David McGillivray

Professor, interested in events, culture, digital participation & sport.


Digital Leisure Cultures: Now published!

It’s taken two years of blood, sweat and tears, but I’m delighted that the book Digital Leisure Cultures: Critical Perspectives that I’ve co-edited with my colleagues, Gayle McPherson and Sandro Carnicelli, has finally been published by Routledge. This text emerged out of the extremely successful Leisure Studies Association annual conference held at University of the West of Scotland in 2014 (here’s a useful storify of that event) and adds to a growing body of literature that considers the affordances of digital culture. As we state in the book’s introduction:

We want to contribute to the emergent critical research agenda on digital leisure cultures, drawing on theoretically-informed analyses that consider social forces, power relations, socio-spatial inequalities, marginalisations, exclusions, contradictions, crisis tendencies and lines of potential or actual conflict.

Across the 17 chapters, we try to navigate readers though the complexities and unevenness of digital culture, acknowledging that the

digital turn in leisure has opened up a vast array of new opportunities to play, learn, participate and be entertained – opportunities that have transformed what we recognise as leisure pastimes and activities, no longer bound by geography, but increasingly framed by the technological tools and practices that mediate our experience of social life

whilst also being aware that:

whilst emancipatory possibilities are evident, there are also marginalisations and exclusions that make it necessary to give critical consideration to the ‘costs’ associated with digital leisure cultures on individuals, organisations and societies – whether related to narratives of control, surveillance, alienation, atomisation or dehumanisation

We have contributions from a wide range of leisure ‘contexts’, including sport, tourism, outdoor recreation, music, social media, events and literary studies. Our contributors include well established, and renowned, scholars like Deborah Lupton (3D Printed Self-Replicas: Personal Digital Data Made Solid) and Steve Redhead (Gigs Will Tear You Apart: Accelerated Culture and Digital Leisure Studies) alongside doctoral students and early career researchers like Ana Dinhopl (GoPro Panopticon: Performing in the Surveyed Leisure Experience and Stuart Purcell (Teju Cole’s Small Fates: Producing Leisure Space and Leisure Time on Twitter. Spencer Jordan has summarised his work with this informative vlog.

Ian Jones and Emma Kavanagh, from Bournemouth University summarise their chapter, Understanding Cyber-enabled Abuse in Sport:

“I think at the beginning when I would see mean, hurtful messages, it would really hurt my feelings because I wasn’t used to it. I wouldn’t remember any of the good comments; I’d just remember that one bad one… I’ve had people threatening to kill me and kill my family, wishing that I get cancer and die a slow, painful death. Horrible words I couldn’t even think up in my head to be that mean.” (Heather Watson, cited in Ward 2015).

The quote from tennis player Heather Watson demonstrates the significant upset an individual can experience as a result of vile and hateful abuse within social media environments. Watson encountered this through Twitter during the 2015 Wimbledon finals and highlighted the personal distress and worry resulting from negative fan interaction. In cyber-space people can communicate in an instantaneous, uncontrolled and often-anonymous manner and this makes policing or controlling such spaces extremely difficult. Online abuse in sport is becoming increasingly significant as a social problem. A study by anti-racism in football group Kick It Out exploring social media abuse of English Premier League players revealed that it was widespread. Approximately 134,000 discriminatory posts were present between August 2014 and March 2015, this equates to an average of almost 17,000 abusive posts per month, over 500 per day. Despite its apparent pervasiveness, research into the nature and prevalence of cyber- enabled abuse, is relatively recent and lacks clarity.

Online environments create an optimal climate for abuse and as a result, social media sites increasingly provide an outlet for a variety of types of hate to occur, and it is evident that such environments ‘enable’ abuse rather than act to prevent or control it. The sharp reality of existence in these spaces is just how easy it is to become either a victim or perpetrator of abuse within them. To date this subject has received limited academic attention and it was within this context that our work at Bournemouth University has started to unpack some of the key behaviours witnessed in online spaces. Our chapter within Digital Leisure Cultures: Critical Perspectives introduces the virtual environment and the nature of abuse within the online space. It presents some of the justifications for cyber-enabled abuse alongside some of the potential impacts of on the victims who experience it. Finally, the chapter considers the potential for research that will extend understanding of these leisure spaces and human interaction within them. As a chapter, this raises a great number of questions and highlights the need for further research exploring this phenomenon both in and outside of the sporting arena.

We conclude the text by arguing that if we take it as read that we’re increasingly tied into digital leisure past-times that are double edged, then we need to be undertaking research that tries to understand and explain these phenomena further. First, we need to know more about the time that people spend online, the nature of the activities they participate in whilst there, the impact of the affordances of digital culture on existing leisure activities – whether replaced, reshaped or intensified and the adaptability of individuals across the age and social stratum to participate and benefit in these leisure cultures. We also need to know more about both the creative and political responses individuals and groups make to the presence of a widespread digital sphere – avoiding the temptation to accept the digital as inevitable, but also not falling into the trap of dismissing the leisure practices it brings into focus as superficial or less valid than those evident in offline spaces. We also need to understand the experience of those disempowered and disenfranchised by the presence of a digitally-enabled society, including further investigation into the barriers impeding participation, whether economic, cultural or social.  Finally, we also need to understand the moral and ethical implications of leisure lives mediated in online environments and the place of the law and other regulatory agents in governing behaviour around online leisure activity.  We hope you enjoy!



David McGillivray • September 15, 2016

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