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English Life and Leisure and its Auto/Biographical Significance


One of the very few important works systematically utilising auto/biographical accounts that has figured little in the auto/biographical literature is Seebohm Rowntree’s and G. R. Lavers’ English Life and Leisure of 1951. This unique study, employing some 220 extracts of auto/biographical case-studies, provided descriptions of the attitudes of a significant section of the general public towards their free-time and leisure activities. The accounts covered a wide range of varied pursuits and interests including: gambling, drinking, smoking, sexual promiscuity, visiting cinemas, attending theatres, listening to the wireless, dancing, reading, attending adult education classes and religious observance. On its publication the work aroused immense interest not only among social commentators and academics but also among an informed general readership. As well as notable admirers the work had severe critics, not least concerning its methodology. The authorial perspective of English Life and Leisure was one of broadly welfarist, Christian-accented, social concern. The work regretted people wasting worthwhile opportunities, of them relying on short-term hedonistic pleasures and of them showing little desire for self-examination. As a perceptive reviewer in the American Sociological Review remarked in relation to the leisure activities of the respondents, “In reality, these are some of the ways of killing time, of overcoming the tedium vitae, of escaping from fear and anxieties, and compensating for the austerities and frustrations of life”.


Indirect Interviewing, Leisure, Lives, Rowntree, Case-study



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