The TIE Podcast Summer Session Preview: Applying Social Justice Principles to Leisure Studies

A Conversation with NC State University’s Dr. Rasul Mowatt

Diverse people enjoying leisure activities

With summer in full swing, vacation, rest, and recreation are on everyone’s mind. Wanting to explore this through a DEIA lens, TIE’s Summer Session podcast features an insightful conversation with Dr. Rasul Mowatt, head of the department of parks, recreation, and tourism management at North Carolina State University, about the relationship between nature, leisure, and race. With a PhD in leisure behavior, a Master of Science in Park and Natural Resource Management, and a Bachelor of Science in History—all from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign—Dr. Mowatt is the perfect discussant to guide us through this topic.

Listen to the full conversation below:

TIE Podcast · Applying Social Justice Principles to Leisure Studies with NC State University’s Dr. Rasul Mowatt
Rasul Mowatt headshot
Dr. Rasul Mowatt

Dr. Mowatt is the president of the Academy of Leisure Studies, the co-editor of Leisure Sciences, and founding editor of Recreation, Parks and Tourism in Public Health. He is also an editorial board member of the Southeastern Division of the American Association of Geographers and served on the Commission on Race and Gender Fairness for the Indiana Supreme Court. He is thus ideally positioned to help our listeners explore the intersections of race and leisure.

As part of his research on geographies of race and how they can and should intersect with social justice efforts, Mowatt recently published The Geographies of Threat and the Production of Violence (2021), which explores how the built environment reflects and reinforces systems of oppression that disenfranchise communities of color in particular.

His conversation with TIE Editor in Chief Alexia Hudson-Ward similarly weaves together concepts of race, space, and the politics of occupancy in public spaces, focusing particularly on what this entails for BIPOC communities. They consider, for example, the impulse behind policing people of color in certain recreational spaces, the issue of confederate monuments and the underlying drive in the United States to commemorate wars rather than champion reflection, and a holistic approach to conceptualizing recreational spaces and what they should include to serve all people.

We hope you enjoy this illuminating interview with Dr. Rasul Mowatt.

Here’s a quick peek inside the episode:

On the importance of leisure and what it encompasses:

“Think of leisure studies as the philosophical background [for] how … we understand things like free time and experience and motivation if you don’t understand that sort of underpinning of why people may engage in something, what are you programming for? You’re not just programming sports leagues just to deliver sports, you’re trying to create social bonding, you’re trying to create community ties, you’re trying to, within a sport, develop competition, but competition that’s fair, and teamwork, and all these other types of things that need to be planned, so it’s not just scheduling the games.”

On the politicization of public space:

“When we look at the history of the parks system, which is not a continuous history, there’s different park leadership that’s come in with certain philosophies and sometimes the philosophers were very discriminatory, but some of them sometimes weren’t intentionally racially discriminatory, they just ended up still having the same impact. There have been certain periods of time when certain things were constructed, there was a certain period when pavilions were [then] a new feature to put into a park, just as there were periods of time in which a community center all of a sudden was the new thing to put into a park … Especially when you start getting into the 1990s, people were struggling with [the thought], well do we have common features within all parks or do we have parks with certain features, understanding that all parks should be technically available to people, they just need to travel to them. And so you can sort of see, just in the physical structure of a park, where and when these debates and deliberations took place … People really have to understand that public parks are for an entire public.”

On what we choose to memorialize in public spaces:

“I think one of the pieces that oftentimes is missing in discussions around Confederate monuments is that Confederate monuments are only a part of this massive—80 percent of most of the monuments and statues within the United States that are all dedicated to war. So war/militarism is the dominant theme associated with most statues and monuments across the United States, which is just astounding. So what does that say about the value order of a particular country? There is very seldom any statues for reflection and contemplation … Here is a park that’s maybe used for reflection, maybe for exercise, maybe for other social gatherings, but instead the monument in there is not for reflection or social gathering, it’s for something else … Why do [we] need a statue at all? Why not give children more splash pads … why not give more adults and others maybe more comfortable seating to sit in the park … Not having the injustice in our face could may get us to think about … why do we need these monuments … why can’t we just have something else that serves the function that most people are using the park for?”

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Header image is a detail of This is Harlem by Jacob Lawrence. Courtesy of Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. © 2021 The Jacob and Gwendolyn Knight Lawrence Foundation, Seattle / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. For more information, click here.