In seeking a concept of leisure that can be useful for his purposes, the sociologist may do one of two things: either he may accept leisure to be what people say it is or what it means to them; or he may seek an ideal construct.
As to the first, if he asks several persons at a baseball game, what brought them there, he will receive a variety of answers: "to enjoy the game," "to get the sunshine," "to get away from home," "to rest." If asked what leisure means to them on a more general level, the same persons are likely to consider it as "time off from work," "free time," "my own time," "doing what I like," "rest," and so on. A more sophisticated audience or a categorical-minded observer might attempt to classify such views in still other ways:
Leisure as a bulk of time, qualitatively distinct from other time, such as the evening.
Leisure as freedom from those activities that have to be done, such as work or household chores.
Leisure as an end, distinct from work as a means.
Leisure as a minimum of obligation to others, to routine, even to oneself.
Leisure as re-creation, to prepare for better work, to store up energy or knowledge.
Leisure as self-improvement, whether in study, seeking new friends, or new experiences.
Leisure as social control, using the time of others to win them over or influence them; i.e., Roman games, German youth.
Leisure as a social symbol of class position, age, or success.
Leisure as sets of attitudes or motivations, not a content.
Leisure as physiological or emotional necessity, such as therapy or physical rest.
The second approach is to construct a general picture or concept of leisure that will avoid the narrowness of anyone type of subjective interpretation and at the same time permit of both subjective perception and objective analysis. The terms "ideal construct" or "ideal type" are sometimes applied to our use in conversation about common speech when we speak of "English society" or "communism"; these analytic tools were systematically used by the eminent scholar Max Weber when he analyzed Protestantism, the Chinese literati, and capitalism. As used by Weber, the ideal type is a general, not a specific, picture or a statistical average. It contains the important elements of the situation, against which a real situation can be assessed. As a typical picture of leisure, what is sought is something "applicable to the analysis of an infinite plurality of concrete cases."
The essential elements of leisure, as we shall interpret it, are (a) an antithesis to "work" as an economic function, (b) a pleasant expectation and recollection, (c) a minimum of involuntary social-role obligations, (d) a psychological perception of freedom, (e) a close relation to values of the culture, (f) the inclusion of an entire range from inconsequence and insignificance to weightiness and importance, and (g) often, but not necessarily, an activity characterized by the element of play.