationship between leisure and harm. Rather, the definition of deviant leisure must be redirected in order to turn the spotlight on those forms of leisure that harmfully impact the environment, individuals and society.

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