David McGillivray

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


Digital Leisure Cultures: Transformations, Tribulations and Creative Resistance

I was delighted to be invited to deliver a keynote talk at the annual OcioGune conference organised by the Institute of Leisure Studies at the University of Deusto, Bilbao. This year the topic was “Leisure and the new technological ecosystems”. I delivered a talk and some ‘picture’ slides which are accessible below:

I firstly discussed a vignette of family life, technology and leisure arguing that:

Technological ownership is one thing but in this talk I’m more interested in types of usage and associated practices. I’ll now go into more depth about how, intergenerationally, our family uses these devices, what they ‘afford’ or ‘enable’ and what they ‘prevent’ or deny’.

Talking through the digital leisure practices of an extended family demonstrates just how pervasive these technologies are and what they mean for how we form relationships, spend our time and with what effects. I argued that:

Each generation is now exposed to the same temptations, tensions and trepidations when dealing with the digital-enabled world most of us now inhabit. The pace of digital change we’re experiencing disrupts what we thought we knew and could rely on, what we thought of as leisure activity, time and place

I then talked about the transformations and tribulations produced in the digital age, being careful not to overstate the changes taking place or overstating the surveillance, control and exclusions that are part of this landscape. I identified 3D technology, VR and the emergence of digital media platforms to highlight transformations and social inequality, corporate ownership models and data surveillance as examples of tribulations. I also suggested that there remain opportunities for opposition, or resistance, because:

it is also important to recognise that digital spaces and activities are “negotiated” through struggles over ideology, representation, and power. I argue that these spaces are defined by complexity, diversity and contradiction and they contain cultural practices that can both repress and empower.

I also laid out some conceptual and methodological futures, arguing for more theoretically -informed approaches in the formation of a (digital) leisure studies that could include socio-materialist approaches (human/non-human actors), Bourdieusian analyses (digital ‘capital’), and Foucauldian consideration of surveillance and disciplinary practices. Methodologically I called for more ‘involved’, participatory and co-produced digital-facing research though with a key focus on research ethics to avoid a reliance on extractive techniques and overlooking informed consent. I also argued for more engagement with digital ethnography and associated methodological practices. I concluded my talk by arguing that “digital leisure is contested and complex, surprising and surveyed, visible and invisible, alluring and alienating”. I called on scholars of digital leisure to come together to create a research programme that will elevate our subject and put us at the centre, rather than the periphery, of an exciting academic agenda. I suggested that we need to:

First, 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.

I ended the talk by calling on scholars to foreground ideas of critical digital citizenship and digital understanding so that “our young and old, able bodied and disabled, affluent or poor are better prepared to navigate the digital leisure spaces they are increasingly experiencing”. In doing so I argued that we:

need to be promoting these values, asking the difficult questions before we act and being aware of the consequences of that action. Within narratives of technological determinism the inevitability of change is dominant. I think that we’re at a crucial point where we need to challenge the inevitability thesis, through information, advice and asking ourselves what and why questions…we need to remember that just because we ‘can’ doesn’t always mean we ‘should’

For more information on these, and related debates about digital leisure culture, you can access the recent book I’ve edited on the topic, here.


David McGillivray • September 28, 2017

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