26 November 1999

What Do Heidelberg Students Get Up To in their Leisure Time?

120 students at the Institute of Sociology of the University of Heidelberg took a searching look at the leisure-time habits of their fellow students – Here are some results

Together with their supervising senior lecturer Achim Buehl, 120 students at Heidelberg University's Institute of Sociology have designed, tested, implemented and evaluated a questionnaire on "Leisure Habits of Heidelberg Students". In the interests of making the study representative 5 percent of the students studying a given subject were interviewed on a quota basis. There were 24,265 young people studying in Heidelberg in the winter semester 1998/99. For the budding sociologists it was anything but an easy task to persuade 1,223 students to respond to the 21-page questionnaire.

Alongside this joint survey the students are also involved in project groups examining the sociology of leisure in and around the region of Heidelberg. One group, for example, is looking at the free-time behaviour of disabled persons in Heidelberg, while another has been investigating the effects of different work-time models on the staff of a particular company. Other topics broached by the 25 teams include leisure styles displayed by students in different kinds of secondary schools, sports clubs in Heidelberg, leisure-time habits of detainees in Mannheim Penitentiary, the "Neckarwiese" (north bank of the Neckar) as a public leisure area, young people's leisure habits in the Emmertsgrund district of Heidelberg, etc.

The research project will go on until well into the new millennium but the first batch of results is already available. They give interesting answers to the following questions (and many more): What do Heidelberg students get up to in their leisure time? What motives do they have for selecting specific leisure-time activities? How satisfied are they with the amount of leisure-time they have and the range of free-time activities Heidelberg has to offer? How much free time do they have? Are men and women different in the way they organise their leisure-time? Are there differences between students of different subjects (medicine, law, economics, social studies, languages, cultural studies)? What explanations are there for the differences manifesting themselves?

The theoretical background for the interpretation of the findings on different approaches to leisure among students of different subjects is supplied by the ideas of the French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu. In line with his approach the study proceeds on the assumption that differences in social background will have an influence on the choice of subject studied and will also have a bearing on what students do with their time, free or otherwise. Bourdieu explains this largely by suggesting that the socialisation process undergone at home and in other influential social contexts is instrumental in forming specific perception, thought and action schemata which he calls "habitus". The habitual dispositions generated by different social origins express themselves in the form of distinctive lifestyles, including living, dressing and leisure styles, value systems, life goals, political leanings etc.

The initial findings of the "Leisure Research Group" at the Institute of Sociology indicate that while it is indeed possible to speak of a "student leisure culture" this culture is more variegated than has hitherto been assumed. Decisive criteria for predicting individual leisure-time behaviours are gender, social background, subject studied, financial situation. The representative data for the Heidelberg student landscape show that social origins play a decisive role both in the choice of subject for study and in leisure styles. The explanation proposed for this influence is the internalisation of habitual dispositions acquired in the course of primary socialisation processes. More generally, leisure styles can be conceived of as an expressive dimension of underlying individual lifestyles. "High-culture" events (opera, theatre, classical concerts) are attended most often by students whose parents display a "high" or "very high" degree of "cultural capital".

The results indicate the existence of distinctive male and female leisure styles and also leisure patterns specific to students of certain subject types. In their free time women engage more frequently than men in high-culture activities and domestic activities (making things, tidying up, etc.). Men are more likely to be involved in team sports and to figure as spectators at sporting events. Among women creativity and social communication are essential motives for leisure activities while men are more "body-oriented" (sport). One remarkable finding is that women students feel they have considerably less free time than men (even in the "holidays"). This may have to do with the fact that they spend substantially more time at the University and learning for their classes.

The above can of course be no more than a very brief run-down of the multitude of information generated by this survey. For more details on the projects please address inquiries to:

Dr. Achim Buehl
Institute of Sociology
Sandgasse 9
D-69117 Heidelberg
phone: 06221/542988, fax: 542996
email: Achim.Buehl@urz.uni-heidelberg.de

Dipl.oec. Markus Luig
Institute of Sociology
Sandgasse 9
D-69117 Heidelberg
phone: 06221/543261, fax: 542996

Dipl.-Soz. Stefan Hunsicker
Institute of Sociology
Sandgasse 9
D-69117 Heidelberg

Student contact:
Ursula Wagner
Winterstrasse 23
D-76137 Karlsruhe

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