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Introduction

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Abstract

Fun is taken for granted. In everyday talk people use the term anticipating that others will know what they mean when they describe something as fun. In fact it is so taken for granted that outside of dictionary definitions there is very little in the way of explanations for what fun is and how to discern it from other social experiences. What we know is that sometimes we have it and sometimes we don’t, one person’s idea of it is not necessarily another’s and having too much of it is often frowned upon. Much of the literature that is used in this book refers to fun as rooted in activities presumed to be fun—‘camping and water-based activities’ are ‘popular and fun’ according to a study of ‘rural family fun’ (Churchill et al. 2007: 282)—or conflates fun with things like play (Yee 2006; Churchill et al. 2007; Kelty et al. 2008), happiness (Cameron 1972; Jackson 2000; Sumnall et al. 2010), leisure (Scanlan and Simons 1992; Bengoechea et al. 2004; MacPhail et al. 2008) or deviance (Riemer 1981; Redmon 2003; Keppens and Spruyt 2015). Whilst it is the case that all of these areas may contain elements that people would describe as fun, there is precious little in the way of theorising or describing what it is. Fun pertains to other areas of life but is rarely viewed as a defining feature of it. The most pertinent example of this is found in the recent interest in issues of happiness and well-being. Opinions and expertise on happiness emanate from a wide array of academic disciplinary backgrounds. People working in psychology, psychiatry, economics, social policy, health studies, philosophy, geography and youth studies—to name a few—have been applying themselves to understanding what constitutes happiness, its relationship to well-being, how to measure it and importantly how to instil a sense of it in individuals and populations (Rodriguez et al. 2011; Bok 2010; Veenhoven 2009; Waite et al. 2009; Diener and Biswas-Diener 2008). At the same time as the world economic recession of 2008–2009 reverberated through economies several national governments became interested in measures of happiness in populations. In the UK the government decided to conduct a survey through the Office for National Statistics to assess how ‘happy’ the British population was in 2011 (Directgov 2010). The intention of officially monitoring happiness was to steer government social policy (Stratton 2010). Elsewhere, the governments of France and Canada developed national happiness measures at the same time as the UK (Stratton 2010). The discussions about happiness and well-being were generally centred on a few core themes, the most prominent being wealth and income, job satisfaction, feelings of community, relationships with friends and family, environment, cultural activities, health and education (Directgov 2010). The thinking is that if you can get a sense of these facets of a person’s life as successful or unsuccessful, attained or unattained, then you should be able to infer levels of happiness. However, the point for this book is not to dwell on the obvious difficulties in defining and then measuring something subjective like levels of happiness—or whether it is a worthwhile pursuit or not—but to note that there has been an important omission from almost all discussions about what makes people happy—namely, fun. The absence of fun perhaps relates to the conflation of happiness with well-being where fun is peripheral to the more weighty matters of physical health or economic security—but when considered alongside happiness, this absence is odd. During two particular studies I have been involved with, one looking at informal labour markets and the other into the relationship between mental health and work, the importance of fun to people became apparent. In interviews when asked what made them happy—particularly at work—many participants identified having fun as a fundamental reason for being happy. Obviously, this is not a novel observation, as Donald Roy points out in Banana Time several commentators in the 1950s had made similar points. As an interviewee in work on assembly line workers by Walker and Guest said, ‘We have a lot of fun and talk all the time … if it weren’t for the talking and fooling you’d go nuts’ (Roy 1959: 158). The role of fun for making situations at worst tolerable and at best enjoyable is clear—which is what makes the omission of fun as an object of serious study all the more perplexing. There is a general absence of any engagement with fun as a central feature of happiness; rather, fun is a by-product of activities that are supposed to make us happy. This book is an attempt primarily to acknowledge the central role fun plays in our lives and also to develop a sociological approach to fun.

Keywords

  • Oxford English Dictionary
  • Dictionary Definition
  • Public Service Broadcasting
  • Mental Health Crisis
  • Ideological Justification

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Clearly this will be a moot point for those that hate camping.

  2. 2.

    This is perhaps an echo of things like the tradition of the ‘Lord of Misrule’ in the UK—a practice Henry VIII tried to ban in 1541 with limited success.

  3. 3.

    The recreational drug ecstasy.

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Fincham, B. (2016). Introduction. In: The Sociology of Fun. Palgrave Macmillan, London. https://doi.org/10.1057/978-1-137-31579-3_1

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