Creating a Sense of Community through Leisure

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Monu, Jessica
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Middle Tennessee State University
Rural communities make up an important aspect of the American society. For many individuals, rural communities provide a unique culture, as well as opportunities for employment, social interaction, and leisure activities. Through this study a clearer picture was discerned of how residents’ leisure activities could help them cope with change, and possibly strengthen their overall sense of community. This study looked at a typical rural mid-western community, which has undergone a number of economic and social changes throughout the years. Focusing on its resident’s leisure activities, using McMillan and Chavis’ (1986) sense of community model, which includes the components of membership, influence, integration and fulfillment of needs, and shared emotional connection.
Given the subtly and complexity of leisure, this study took an ethnographic approach where data was generated by living in Valhalla for a three-month period of time. Fourteen semi-structured interviews (9 males and 5 females) were conducted. Interviewees ranged in age from 30 to 74, with an age distribution lined up with the United States Census data (2013). Along with interviews, participant observations were done in a variety of locations around town, and observing a multitude of activities (i.e. eating/drinking, and attending church). Archival data (i.e. newspapers and documents) was gathered, with permission from the local Historical Society.
In the end, three main categories of leisure activities were observed: leisure on the road, home-based leisure, and community-based leisure. Leisure on the road addressed fulfilling residents’ needs outside of Valhalla, detracting from a strong sense of community. Home-based leisure reflected the membership and fulfillment of needs components of sense of community. The membership component did seem to lead to a strong sense of community among some participants, however the fulfillment of needs component was independent in nature, and led to a decline in residents’ sense of community. Finally, community-based leisure included all four components of sense of community, and were observed to potentially enhance resident’s lives, and foster ones sense of community through interpersonal relationships, community cohesion, social support, and fulfilling some personal and social needs. However with Valhalla’s current lack of communal leisure they will continue to deteriorate.
Community, Leisure, Rural, Sense of Community