Call for papers

Uses of free time

Translated from:
Appel à contributions

The Revue d'histoire culturelle (XVIIIe-XXIe siècles) is pleased to launch a call for papers for its third issue devoted to the uses of free time. For this edition, the editors are Claire Blandin (Professor at the Sorbonne University Paris Nord), Pascale Goetschel (Professor at the University Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne) and Christophe Granger (Lecturer at the University Paris-Saclay). The journal publishes articles in French and English.

The confinement of the spring of 2020, sometimes overloaded with imposed activities, sometimes empty of what until then had filled our days, has had the effect, among others, of upsetting our use of free time and opening up a renewed reflection on the place it occupies in our lives. Some people, finding old cuts, have come to wonder whether, at the end of the day, it was a question of "free time" or "forced time. There is no doubt that the curfew of autumn 2020, by imposing this time a profound redistribution of the use of our leisure time on a daily scale, will lead to practical upheavals and questions of a comparable order. This is because the notion of "free time", itself a product of a plural and disputed history, goes to the heart of the organization of societies. If we admit that it designates both the individual and collective time that is freed from the sum of previously constrained activities (work, school, family tasks, occupations and preoccupations, etc.) and the particular emotional disposition that accompanies this time and is realized in an immeasurable series of activities experienced as "free" or "liberated", then we can better understand that free time constitutes both a structuring point of social life (a fact of culture), with its market, its experts, its policies, etc., and at the same time a lever of questioning that can feed reflection on the state of a society or, for example, on the degree of well-being of the individuals of which it is made (a moral and political fact).

The difficulty of defining "free time" is not secondary here. It reveals its relative nature according to the places, times, and social segments we are talking about: the hobbies of an 18th-century glazier like Ménétra are not those of an otium-loving bourgeois of Rouen or a skilled worker of the 21st century, and they do not give substance to the same conception of free time. It highlights variable differentiations over time in terms of gender, men and women not having the same access to free time. But, even more so, this difficult definition points to a singular problem for the historian: that of the way in which a society provides itself with vague but convenient points of reference, in order to bring together, in a single whole endowed with evidences, and meanings of human activities (croquet, reading, travel, idleness, etc.) that nothing brings together.

From this point of view, to propose a history of leisure time is not to follow in the footsteps of Alain Corbin, Peter Burke or Rudy Koshar, nor in the history of "games", which found its great historian in Johan Huizinga and its theoreticians in Roger Caillois or Roberte Hamayon. Basically, taking free time as an object amounts to shifting the problem to the side of what makes possible the practices of play or leisure, to the side, in other words, of the conditions through which a society or a social group comes to organize and classify its activities in such a way that a part of them is conceived, practiced and described as free from ordinary constraints and commitments.

From this "minimal" starting point, we can set out a series of questions which, apart from being merely indicative, should be seen less as compartments than as ways of problematizing a subject that would be difficult to grasp without them:

1. One of the decisive questions to carry out a history of free time concerns what can be called the struggles for the construction of social times. Some of them, such as those that led to the institution of St. Monday, Sunday, weekends or vacations, are well known. Others, such as those concerning the "liberation" of free time in the heart of the working day or, in an even more tenuous way, as Jean-Claude Schmitt has shown, the structuring of social rhythms that authorize periods of slack time and others that are more intense, are clearly less so. What they have in common, perhaps, is that they have mobilized actors committed to fighting, by law or by the street, to promote a vision of society in which free time should have its place. Proposals relating to mobilizations of all kinds and in all places around the construction of these new social times and their uses will therefore be welcome.

2. This first aspect is not without immediately mobilizing a second. Free time, as an assembly of behaviors marked by an expectation of freedom, is a bearer of morality. Those who fight on the terrain of ideology to defend its necessity (like a Marxist like Paul Lafargue or a solidarist like Georges Deherme), those who savor it in the secrecy of their schedule, or those who make it the petty-bourgeois emblem of those who are concerned only with bogus consumption, give life to a certain conception of free time, which can be that of relaxation conducive to collective life, that of free self-realization or that, more managerial, of personal development. Studying free time means giving oneself a way to access the formalization of life morals which, far from being limited to giving a price to this or that recreational activity, provide information on the historical state of the struggles for the definition of legitimate lifestyles. Proposals dealing with the morals at work in this or that proposal for the occupation of non-work time will therefore be particularly examined.

3. A third, more encompassing field may concern the shaping of the relations that a society maintains with the use made of its leisure time by the individuals who compose it. To put it plainly, we are standing here on a line that runs from knowledge to power and from power to the market. The history of free time must indeed be the history of the actors and groups, associations or companies that historically wisely organized the free time of those who had it at their disposal. Whether it is the promoters of scouting or summer camps, socio-cultural animation, leisure entrepreneurs, personal coaches or company chiefs happiness, there are many sectors which, by specializing in the occupation of free time, have structured the birth of a field of activity. But this aspect extends to the public policy side of leisure time. From this point of view, the formation of the Ministry of Free Time, in activity under the socialist presidency of François Mitterrand, between 1981 and 1984, is only the explicit crowning of a political appropriation of the question of the government of time freed from work, a process that had taken root decades earlier. Finally, a fate has to be cast here for the sake of knowledge. The major state surveys, those designed to clarify what the French do with their free time, what they like to do as a leisure activity and what they get out of it, the first forms of which undoubtedly date back to the 1900s, deserve attention for what they reveal about the transformation of free time into an object of public concern and action. And from this point of view, there are no firm boundaries to separate these surveys, for certain market research studies, from those proposed, for example, by the "sociology of leisure", which Joffre Dumazedier has led the institution in the field of knowledge in France. Also, proposals relating to individuals, associations or companies wishing to organize their free time and imagine the contents of this filling of time will be awaited.

4. The last space for questioning is undoubtedly the most immediately awaited. It concerns the range of tastes and practices to which free time has historically given substance. As such, it is not these activities, countless and changing over time, that interest us. To say that such and such a fraction of the population practices surfing in their free time, or that the favorite pastime of young working women in the 1960s was listening to the radio, is not to understand what free time could be and what role it played in social organization at a given time. Rather, the important thing is to understand what may well have determined the actors who adopted this or that use of free time and what this use meant to them. To ask oneself, following the undecidable opposition that has so retained social theorists, whether an individual is really free when he occupies his free time in the way he has to occupy it or whether, on the contrary, he is constrained by social forces that, until this time of freedom, hold him captive to rules or prior expectations, does not lead very far. On the other hand, to determine how styles (local or national) in the use of free time could be formed, perpetuated or disappear, what they owe to the socialization of individuals and what they do in return for the society of which they are a realization, to discover, for example, with Thorstein Veblen, that the "rapacious classes", as he said, transformed old leisure time into leisure expenses at the end of the 19th century, is to give oneself, through the question of free time, a solid means of historical questioning. Also, studies will be solicited on the determinations weighing on the choice of such and such a taste or practice.


  • Submission of an abstract (200-250 words) and a bio-bibliographic record before November 25, 2020.

  • Notification to selected authors: December 10, 2020.

  • Submission of full papers (6000-9000 words): March 15, 2021.

  • Final submission (after taking into account the expert opinions): June 15, 2021.

  • Publication: September 15, 2021.

Abstracts should be sent to