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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Leisure access work in a neoliberal era : values of municipal recreation staff Cureton, Kathryn M.


Continual budget cuts and the rise of neoliberalism have influenced a growing number of municipal recreation departments in local government to adopt market-driven principles focusing on cost reduction, revenue generation, and targeting the demands of middle and upper class citizens (Thibault, Kikulis, & Frisby, 2004). This has resulted in a shift away from the social liberal roots of public recreation that emphasized the inclusion of citizens regardless of socioeconomic status (Brodie, 2007; Scott, 2008). The purpose of this study was to develop a deeper understanding of how municipal recreation staff negotiate ‘leisure access work’ with citizens living on low incomes in a neoliberal era. The research was informed by social liberal and neoliberal theories as well as Rao, Stuart and Kelleher’s (1999) exclusionary power framework, which considers the influence of gender and power since leisure access work is arguably feminized. The study involved interviews and focus groups with twenty staff from different neighbourhoods in the City of Vancouver. The findings showed that both social liberal and neoliberal values are reflected in this work although in different capacities for different staff. The co-existence of these typically opposing ideologies sometimes contributed to tensions because of value incongruity, but at other times worked in combination to support leisure access work. The findings challenge simplistic binary conceptions that typically depict leisure access work as being social liberal and ‘good’ and government work environments as being neo-liberal and ‘bad’, building on research that suggests the values underpinning public sector work are more complex and fluid in nature (Graham & Phillips, 2007). Recommendations for future research and for the municipal recreation field are provided.

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