Can hobby culture be reconciled in a modern, capitalist society?
Leisure activities and personal hobbies are perceived as a haven from the regulated, profit-driven, and competitive structure of daily life in capitalist societies. However, the question must be asked: can hobbies whose sole intent is for personal enjoyment be reconciled under a capitalist society? Popular hobbies ranging from hiking and photography to the more obscure such as gem collecting and model constructing are not merely unaffected activities, each one has been commodified, reshaping the hobbies themselves. As activities grow in popularity, so too do the markets vying for profits. Hiking is not merely a day’s walk in the woods, but can become an expensive excursion in which hikers are outfitted in costly new boots, hiking-specific trousers, and other outdoors equipment. Collections of gems are not solely a treasure for personal enjoyment, but also the focus of specialty markets, and even television programs. In this way, sociologist Richard Butsch explains that the history of hobbies can be marked as one of gradual decline in control by hobbyists and a rise in control by capital.
At the forefront of these escapist hobbies often stands the exercise of yoga. Rooted in ancient practices of meditative repetition, yoga is seen as beneficial to not only the body, but the mind as well. The advantages are numerous, but at the core is an understanding of yoga as a personal activity, whose benefits are for the private and for the individual. In this manner, yoga is self-interested, in which profit is neither tangible nor direct.
This concept of a time-consuming activity fails to cater to the competitive mentality which is so frequently coupled with capitalist systems.
Thus, the perceived shortcomings of yoga as a hobby are reconciled within modern society as it becomes yet another market for profit oriented industries. In this manner, yoga has been reshaped from a personal and escapist pursuit to a competitive, for-profit enterprise.
Eager companies have emerged seeking to fulfil markets necessitated by commercialized yoga. From high-priced apparel to equipments and classes, the costs of practicing yoga can become immense, in an effort to conform to an aesthetic of wellness and fitness. In addition, concept of stylish, fitness boutiques have emerged alongside the new popularity and demand. The yoga industry accrues nearly $6 billion annually in the United States, reports the Yoga Journal. This is best exemplified in the various high-end, exclusive yoga studios who market not only the enticing benefits of yoga but also of “holistic health and wellness” at costs upwards of $45 per class or $150 for private lessons.
This dichotomy between the personally beneficial and the publicly profiting conceptions of not only yoga but of hobbies themselves implores a requestioning of this idea: can hobbies whose sole intent is for personal enjoyment be reconciled under a capitalist society? The modern market which has commodified all aspects of any given hobby and the means of producing the hobby itself does not offer a positive reality. In this manner, yoga- a concept rooted in leisure, accessibility, and the individual- has been remade into an entirely new re-conception, to align itself within the parameters of modern society.
art by: Julie Torres