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Towards A Digital Leisure Studies

Where is international Leisure Studies going? Most of my academic work, which began in sociology of law and criminology and broadened out over the years, has had some connection to a fairly stable and well defined area of study called Leisure Studies. However, the field now feels like it is on the brink of a new era. After pioneering work on the nature and contours of ‘digital sociology’ by academics such as Deborah Lupton, it is possible to envisage what I see as an an emerging Digital Leisure Studies. I have written a few essays and given talks in the last year arguing for this to be taken seriously, and trying to sketch out what it might look like. New directions in digital leisure cultures are necessary because the present routes forward are often confused and unsatisfactory, reflecting a more general concern in the population as a whole about our digitised world and how to come to terms with the effects of it on global citizens. The basic question – is the internet a good or a bad thing? – structures the debates but urgent questions on digitisation remain unanswered, as they do on globalisation and the free market. Specifically, as far as digital leisure cultures are concerned, the crucial question is what are gigabytes doing to us and how can we explain this process? Echoing Manchester United fans’ chant about former player and assistant coach Ryan Giggs ‘Giggs Will Tear You Apart’ (aimed at opposing fans and based on Joy Division’s classic ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’) I am asking in these essays and talks will these ‘gigs’ tear us apart? We have certainly become so addicted to the hyperspeed of electronic digital connection that we all feel the familiar sickening stomach churning while we wait for our screens (on whatever platform) as almost a global cultural condition, yet we greedily binge watch whole series of our favourite television shows in one day once the connection is eventually made a few seconds later. We are back in the realms of asking whether we are at long last now living today in the ‘leisure society’ predicted for us in the 1980s, enabled now it is said by globalisation, free markets and digitisation. For example, contemporary football culture is permeated by debates about whether football stadia should have wi-fi, why Juventus fans can watch the game on TV screens in the back of the seats in front of them and how the Red and Black Bloc fans of Western Sydney Wanderers organise protests against the FFA through their smart phones. Recent developments in digital leisure cultures like these reflect the delayed effects of a global financial crisis which still permeates our globe in unforseen ways. We certainly need to produce better theorising of the ‘digital turn’ in Leisure Studies. There are theorists out there who are not usually utilised in this field that we can and should turn to. Urban theorist of speed Paul Virilio has claimed that we are moving from cosmopolis to claustropolis. Building on this idea I have argued that my concept of ‘claustropolitanism’ (the feeling that we want to escape the planet because we are now so foreclosed) is fast becoming a reality – a post-crash cultural condition spreading globally on a daily basis. For Virilio, who is actually claustrophobic, Joy Division’s mantra in Digital ‘feel it closing in, day in, day out’ is personal, but the consumers of mediatised global sporting culture are also experiencing the same feeling it seems to me. Football and social media is a specific area which illustrates this claustropolitan tendency. In my recent work in this area I am trying to tease out the theoretical implications for the study of digital leisure cultures in general. They point in the direction of the need for a ‘new digital leisure studies’. Watch this space.