Leisure in Late Capitalism

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There is no apparent need for individuals to endure this kind of suffering in contemporary Western society with all its advantages. Nevertheless, endurance running is now a mainstream leisure pursuit. Why do hundreds of thousands of men, women and even children choose this torturous kind of leisure activity? In previous literature on consumption of extraordinary experiences, authors focus on the purifying or restorative power of extraordinary experiences, particularly those that take place in natural settings (Canniford & Shankar 2013; Arnould & Price 1993; Belk & Costa 1998). Personal and interpersonal growth and transformation are frequently emphasised (Arnould & Price 1993; Belk & Costa 1998). Anthropological concepts such as communitas (Arnould & Price 1993; Celsi et al. 1993; Schouten & McAlexander 1995), liminality (Belk and Costa 1998), and drama (Celsi et al. 1993) are used to explain extraordinary experiences as rituals that allow participants to transcend everyday life. Endurance running does not fit this model. Although there are elements of transformation, ritual and communitas in endurance running, here the logics of contemporary society—late capitalism (Boltanski & Chiapello 2005), consumer culture (Arnould & Thompson 2005), or neoliberalism (Harvey 2014)—are not suspended or inverted. Endurance runners obsessively record times and distances so that they can track and publicise their achievements. Running measured distances, in ever-decreasing times, is the goal of most endurance runners. Good and bad runs are rarely measured in terms of communitas, liminal transcendence or even pleasure. Good and bad are measured in terms of time and distance, achievement and record. Endurance running achievements are used to signal worth as employees, partners, leaders, and good neoliberal subjects. The logics of contemporary capitalism— economic logic, enterprise logic, market logic—remain at the heart of the consumption of endurance running, even when participants try to set them aside. 1 Marathon running, ultra-distance running, triathlon, or obstacle course racing. In much of the afore-mentioned literature on the consumption of extraordinary experiences, the consumer is considered to have considerable agency. This no doubt relates to the postmodern underpinnings of the theories and concepts used in these papers—e.g. the work of Victor Turner (1969; 1974; 1982). Leisure is seen in these papers as a liminal space of anti-structure that allows consumers space for reflexivity, agency and transformation. However, this is not what I see in endurance running. Rather than being emancipated through marketplace performances, I see consumers that are compelled to be productive in their leisure pursuits. They reproduce societal discourses that compel them to be productive, creative high achievers; to think of themselves as enterprises and their leisure as sites of investment and return rather than of freedom and reflexivity. I argue that it is time to revisit the consumption of extraordinary experiences and suggest that endurance running provides a useful empirical context for generating theory about leisure in contemporary capitalism. Extraordinary experiences are no longer a “time out of time” (Belk & Costa 1998, p.233), set apart from ordinary life. Instead they are an essential part of the labour of success in contemporary capitalism. Leisure is not an escape from the logics and demands of late capitalism. Rather it is a space where good neoliberal subjects must embody those logics and fulfil those demands. Both work and life outside work are mobilised in the project of developing a sellable self2. It could be argued that consumer culture theorist have unwittingly contributed to this predicament (Fitchett et al. 2014). They strived to conceptualise consumers as active, productive creators of value in marketing studies and models, rather than passive recipients of marketing strategies or mere destroyers of value created by producers (Kozinets 2002). Has this led to the situation where consumers are now compelled to consume creatively and productively? Marx tells us that workers become alienated when their work becomes instrumental and the fruits of their labour valued in terms of exchange. When consumption becomes, not a space of reflexivity and agency but one of compulsory creativity and productivity, the fruits of which are instrumental in selling oneself, might consumption also become alienating? And if consumption is no longer our escape from alienation (Miller 1994), what then?


Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Business Administration
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2018 Jun
Publication categoryResearch
EventConsumer Culture Theory - University of Southern Denmark, Odense, Denmark
Duration: 2018 Jun 282018 Jul 1


ConferenceConsumer Culture Theory

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