Decentring work

We all like to think we are more than our work –but most of us also have choices in terms of what we do for pay and/or how we spend our time outside of paid work. For those who find it challenging or impossible to access the world of paid work, this can be very marginalising.

Decentring Work, a new book edited by recreation and leisure studies professors Heather Mair and Susan Arai with Donald Reid of the University of Guelph, questions how and why we have come to value paid employment as the marker of social success and individual self-worth, and investigates the role that leisure might play in its stead.

Mair suggests there’s always been a societal connection between who people are and what they do. “The notion of ‘paid employment’ began when we started to sell our labour as a way of surviving in the capitalist system. As such, success becomes defined by how much our labour is worth monetarily. However paid work can also make us feel useful, engaged, valued and like we are ‘pulling our own weight’ in society. You hear this language increasingly as people and policy makers become less and less patient with those who are outside of the traditional workforce.”

Arguably, this construct presents a challenge for many. Not only can there be financial challenges for individuals and families who, for whatever reason, are not engaged in paid work, there can be devastating social repercussions.

Throughout the book, leading scholars probe dimensions of marginalization and oppression experienced by groups such as women living in poverty, new immigrants, and older adults. They show how leisure can be a vital element in confronting issues surrounding homelessness, incarceration, dementia care, disability, and ethnicity.

“Volunteering and engaging in recreation and leisure are excellent alternatives for developing the self and contributing to community,” says Mair. “The book makes a strong argument for policy change. Re-drawing the relationship between paid work and worth is an issue that must be taken up at the community level.”