LSA 2015 Annual Conference Report

By Andy Adams
University of Bournemouth

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The Department of Sport and Physical Activity at Bournemouth University was delighted to host the 2015 LSA conference at the University’s Talbot Campus from 7th to 9th July 2015. This was the first time that the LSA conference had been held in Bournemouth and, by the Thursday, many of the delegates felt that not only was it a fantastic conference that helped to cement Bournemouth University’s burgeoning national and international reputation in leisure related studies, but that the opportunity to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the LSA itself was an important milestone in moving forward to the future of leisure studies. More than 100 delegates attended over the three day period, with almost a third coming from outside of the UK.

The overall conference theme of ‘Creating Leisure’ was established with the view that leisure is created in many ways, in many locations, at different times and for many purposes. The creation of leisure has costs and benefits for individuals, groups and societies and has critical spatial, temporal and cognitive dimensions that seemed to have wide international appeal. The conference attracted delegates from across the globe including Brazil, Australia, South Africa, New Zealand and the USA; LSA 2015 had a truly international feel.

The conference began in earnest on the morning of 7th July with a formal opening by Dr Andrew Adams, Chair of the local organising committee, Professor Keith Wilkes Dean of the Faculty of Management and Dr Bob Snape LSA Chair. The first keynote lecture was delivered by Professor Chris Rojek who, not renowned for pulling his punches, outlined a pithy consideration of ‘imagined community’ style relations in the creation of contemporary leisure spaces in ‘Leisure and Para-Social Relationships’. Professor Rojek continued some of the themes that he has previously published on, notably the development and inculcation of celebrity culture into the development of contemporary leisure cultures. According to Rojek we are all online, networked and involved in narcissistic and worshipful practices of leisure that are created and manipulated by media and big business

The opening keynote talk was very well received by a packed audience, after which we had the first parallel paper session across such themes as tourism, sporting identities, technology in leisure use, leisure and wellbeing, leisure and public space and festivals as sites of leisure. The second keynote of the opening day featured Professor Cara Aitchison in her role as chair of REF UoA 26, with a talk entitled ‘Creating Insight, Impact and Influence: how research assessment (re)defines knowledge, policy and practice’. Professor Aitchison left no one in doubt that the message is ‘quality rather quantity’; that ‘there is no such thing as a four star journal only four star work’ and that that work ‘could be found in many places’ had been guiding mantras during her time chairing this particular REF panel. Appropriately, to round off the first day we then had a retrospective plenary session featuring professors Ken Roberts, Tony Veal and John Haworth entitled 40 Years of the Leisure Studies Association. The conversation was of interest to leisure researchers young and old; rather than lamenting the passing of leisure studies the three wise men suggested it was back to the future for leisure studies. Certainly, in a world dominated by neoliberal technologies, celebration of leisure studies intimated that leisure can be a site of resistance and still provide alternative visons for future peoples and societies. Following the AGM the social programme kicked into action and this year a special mini beer festival and ploughman’s buffet style supper supported by Taylor and Francis was held on Talbot Campus. The mini-beer festival featured six local Dorset ales, served in LSA 2015 souvenir glasses and provided a convivial opportunity for delegates to network, socialise and sample some local tasty fare.

Wednesday’s conference sessions began with parallel papers spanning topics such as leisure and wellbeing, online leisure practices, music festivals, tourism values and identity politics in creating space and place for leisure. These were followed by the third keynote session that featured Professor Steve Miles with a paper entitled ‘Beyond Dogma and Description: a call for the retailisation of Leisure Studies’. This engaging paper asked some simple questions such as what it means to be a consumer and how retailisation is another ‘mediating phenomena’ that helps us construct our place in the social world.  Needless to say, this paper provoked a great deal of interest and discussion that was carried over into lunch. After lunch, as well as the third session of parallel papers, we hosted a Roundtable on Coastal Tourism and Wellbeing, which was chaired by Professor Heather Hartwell. Parallel papers ranged across topics such as high performance sport and human rights, gaming technology, recreational benefits for socially including individuals with mental health challenges and legitimising pedagogies for teaching and learning. This was followed by a Plenary Session on REF 2014 reflecting on UOA26 which was led by Cara Aithchison and John Horne. This was an honest and open discussion and developed some of the ideas touched on in Aitchison’s keynote speech. The fourth parallel session soon followed and continued the key themes of the conference with papers that: identified leisure as a vehicle for wellbeing and recovery; identified diverse forms and places for leisure creation; identified leisure politics and identified the role of heritage in manufacturing a leisure identity. To end a long conference day we all congregated at Key West, which was located at the end of Bournemouth pier. On a beautiful evening in Bournemouth, delegates enjoyed splendid food and beautiful views east across the water to the Isle of Wight and west to the Isle of Purbeck. This proved an enticing venue for many of the delegates who took advantage of the live music and dance floor to carry on their discussions until the early hours.

The following morning a slightly subdued but hardy group of delegates enjoyed some great parallel papers on themes such as wellness tourism, visioning the future city, sex as leisure in later life, building capacity in monitoring and evaluation and mundane leisure practice in creating civic radicalism. These were followed by the final keynote speaker from The New Forest National Park Authority. Jim Mitchell’s paper ‘National Parks for health and wellbeing: meeting shared challenges’, was not only timely and relevant to the conference theme, but interesting and entertaining and hugely rewarding to those of us who made it to the end. There was just enough time for a few closing remarks and an invitation to LSA 2016, which is to be held In Liverpool. All feedback on the conference was extremely positive and we are both proud and pleased to have hosted the many delegates who visited us in Bournemouth.

The organisation of this event would not have been possible without the fantastic work of Michelle Sanderson to whom we give our thanks. There was also a team of student helpers who were enthusiastic and courteous throughout; they were Sam Prince, Rosie Merrison, Abigail Gilbert, Gayathri Kanagasapathy and Rutendo Musikavanhu.

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