GRE Reading Comprehension

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Source: 2014

Most recent work on the history of leisure in Europe has been based on the central hypothesis of a fundamental discontinuity between preindustrial and industrial soci-eties. According to this view, the modern idea of leisure did not exist in medieval and early modern Europe: the modern distinction between the categories of work and leisure was a product of industrial capitalism. Preindustrial societies had festivals (together with informal and irregular breaks from work), while industrial societies have leisure in the form of weekends and vacations. The emergence of leisure is there-fore part of the process of modernization. If this theory is correct, there is what Michel Foucault called a conceptual rupture between the two periods, and so the very idea of a history of leisure before the Industrial Revolution is an anachronism.

To reject the idea that leisure has had a continuous history from the Middle Ages to the present is not to deny that late medieval and early modern Europeans engaged in many pursuits that are now commonly considered leisure or sporting activities— jousting, hunting, tennis, card playing, travel, and so on—or that Europe in this period was dominated by a privileged class that engaged in these pursuits. What is involved in the discontinuity hypothesis is the recognition that the people of the Middle Ages and early modern Europe did not regard as belonging to a common category activities (hunting and gambling, for example) that are usually classified together today under the heading of leisure. Consider fencing: today it may be considered a "sport," but for the gentleman of the Renaissance it was an art or science. Conversely, activities that today may be considered serious, notably warfare, were often described as pastimes.

Serious pitfalls therefore confront historians of leisure who assume continuity and who work with the modern concepts of leisure and sport, projecting them back ontothe past without asking about the meanings contemporaries gave to their activities.

However, the discontinuity hypothesis can pose problems of its own. Historians hold-ing this view attempt to avoid anachronism by means of a simple dichotomy, cutting European history into two eras, preindustrial and industrial, setting up the binary opposition between a "festival culture" and a "leisure culture." The dichotomy remains of use insofar as it reminds us that the rise of industrial capitalism was not purely a phenomenon of economic history, but had social and cultural preconditions and consequences. The dichotomy, however, leads to distortions when it reduces a great variety of medieval and early modern European ideas, assumptions, and practices to the simple formula implied by the phrase "festival culture."

Question List: 1 2 3 4

The primary purpose of the passage is to

  • A refute the idea that the history of leisure is discontinuous
  • B show why one of two approaches is more useful in studying the history of leisure
  • C suggest the need for a new, more inclusive concept to replace the concept of leisure
  • D trace the development of a theory about the history of leisure
  • E point out the basis for, and the limits of, an approach to the history of leisure

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