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Informal leisure as a source of social capital formation : a festival case study

Hawkins, CJ 2014 , 'Informal leisure as a source of social capital formation : a festival case study', PhD thesis, University of Tasmania.

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In Australia participation in informal, individual-focussed forms of leisure activities is increasing. This can be understood in the context of changing social landscapes. It is argued that new forms of social capital may be emerging through these ‘looser’ affiliations and activities. This suggests that funding contexts, for example spaces and activity programs like festivals, rather than directly funding networks such as organisations might be an alternate approach toward fostering the growth of social capital. These conditions call for a rethink of how to better leverage informal leisure contexts, especially by governments.
This research focusses on how leisure contexts of a more informal nature can stimulate productive social capital. The research thus sits at the intersection of the literature on leisure and various theoretical perspectives linked to ideas about social capital. To illuminate insight the research explores perspectives on leisure as these perspectives can alter over time due to such factors as generational change, work/life balance and emerging leisure activities. The research also examines the theories of third place, social capital and the strength of weak ties to construct a framework to explore the interplay between leisure activities, space and place characteristics and social connectivity in a changing social and leisure participatory landscape. The framework draws from these literatures to better understand the productive potential of informal leisure contexts.
The research is conducted through the application of the framework within a constructivist-interpretive paradigm utilising a mixed method, case study approach. The research investigates the social interactions created through leisure activities of attendees at an annual, three-day, camping-based, entertainment festival in Marion Bay, Tasmania, Australia known as the Falls Music and Arts Festival (the Falls). In an Australian context of camping-based events, this is a large festival of approximately 16,000 attendees. Over 900 survey responses were obtained and thirty qualitative interviews to add further insight were conducted over two separate events in 2010 and 2011.
The research demonstrates a level of self-initiated community and weak social ties that can be developed and strengthened through leisure pursuits of a more informal, and even temporary, nature. This thesis argues that the understanding of social capital can be enhanced by more focus on how people meet and form friendships and acquaintances in informal settings. This research, through the application of a social capital tool developed by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, finds that social capital can be formed without the need for formal groups.
Analysis through the lens of third place elucidates place-based factors that can also stimulate social capital. An interrelationship between three distinct ‘vibes’ within spaces – the social vibe, the leisure activity vibe and the vibe that place characteristics assist to create – uncovers the importance of place-based factors in shaping social capital. As a key finding within this research, identification of these three vibes has led to the configuring of a social leisure places platform. The research illustrates the notion of a place-based friend where frequency of engagement with people in spaces and places is integral to its identification. Social media has an evident role to play in continuing social bonds formed within physical spaces and is important for social capital development.
The findings from this research are important to scholars researching leisure and social capital as well as those researching emerging trends in and the social and place dimensions of festivals and events. They are also of importance to practitioners and policy makers/workers within community planning, design and policy development for public spaces, programs and events.

Item Type: Thesis - PhD
Authors/Creators:Hawkins, CJ
Keywords: Leisure, Festivals, Events, Social Capital, Weak Ties, Third Place, Place, Local Government
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Copyright 2014 the author

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