Fine, Gary Alan (1989). Mobilizing Fun: Provisioning Resources in Leisure Worlds. Sociology of Sport Journal, 6, 319 334.

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Gary Alan Fine (1989). Mobilizing Fun: Provisioning Resources in Leisure Worlds. Sociology of Sport Journal, 6 (4), 319-334. Reprinted, with permission of Human Kinetics Publishers, at

Mobilizing Fun:
Provisioning Resources in Leisure Worlds

Gary Alan Fine

Department of Sociology, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN 55455, USA

Despite the tendency to think of leisure activity in terms of personal preferences, leisure can also be understood in terms of the ability of organizations to provide resources for participants. Drawing on the resource mobilization approach to social movements, I outline a theoretical approach, labeled Provisioning Theory, which attempts to explain how leisure organizations use resources to attract and retain participants. Organizations must mobilize “fun” for members if they are to continue over time and the leisure activity is to increase in popularity. After describing how Provisioning Theory applies to a voluntary subculture (mushroom collecting), I examine two special cases of the provisioning of resources: games that are “owned” or controlled by a corporation (Dungeons & Dragons) and voluntary sports activities organized with multiple levels of authority (Little League baseball).

Whatever the appeal of the claim that humans create the world to their liking, behavior relies on an institutional and material base. No matter how phenomenological, subjectivist, or interpretive our preferences, there remains an obdurate reality that shapes the sort of events that can be enacted. In those arenas that emphasize the expressive and cultural dimension of human activity (notably sport and leisure), organizational dynamics have often been overlooked. To correct this lacuna, I examine the organized and material character of voluntary social groupings in order to understand how opportunities for leisure are provided to potential participants. I label this perspective Provisioning Theory, in order to emphasize a concern with the role of resources in leisure engagement.

Voluntary activity, frequently embedded in associations, is a distinctive characteristic of Western, industrial society. Voluntary organizations have flourished in the 20th century, particularly in communities linked to urban and industrial social structures (Warren, 1972). Edward Banfield (1967), in comparing a small town in southern Utah with an Italian peasant village, notes the astonishing array of public-spirited groups in Utah. Had he focused on organized leisure groups, the results would have been identical to the previous results. He finds that the basis of community differs, and the existence and diversity of non-kinbased voluntary organizations seem crucial. Community is no longer dependent upon geographical propinquity but assumes shared interests, embedded in a society in which numerous leisure choices are available. Leisure groups provide an effective means of establishing these personal, communal relations (Hoggett & Bishop, 1985). Such organizations are a means of escaping from the dilemmas of both ascriptive ties and radical individualism. In leisure groups one can share one’s interests with like minded others, producing a community of acquaintances - a smaller form of those living communities that Bellah and his colleagues term “lifestyle enclaves” (Bellah, Madsen, Sullivan, Swidler, & Tipton, 1985, pp. 71-75).

Voluntary association refers to “a formally organized named group, most of whose members - wether persons or organizations - are not financially recompensed for their participation” (Knoke, 1986, p. 2). Further, these organizations have a social psychological reality; individuals participate in these associations and see the participation as meaningful in terms of who they are and the kind of values and interests they hold. This is of particular centrality in situations in which ascriptive claims of blood, ethnicity, gender, and religion are attenuated. Such groupings can be divided on the content of their activity; here I focus on that subset of organizations that primarily provide opportunities for engaging in leisure activity. Leisure activity refers to the recreational activities of individuals, including hobbies, games, and sports.

As noted above, much leisure activity in Western societies occurs in organizational contexts. Obviously not all or even most leisure is connected to organizations, but enough of it is to make the examination of leisure organizations and how they facilitate leisure a significant theoretical topic. In order to describe this process, I generalize from three leisure scenes in which I have conducted ethnographic research through participant observation and in-depth interviews: organizations of mushroom collectors (Fine, 1987a, 1988), fantasy role playing groups (Fine, 1983), and Little League baseball teams (Fine, 1987b).

Although the focus is on the material bases of leisure,1 I do not deny the other components of leisure worlds - the sense of autotelic compensation, communal involvement, altruism, and the like. My topic is the how of leisure, not the why.

Leisure Organizations and Resource Mobilization

This analysis draws upon resource mobilization (RM) theory, applying and modifying its perspective to leisure organizations. Although this approach has had considerable influence on the study of social movements, a specialized genre of voluntary organizations, it has not been extended for the examination of leisure. At its core, resource mobilization theory attempts to demystify cultural and ideological production by specifying how organizational, economic, and ecological realities direct the strategies and effectiveness of voluntary organizations.

In doing this, resource mobilization theory (viz., Jenkins, 1983; McCarthy & Zald, 1977), questions the privileged role of ideas in social movements. Despite the romantic imagery that many participants in social movements might like to attribute to their activity, RM theory treats these associations as functionally equivalent to any organization, stripping them of their moralizing and examining the resources (personnel, financial, communicative) to which they have access that permit them to operate within a political, social, and institutional environment. Although one must be wary of going too far in dismissing the content of social activity and in ignoring the expressed motivations for that activity, RM theory has proven valuable in countering the ideographic, nongeneralizable components of cultural or psychological theories of social movements. This does not mean that the content of social movement is ignored; rather, the content that in classical analyses has been taken as an autonomous, independent variable is treated as a rhetorical resource to be managed by the organization. The feelings engendered by the movement are sincere and tap into broader societal themes. These topics should be analyzed in their own right to understand the position of values in contemporary life, but an analysis that focuses on content misses the how of organization.

Leisure organizations, like social movements, are voluntary organizations. As a result they have the traditional problem of voluntary organizations: how to achieve their goals while cementing members to the collectivity (Olsen, 1971), a problem that mandatory organizations such as workplaces and schools are typically less concerned with. What is crucial for the social movement organization is not how correct it is, or the nature of the social strain that is attempting to change, but how many and to what kind of resources participants have access. The existence of these resources is hypothesized to lead to commitment and organizational effectiveness. The underlying question of the RM perspective is, how can a social movement be successful in pragmatic terms? How can a movement, within its environment, grow and become effective?2

Despite similarities, social movements and leisure organizations are analytically distinct; it is inappropriate to cannibalize resource mobilization theory for a substantially different set of organizations. Social movements wish to achieve external ends to change the fundamental character of the individual member (Smith & Pillemer, 1983) whereas the goals of leisure organizations tend to be less grandiose. The “good” produced by movement organizations is typically a concrete, socially significant good, whereas leisure good is transient. Leisure organizations have as their primary goal the provisioning of satisfaction, of fun. A leisure activity that does not produce enjoyment is likely to have few adherents (see Goffman, 1961). In contrast to many social movements, the application of most resources of a leisure organization are for the use of members. They are deployed internally rather than externally. Hence the free-rider problem of social movements, the question of why individuals should give up their own resources in the absence of clear personal gains that would be achieved without participation, is not a problem for leisure organizations but denies their core purpose. It is assumed that providing satisfaction to members must be the organization’s first priority. Benefits for the community, such as better sports facilities or more effective environmental protection, are typically a secondary concern for leisure organizations.

A rapid glance at the leisure possibilities in contemporary American society reveals many more organizations than any individual can possibly join, and even more potential forms of leisure than there are organizations. in addition, individual organizations have their own careers. Some organizations grow and expand while others fade (Hoggett & Bishop, 1985). The rapid growth of fantasy gaming groups in the late 1970s and early 1980s is a dramatic example of the former. The increase in youth soccer, coupled with a decrease in youth baseball, similarly points to changes in leisure activities (coupled with the relative ease with which soccer equipment can be provided and the relatively greater levels of activity in that game). The virtual disappearance of mah jong or canasta, once popular games, suggests that sets of leisure groups vanish when they are perceived as too specialized or out of fashion.

Leisure activities that are seen as too closely tied to traditional cultures may be threatened in periods of modernization and weakening of ethnic or nationalistic subcultures. As “shinty,” a traditional and somewhat esoteric Scottish game, has declined in the past several decades, broader based “national” games such as Rugby have grown dramatically (Whitson, 1983). Leisure activities associated with peripheral subsocieties are particularly vulnerable to lack of secure and steady resources; leisure groups based within the mainstream culture find the organization of resources easier.

Provisioning Theory

In order to integrate the characteristics of leisure organizations with the emphasis on structure presented by resource mobilization theory, I suggest the utility of an approach to leisure that explicitly incorporates the centrality of resources to the possibility of leisure. Provisioning Theory recognizes that leisure worlds depend for their existence and for their tensile strength on the presence of a social infrastructure and on the ability to distribute resources that members desire. These resources can take several forms including knowledge, interpersonal interaction, and identity support; they need not be material resources.

I deemphasize a voluntaristic, personal preference model of leisure subcultures, in which people engage in those activities that they like best or those that serve their personal needs, in favor of a more structural, organizationally conscious perspective in which individuals engage in activities that are more available and that have a reputation for being more fun. What constitutes fun is from this perspective a social result rather than a psychological one. People are free to engage in a virtually unlimited number of leisure activities, but that freedom is possible because others have laid the organizational groundwork that facilitates these choices. Likewise, a lack of organizational opportunities constricts the possibilities for leisure. Leisure opportunities do more than follow communal interests; a structure channels and promotes leisure.3

Specifically I suggest a set of assumptions that underlie this approach. I shall not test these assumptions here but use them as the basis of the arguments that will outline a perspective on leisure organizations, admittedly one painted with broad brush strokes. Some of these assumptions are empirically testable, and such tests are desirable for future research.

  1. Organizations with greater access to resources will be more successful than those with less access to resources.
  2. The extent of participation in leisure organizations depends on the organization’s ability to provide desired resources for members.
  3. Those organizations that provide the most resources to individual members will be those that succeed.
  4. Leisure organizations compete in a market, and those that are more efficient in providing resources will survive better than those that are not.
  5. Leisure organizations must make their activities known to a general public; those that publicize themselves most effectively will be most likely to survive. Effective leisure organizations connect themselves to media outlets and forms of interpersonal recruitment.
  6. Individuals participating in a leisure activity must have access to credible information; those organizations that are best to provide this information will survive.
  7. Individuals participating in a leisure activity must enjoy their relations with other participants; those organizations that are best able to facilitate this sociability will survive.
  8. Individuals participating in a leisure activity need their own personal identity validated; those organizations that are best able to provide for identity validation will survive.

These assumptions are based on a presupposition that most leisure organizations wish to grow or at least maintain a stable steady-state. Attitudes toward growth and recruitment are obviously variable, and some organizations deliberately limit their size by curtailing recruitment or establishing membership requirements. A limited organization can be successful if its resource base is stable. Indeed, some leisure participants - a rather small number, I suspect, given the tendency of organizational structure to become sedimented - may see their group as temporary and express no regret when it is disbanded. Still, even here the organization must distribute resources if leisure is to be facilitated.

The Resource Base of Leisure Organizations

What must a leisure subculture provide to its members in order to have fulfilled its purpose? What do people look for in leisure worlds? Three elements seem crucial: (a) distribution of knowledge about the leisure activity, (b) opportunities for sociability, and (c) access to identity symbols.

These components of leisure activity are evident in mushroom collecting, a world that might at first seem relatively free of demands for goods and services. In a sense, one needs no more than a bucket to hold fungal specimens. Although a bucket is sufficient for the collecting of mushrooms, it is not sufficient for “mushrooming.” Of course, not all of the above-named resources must be provided exclusively by an organization but can also, with some difficulty, be provided through an informal social network.


Involvement in a leisure world presumes a store of knowledge - information that enables the competent doing of that activity.4 But from where does that knowledge come? Much knowledge swirls around in society; some information about many forms of leisure is known widely. Although most Americans are not mushroomers, many are aware that mushrooming is a legitimate hobby. Through newspaper and magazine articles, many people are aware that certain organizations are devoted to the hobby. Almost everyone knows that some mushrooms are poisonous, gourmets are aware that morels and chanterelles are delicious, and so forth. This information comes through friends, relatives, the media, and casual conversations. The outlines of a hobby can be widely known even though this knowledge includes gaps, stereotypes, and misinformation.

The recruit to a hobby comes with knowledge acquired along life’s journey. Although this knowledge may be necessary for recruitment, typically it is not sufficient, and more significantly, is not seen as sufficient. The recruit lacks the basic “member’s knowledge” that permits the competent doing of the activity, according to subcultural standards, but in many cases also lacks enough formal knowledge to behave safely. The challenge for the leisure organization is to provide the novice with both knowledge sets to participate in the hobby at whatever level of skill is desired. Ideally the information will be provided conveniently and will be taught in a manner that is emotionally satisfying so that the recruit learns what is necessary to know and feels that he/she belongs to that group.

In amateur mycology a gap in knowledge can be dangerous, and this is frequently expressed as a justification for joining the organization: to acquire protective knowledge. One would be foolish to enter the woods, or the kitchen, ignorant of which mushrooms can be safely consumed. Although this information may be acquired from parents or friends, serious mushroom collectors recognize the need to rely upon authorative, expert, and privileged information.

Many mushroomers learn about fungi through classes, often taught by self-proclaimed mushroom experts who have no degree in mycology but who have had considerable experience with the hobby. Typically these classes are not entrepreneurial enterprises by the teacher, but are sponsored by an organization - a mushroom society, a school, a local government agency, or a for-profit organization. These classes vary in their extent and orientation. Some last a few hours, others require several hours a week, and still others demand continual attendance for days, weeks, or months at a set location. Some are taught by a single individual and others have a faculty.

An advertisement for the Wild Mushroom Conference at Breitenbush Hot Springs in Oregon, published in the Fall 1988 issue of Mushroom magazine, reveals the elaborateness of some of these gatherings:

The conference is expressly designed for mushroomers interested in developing their identification skills and understanding of the taxonomy, cultivation, chemistry and ecology of mushrooms. Emphasis will be placed on edible, poisonous and psychoactive species. There will be comprehensive instruction in contemporary commercial and small scale cultivation practices for mushrooms including shiitake, oyster and wine-red stropharia. Workshops encourage a “hands-on” approach. Other topics include mushrooms in history and cultures, mushroom photography and art, and medicinal possibilities and applications. Extensive forays will bring in many kinds of mushrooms from the Breitenbush forests and meadows. Plus the annual Wild Mushroom Cookout and Dance on Saturday! This year’s faculty includes David Arora, Paul Przybylowicz, J. Q. Jacobs, Paul Starnets, Gary Lincoff, Mike Wells, Kent Polowski, Dr. Cal Seeba, Tom O’Dell and other scholars, cultivators and aficionados.

The cost of this fungal experience is $145/person. Although this is a particularly elaborate course, it underlies several features of leisure provisioning. First, it is sponsored by an established organization, a resort. Second, the conference has recruited a faculty of experts, several of whom are well known within the mycological community. By their presence, they represent privileged knowledge. Third, the experience is designed to train mushroomers to improve their technical skills in pursuit of their instrumental goals. Finally, the educational experience, embedded within a leisure activity, combines fun with the acquisition of knowledge: instrumental and expressive needs merge. In leisure worlds, education is not an end in itself but a means to increased satisfaction; the activity must tie members to the hobby.

Courses do not spontaneously emerge; they are created by entrepreneurial organizations. Resources (capital and organizational infrastructure sufficient for planning, marketing, and hiring personnel) and the credibility that the organization can bring to the project are crucial. The existence of educational experiences in many leisure worlds speaks to the desire for expert training. Aerobics classes, “fantasy” baseball camps (Brandmeyer & Alexander, 1986), hockey camps, and birdwatching symposiums are examples of the same phenomenon. Students arrive with a modest knowledge base that is to become “expertness” with associated personal satisfaction. The organization provides for the transformation of restricted codes into elaborated ones (Bernstein, 1971).

The physical presence of others is not the only means by which individuals learn. Written resources are equally important in many leisure communities. Looking through books in a typical bookstore, one is impressed by the volume of volumes available to hobbyists. The existence of specialized bookstores and mail-order marketing expands the possibilities for sales. Mushrooming guides are published each year, and the hobby supports Mushroom magazine, a quarterly, featuring articles on well-known hobbyists, mushroom forays, weather conditions, evaluations of guidebooks, and other pieces of parochial interest. Among the books advertised in a recent Mushroom magazine (Fall 1988) were Mycological Dictionary in Eight Languages; Celebrating the Wild Mushroom, A Passionate Quest; The Edible Mushroom: A Gourmet Cook’s Guide; One Thousand American Fungi; The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Mushrooms; and The Mushroom Cultivator. Many amateurs purchase several books each year and some of them spend over $100 on books annually. The existence of a recognizable, accessible market and the success of particular works encourages publishers to supply this market.

Each leisure world has its own resource structure. The general argument about the need for available information must be applied variously to different leisure worlds. While some differences might be attributed to the particular needs of the leisure activity, many are a function of the resources to which leisure groups have access and the organizational structure that permits the sharing of these resources. A well-established hobby such as birdwatching has more resources and a more effective structure than a newer or smaller hobby such as observing snakes in the wild. Neither activity is inherently more interesting than the other; the key difference is the organizational base.


Not every participant in a leisure activity belongs to an organization. Leisure can be had without organization; however, without an organization many feel that something is missing from their leisure activity (see Mitchell, 1983; Stebbins, 1979). People derive satisfaction from their associations. Mushroomers may join the North American Mycological Association (NAMA), a 30-year-old organization with approximately 1,500 members in 49 states. NAMA lists 60 affiliated state and local organizations.

Although the goal of these organizations is to provide information to amateur mycologists and to arrange for mushroom hunting expeditions, another important goal, particularly of local clubs, is to organize sociable times. They are responsible for the provisioning of community, provisioning that is difficult for the individual. Leisure organizations are in effect topically based fraternal organizations. Like other hobbyists, mushroomers enjoy associating with others who share their interests. They swap stories, narrate memorable experiences, joke about outsiders, and relish participating in a “personal community” (Burch, 1969). Leisure organizations are, in Howard Aldrich’s (1971) terms, following Georg Simmel, “sociable organizations” - organizations that have as their goal the providing of settings for sociability.

Successful organizations facilitate interaction, providing staging areas for friendship (Fine, 1981). This occurs primarily by providing the location for contact. Regular meetings are centrally important in cementing members to the organization and the hobby. Publicly committing oneself to an activity is a powerful motivation for continuing to participate. The organizational structure and provisioning of place establishes social psychological allegiance.

The Minnesota Mycological Society holds weekly meetings 4 months during the year at a community center. When a voluntary association draws members from a wide area, the choice of location may be controversial since part of what is being decided is the “cost” of attendance. Any location facilitates the attendance of some members and discourages others. One year the club members contemplated moving their meetings from the usual but somewhat out-of-the-way location to a more central meeting place, a natural history museum on the University of Minnesota campus. However, the plan was rejected when it was learned that free parking would not be available. The benefits were perceived not to be worth the cost, at least by those in attendance at the old location.

Sufficient time at the meetings for informal talk is crucial for member satisfaction. Leisure organizations rarely begin on time and the lights are not turned off until long after the meeting itself ends. Meetings of the Minnesota Mycological Society do not begin until 15 or 20 minutes after their scheduled time in order to allow members to converse; after the meeting members stay and talk. For years the Minnesota Mycological Society has had a post-meeting meeting at a local McDonalds where core members gossip, joke, and informally discuss club business. These meetings often last as long as official meetings.

In addition to routine meetings, other events are designed for celebratory purposes, and through their festive, collective quality they create community (Lavanda, 1988). The Minnesota Mycological Society holds a banquet each winter. In “successful” banquets, the restaurant or hotel provides the club with a private room, serves modestly priced food of general appeal, and permits members to share homemade mushroom dishes. One year the hotel at which the banquet was held refused to permit prepared food (perhaps especially mushrooms!) to be brought in because of fear of liability. The banquet was not a success in that the sociability of club members was not enhanced, thanks to the restrictions on their sharing.

Club forays are other special events whose provisioning is critical to member satisfaction. For many members these forays are the highlight of the year. Each year the club organizes approximately half a dozen short forays on Saturdays (3 to 5 hours) and one or two weekend-long forays. On these forays club members collect mushrooms together and, after several hours, return to a prearranged location to identify the specimens collectively. These events require efficient coordination. A club member (the Foray Chairman) selects locations that are suitable for the forays, determines if mushrooms are likely to be growing, arranges for permission, gives directions, and publicizes the event. If it is a weekend foray, the price must be reasonable and the accommodation and cooking facilities must be adequate. Club members search for mushrooms and hope for fun, but someone in the organization must do the groundwork so that there is a reasonable likelihood this will happen.

Individuals look to organizations to ensure that they will be in a position to enjoy each others’ presence in locations in which this presence will be tethered to their interest: they strive for focused sociability. Sociability is not pure friendship, but friendship can emerge because the participants have something in common that permits them to realize they might become good friends.

Identity Symbols

Leisure worlds contain styles and fashions that are markers of identity (Hebdige, 1979). Those within the activity, on its edges, or on the outside may provide expressive symbols that are accepted as reflecting how participants wish to be known. To become widely used, these symbols must be defined as self-enhancing.

The identity symbols of leisure participants vary as to their potential market. Some may be limited, in practice if not in fact, to members of a particular leisure world. Who but a mushroomer would put a bumper sticker, “I Brake For Fungi,” on his car? Who but a mushroomer would wear a T-shirt with a pair of large morels on her chest? Other accouterments may have a wider set of potential consumers: boots, work shirts, knives, baskets, or whistles. I hypothesize that the more limited the artifact’s market, the more likely are leisure participants to consider it central to their identity. Some high quality items aimed at a general market (e.g., fine knives) may also have status within the leisure world, although the owner will not consider himself or herself more of a mushroomer by owning one.

Artifacts of style can be provisioned in several ways. Three analytically distinct types of vendors provide artifacts for the hobbyists: the leisure organization itself, individual hobbyists, and outside entrepreneurs.

Organizational Vendors. Leisure organizations can provide identity symbols themselves, although typically organizations are not manufacturers. They commission firms to produce the objects while they themselves are responsible for distribution. The organization is a broker. For instance, many mushroom societies publish cookbooks that are typeset by printers. Clubs design and sell T-shirts, bandannas, sweatsuits, or hats. The clubs do not create these objects but provision them through their relations with other organizations.

Peripheral Vendors. Identity symbols can be sold by individuals or groups with close familiarity with the leisure subculture. For those leisure activities involving members who have considerable disposable income, small businesses arise on the periphery of the subculture, attempting to satisfy the desires of participants; these businesses may or may not have the approval of the central organization. Many proprietors are closely tied to the hobby, often as prominent members. Success increases one’s personal status within the leisure world.

Within the world of mushrooming, individuals and groups sell books, postcards, stationery, bumper stickers, and apparel, and organize tours.5 For instance, the former president of the Minnesota Mycological Society published a meta-guide (a guide to the listing of mushrooms in other guide books) and distributed it through mailing lists of the national organization and local clubs. A former winner of the NAMA photo contest printed several of her most impressive photographs as postcards and sold them at forays and through Mushroom magazine. Several respected mushroomers organize overseas tours for their colleagues. These individuals chose to earn a profit, albeit a small and sincere one, from friends and acquaintances who are pleased to support them.

Mass Vendors. The third source of products and services for a leisure subsociety is external enterprises. Most of what leisure participants purchase, they purchase in locations open to the general public. While some products are designed specifically for members of the subculture (e.g., mushroom guidebooks), most are also sold to other clients. Sturdy rubber boots are needed by naturalists and fishermen as well as by mushroomers. A high quality wicker basket can be used to hold sewing, berries, or a picnic lunch, as well as being a ding an sich.

Manufacturers and distributors can appeal to any size market. General merchandisers are disadvantaged in that they cannot target their audience to communicate with them efficiently and be aware of the audience’s needs (e.g., producing baskets with slots for knives or gloves). They also cannot gain that customer loyalty derived from shared community identity. However, such entrepreneurs have advantages of economy of scale and sophistication of production values that smaller and more focused firms may lack.

Around and within each well-developed leisure world, vendors provide identity symbols - items that matter to leisure participants and that they consider important to activity and their sense of self within the activity. The provisioning of identity symbols is particularly significant in leisure activities defined as “morally controversial” (Olmstead, 1988), in which the issue of identity display is more problematic. For instance, gun collecting is so controversial that identity symbols may only be available in specialized locations, often linked directly to organizational or peripheral vendors.

Copyrighted Subcultures

So far I have examined the provisioning of goods and activities from the perspective of a freely established (autochthonous) leisure world. I turn now to a special case of provisioning theory: the organization of leisure in social worlds created through entrepreneurial enterprise - what Dayan (1986) terms “copyrighted subcultures,” although patents may be involved instead of copyrights.

Some leisure scenes are organized (created) by individuals who hope to profit through this organization. It is not that these individuals are cynical or greedy. They may not see themselves as really involved in the world of commerce, certainly not at first (see Fine, 1983). They prefer to think of themselves as facilitators of leisure: people whose goal is to make others happy. Yet they are tethered to capitalism because they created the leisure world, the resources necessary for participating in that world “belong” to them in terms of copyright or patent, and they “license” these resources to participants. While the boundary of owners’ control is not always precise de facto or de jure, it is expected that they will be reimbursed by virtue of their legal status.

Many copyrighted subcultures surround games. The critical element that entrepreneurs provide are rules. Unlike other hobbies, rules structure games and are what make games games. With its lengthy rulebooks, Dungeons & Dragons is a prototypical example, but leisure worlds have also developed around games such as Monopoly, Scrabble, Diplomacy, Rotisserie Baseball, and Trivial Pursuits. Rules must be agreed upon for a game to be possible. Of course many games have traditional rules (e.g., marbles, chess, baseball), but even here organizations (e.g., the U.S. Chess Federation, Little League Baseball, Inc.) must specify these rules, deal with conflicts in serious play, run tournaments, and alter the official rules should dissatisfaction emerge. These organizations appear to have more power and resources than those dealing with leisure activities that are interest-based.

Yet the central organization does not have total control. Groups of players may change the rules. Participants come to feel that they own the game, and this claim may create friction with those who maintain the legal and economic rights. The individual player’s freedom of expression conflicts with the reality that the proper way of playing was decided by others and was formalized through a set of rules.

This tension of control is particularly true in cases in which the original creators revise the game. Five years after the original publication of the Dungeons & Dragons rulebooks in 1973, the company (TSR Hobbies) published new rulebooks. Although these new rulebooks were cleaver, more logical, better organized, and more accessible than the originals, their publication required that players who wanted to play the game properly would purchase them.6 By changing the rules and by making those changes part of the new reality of the game, the manufacturers asserted their control and created a new demand for their product.

The changes in the rules were inevitable, not only from a desire to control but because of a change in audience. In the early years of many copyrighted subcultures, creators have little idea of their future success. As a consequence, the original version of the game may eventually be defined as inadequate for the expanding market. When E. Gary Gygax and David Arneson developed D&D out of their involvement with the war game miniature subculture, they had in mind a sophisticated group of gamers who would be comfortable with more flexible and complex rules than the dice-based rules of board games (see Fine, 1983). But as the game spread to the younger and less educated and to those without experience in war gaming, confusion arose and the rules needed to be revised.

Manufacturers do not limit their activities to selling (licensing) rules but provide a range of other accessories, which often become popular because of the consumer’s loyalty to the game world and to the imprimatur of the creators. Given that these worlds are structured as businesses, expanding the product line comes easy. In the case of fantasy games, TSR Hobbies has expanded far from the publication of rules. They publish a monthly magazine (The Dragon), game modules designed to help players structure their fantasy adventures, and computer software. The company also sponsors an annual Convention (GenCon) at which gamers meet for several days to play fantasy games, participate in tournaments, hear presentations and, not incidentally, purchase new products of TSR Hobbies and other manufacturers. Game manufacturers typically release their new products during this convention, when agents are not needed, to increase profit, to appeal directly to the opinion leaders of the hobby, and to use the social pressures of the convention to sell products.

The provisioning of resources in copyrighted subcultures represents a special case of provisioning theory. Although much is similar, there are two key differences between the provisioning structure of copyrighted subcultures and those subcultures, such as mushrooming, that are largely autochthonous. First, the rules, procedures, and norms of copyrighted subcultures are more codified and organized than those of most autochthonous activities. In copyrighted subcultures a font of truth exists; in autochthonous worlds the activity is explicitly negotiable. Even if the source of truth in copyrighted subcultures is not heeded, it must be taken into account.7 Second, the structure of copyrighted subcultures is based on material concerns - they are economic as well as social worlds. This reality directs the reactions of entrepreneurs to those they define as infringing on their copyright. This materialist perspective angers those who emphasize the communal nature of leisure. Unlike autochthonous leisure in which authority is communal, in copyrighted leisure authority depends on property rights. The judicial system supports the legitimacy of economic control and provides the power to enforce decisions.

Provisioning Sport

Voluntary sport represents a second special case of provisioning theory. As is true for leisure generally, differences between sports may sometimes seem more impressive than their similarities. Golf, a sport that can be played in solitude, contrasts mightily with football, a sport that demands enormous coordination. The range of provisioning arrangements in the world of sport is great, with team sports requiring the most extensive coordination.

If hobbies such as mushrooming can be typified as traditional activities that lack the need for highly technical coordination - in which anyone can more or less do anything - and games such as Dungeons & Dragons require adherence to rules for their organization, most sport is both traditional and dependent upon rules. Baseball without shared rules is unthinkable, but the extent of these rules and the lightness with which they are enforced are negotiated in practice.

Baseball, especially youth baseball, is open to anyone with a field on which to play and a few pieces of equipment. Rocks can be used as bases and sticks as bats, gloves are not needed, and balls come cheap. Children can play baseball without adult supervision, and in such a situation the provisioning of youth baseball hardly seems a problem, given complementary schedules, decision-making ability, and open space. The founding of Little League baseball in 1939 (Fine, 1987b) was based on the recognition that these seemingly simply provisioned needs are not easily met; finding a large enough group of children depends on neighborhood demographics and ecology, children are known to quarrel with each other, open space is shrinking, and open does not necessarily mean safe. Further, there are material advantages of organized provisioning, particularly in the access to identity symbols. Only an organization with access to resources can provide uniforms, manicured fields, refreshments, and public address systems. Although children are masters at creating their own identity symbols, such symbols are not validated by those external to the group. Little League with this legitimacy and access to publicly recognized symbols provides what a sandlot game cannot - entrance into the fantasy of professional baseball.

Over its half century, Little League baseball has excelled at provisioning resources for play. This provisioning of space, personnel, training, and equipment is its raison d’être. To play baseball is easy; to play Little League baseball requires an organization that operates on several levels - national (Little League Baseball, Inc.), community (Beanville Little League), and small group level (the Beanville Rangers). Obviously organized sport does not require all of those levels, but each level plays a role in the organization of sport and it is this multilevel structure that distinguishes sport organizations from many other leisure groups. In general the upper levels (those closest to the central organization) are more concerned with provisioning organizational resources, and the lower levels (those closest to the local participants) emphasize the provisioning of identity and sociability. The challenge for these organizations is to control and motivate volunteers who are required to carry out the mandate of the central administration on the local level. A tension can exist between the efficient provision of resources and the concrete relations of sociability; the central organization often solves this by allowing the local groups to operate independently until trouble arises.

Each local Little League contributes a share of the registration fees it receives from players to the national organization.8 For this the national organization provides rules and procedures as well as suggestions for publicizing the local league. Little League Baseball, Inc., provides guidance for general policy even though it has little impact on daily operational decisions. Perhaps most significantly, the national organization permits the use of its name, generating support in the local community from government, schools, businesses, and parents.

Local leagues are responsible for the provisioning of equipment and personnel (Fine, 1987b, pp. 15-19). They must find fields to play on and the fields must be in excellent condition as they will be commented on critically. Uniforms, equipment, and insurance are provided by the local league. Many leagues sell refreshments and are responsible for the upkeep of toilets and scoreboards as well.

Local leagues are also responsible for the temporal organization of the league: someone must arrange for the schedules of the teams and arrange for practice times and make sure each team is treated fairly in terms of its temporal needs. Team sport requires arrangements to equalize access to time and space.9 Each team must play every other team the same number of times and each team must play the same amount each week. No team should be given all of the best times. Finally, personnel, both players and coaches, must be distributed between teams equitably - by a method that is not only fair but also appears to be fair. Recruitment is essential to ensure that there is a match between the supply of players and adult coaches. Without adult coaches, organized youth sport could not exist. Further, the league must recruit, and often pay, umpires for that thankless task.

The individual team allocates playing time to each player in a manner that should be deemed as fair. Perhaps more significant than the technical assignment of boys to positions and batting slots is the team’s role in providing sociability. If players are unhappy, the team has failed no matter what its record. The coach has a central role in facilitating satisfaction, occasionally through providing identity symbols. One coach gave his team red-white-and-blue wristbands; others shared cookies or snacks; still others brought in baseball equipment that would otherwise have been unavailable, such as batting stands. Fun is generated through adult resources.

Organized sport shares with hobbies an existence that is formally outside the realm of copyright laws. Sport belongs to everyone, and sport organizations ostensibly are nonprofit organizations. Yet, because organized sport requires a definitive rule structure and tight temporal and spatial organization, sport has some of the themes that are characteristic of copyrighted subcultures. Organized team sport falls between the prototypical hobby and the prototypical game in its provisioning of resources.


All leisure worlds are material worlds. In order to engage in virtually any leisure activity (daydreams are perhaps the exception that proves the rule), a wide array of resources must be managed. This includes spatial, temporal, affective, and material concerns. Having fun and having access to resources are linked, event in those leisure activities that are seperate from organizations. Still, organizations have proven to be, in leisure as elsewhere, efficient means by which resources can be provided for individuals. Leisure organizations with their focus on providing satisfactions for participants can avoid many of the difficulties that come with trying to decide how resources should be allocated between internal and external needs. The external needs of leisure organizations (e.g., publicity) are more explicitly connected to the continuing existence of the group, which in turn connect to the internal goals.

Organizations may be formal or informal; the Minnesota Mycological Society has a constitution and a legal identity. TSR Hobbies is incorporated as a corporation. In contrast, adolescents can regularly play Dungeons & Dragons every Friday night, find a room (perhaps a rec room), and arrange for money to be collected for soft drinks, the purchase of new games and equipment, or even “recreational” drugs. What is essential is the provisioning of basic resources (equipment, space, and companionship), from which comes a sense that the group is meaningful to the participants and that it should continue.

In this article I have simply presented some ideas that might be drawn upon for the understanding of leisure and sport worlds. I have not systematically tested the assumptions presented above, and this is necessary if this approach is to have credibility. I assume that leisure preferences are pragmatically determined - they are a function of opportunity10 rather than personality - and that there is a “survival of the fittest” operating in the ecology of leisure organizations (Freeman & Hannon, 1983), where those with the most resources, most efficient use of those resources, and most effective publicity of these resources will survive. Such acquisition and distribution of resources helps establish a sense of belonging, the existence of community in a society where community may be overwhelmed by personal preference.

I believe that Provisioning Theory is useful for the study of leisure in somewhat the same way in which Resource Mobilization Theory has helped to revitalize the examination of social movements. Provisioning Theory forces us to examine the form of the organization and the activity rather than the content. By turning a topic that is often connected to social psychology into a venue in which social organizational forces come to play, this approach can have the tonic effect of forging a linking between macro and micro approaches.

I have avoided discussing what many consider to be the core of leisure activity, those meanings and actions that make specific forms of leisure fun, focusing instead on those external features that surround the activity: the penumbra of leisure. Success can be measured in ways other than survival, and an organizational rhetoric does not exhaust the ways leisure can be conceived.

Still every social world has a material base, even those that seem at first glance to be most ethereal. Leisure is not set apart from the real world; it is the real world.


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1 I do not imply that leisure organizations need always be run like businesses, with a tight concern for the bottom line. Some grouping succeed with modest resources. However, all leisure activities must provide for resources such as time, space, social coordination, and those material objects necessary for completion of the chosen activity.
2 In a moral sense, one cannot postulate a relationship between longevity and size and “success,” but in organizational and evolutionary terms such a connection exists by definition.
3 The existence of the Minnesota Mycological Society in the Twin Cities increases the likelihood of people engaging in the hobby. The club makes itself available to the media and sponsors exhibits at the local natural history museum. Contrast this with the sorry state of butterfly collecting. There is no Lepidopterist Society in Minnesota and thus the media do not report on this hobby. According to the membership lists of the Lepidopterists’ Society of America and the North American Mycological Association, the former has a lower proportion of Minnesotans than would be expected by chance while the latter has a greater proportion. One cannot definitively attribute patterns of membership in a national organization or newspaper coverage to the existence of a local organization, but it provides prima facie evidence of this possibility.
4 The extent and formality of this knowledge varies among leisure activities. Some such as mushrooms and fantasy gaming require considerable knowledge, others less so. However, since leisure consists of a sphere of specialized activity, some realm of localized knowledge is inevitable.
5 These can of course extend beyond identity symbols and include knowledge and opportunities for sociability.
6 This new rulebook may also have served a legal purpose. The first set of three rulebooks were written by E. Gary Gygax and his erstwhile partner, David Arneson. However, the two men disagreed about the ownership of the game and the second rulebook was written by Gygax alone (see Fine, 1983).
7 In the case of Dungeons & Dragons many players assume that Gygax and his co-workers at TSR Hobbies have special access to his game world, and consequently ask him all manner of questions about the game. Gygax claims with wry frustration that he once received a letter asking how many eggs a hippogriff lays (Fine, 1983, p. 23). The creator is taken as the expert on all questions relating to his/her game even though the facts requested may have little bearing on the rules.
8 The national Little League organization, while not controlling all of youth baseball, is a substantial organization. In 1983 Little League Baseball, Inc., reported total assets of over $10.2 million and total expenses of $3.9 million.
9 In Minnesota this issue is particularly critical in youth hockey where there are not enough rinks for such a popular sport. Some children find themselves practicing late at night or in the very early morning. Hockey can get away with such temporal outrages because hockey carries with it such status and the leagues themselves are provisioned as well.
10 One testable hypothesis is that individuals with more discretionary income are more likely to join leisure organizations (as has been suggested for social movements). On the societal level, one would expect more leisure organizations and an increase in membership in times of economic expansion, when more discretionary resources are available (Douglas Macadam, personal communication, 1989).


This paper was originally presented as the Keynote address at the North American Society for the Sociology of Sport, Cincinnati, Ohio, November 1988. I wish to thank Jay Coakley and Doug Macadam for their helpful critiques of an earlier version of this paper.

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