Rural poverty, serious leisure and social integration

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Golden, B. Leigh
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University of Guelph

The current Welfare State and its social assistance (SA) programs are structured around an approach to system organization that emphasizes the importance of an individual's participation in the labour market economy. Social policy appears to be an extension of economic policy. Using employment and/or work as the primary means for social integration has facilitated progress in integrating individuals who are unemployed but has not been affective in socially integrating all individuals on social assistance (particularly those at the extreme margins). Little is known about the barriers and constraints imposed by the system on the social integration of individuals who are unemployed (and maybe unemployable) in rural communities. The goal of this dissertation is to describe the conditions of rural poverty and determine if an approach to system organization that emphasizes the importance of an individual's participation in the labour market economy, provides the only mechanism for social integration. This dissertation seeks to establish whether an approach to system organization that emphasizes a more flexible system (that is one providing for a pluralistic approach to resolving the problem of social integration) would be more useful to society. With regard to a more flexible approach, the following questions are asked: Are there other forms of meaningful contributions other than work? And is there a heightened role for leisure to play in the social engagement of individuals on social assistance? The outcome of this research is intended to enhance rural social policy. This dissertation adopted an interpretivistic paradigm. A collective instrumental case study allowed the researcher to examine six individual cases (individuals on SA) to gain insight and understanding of the issue of social integration as well as the possibility of using serious leisure (volunteering) as an additional strategy for fostering an integrated system. In-depth semi-structured interviews and participant observation were conducted and the data was subject to three layers of analysis: in-case (summary of interview themes presented in the form of narratives); cross case (to compare similarities and difference between the six cases); and system/structure analysis (to discover the latent and manifest function and/or dysfunction of the current approach to system organization, social assistance and its affiliated programs). It would appear from the analysis of data that the manifest and latent dysfunctions of the current Welfare State and its affiliated social assistance programs far outweigh the functions. Negative latent functions and/or dysfunctions dominate the cases within this dissertation and the SA experience appears to produce many outcomes that were not officially intended. The manifest functions are not benefiting all of society as some individuals on SA need to find other means for sustaining themselves (physically and psychologically). Furthermore, the findings would suggest that adopting an approach to system organization that emphasizes a more flexible system, provides for a pluralistic approach to social integration, responds to the life world, measures productivity in terms of individual accomplishment (or individually defined accomplishments), and develops policy from the social learning planning tradition would be of benefit to both individual agents and society at large. Moreover, the data analysis would suggest that change to the current approach to system organization is required. This dissertation presents a conceptual framework for social integration that is inclusive of individuals who are on social assistance and/or unemployed in rural communities and prescriptive recommendations for academics, social policy makers, leisure professionals and society at large are made.

rural poverty, system organization, labour market economy, social integration, participation, leisure