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All about occupational science

It is no small thing to be well-occupied. (Author unknown). When this author penned this thought, he was attuned with the core values of occupational science. Occupational science recognizes that within participation in daily activities there is something inherently powerful and essential to the creation of satisfying, healthy lives. Occupation, as used here, does not refer to only employment but to all those daily activities that “occupy” our time.

Occupational science is an academic discipline that uses systematic methods to investigate the relationship of daily occupations, health and well-being.

History of occupational science

At the beginning of the 20th century health care providers, influenced by pragmatism, the mental hygiene and the social activitist movements of the period, recognized that the activities of everyday life were critical to individual’s health and well-being. Two of these leaders shared these eloquent thoughts:

Occupation is the very life of life. Harold Bell Wright (1915)

Occupation is as necessary to life as food and drink. That every human being should have both physical and mental occupations which they enjoy. These are more necessary when the vocation is dull or distasteful. . . That sick minds, sick bodies, sick souls may be healed through occupation. Dunton (1919)

The interdisciplinary professionals who founded the profession of occupational therapy in the early 20th century recognized that occupation was at the heart of therapeutic practice and that studying this phenemenon was essential to the advancement of the profession.

The object of the society shall be the advancement of occupation as a therapeutic measure; the study of the effects of occupation upon the human being; and the dissemination of scientific knowledge of this subject. (Article 1, Section 3, Constitution; National Society for the Promotion of Occupational Therapy, 1917.)

Throughout the 20th century, the profession of occupational therapy built and reexamined its knowlege base for practice. Concerned that practice knowlege was becoming overly mechanistic and reductionist, in 1967, Elizabeth Yerxa, a visionary in the field, called for a more critical analysis of the state of knowlege in occupational therapy. This led to the development of more theory-based practice knowledge but as yet this knowledge was not rooted in the core concept of occupation as the founders had intended. In 1988, Dr. Yerxa along with the faculty of the University of Southern California formally founded a doctoral course of study in the discipline of occupational science. In the U.S.A, this event marked the formal establishment of the discipline of occupational science. Some 15 years later, interest and research in occupational science is prospering around the world. Like the U.S., each country has its own history of how occupational science emerged. The synchronicity of these movements, seeded by collaborative efforts of scholars around the world, has created a flourishing discipline.

Journal of Occupational Science (JOS)

This international journal is commited to topical dialogue of the emerging discipline of occupational science. It aims to give voice to the unique experiences, concerns and perspectives of the study of humans as occupational beings. It is a joint publication from the University of South Australia, the University of Southern California, and the Auckland Institute of Technology. The Editorial Board includes internationally recognised experts from the fields of anthropology, time use, occupational therapy and community health. The Executive Editor of the journal is Associate Professor Ann Wilcock PhD., and the Editor is Clare Hocking from the Auckland Institute of Technology ( (Taken from the Journal of Occupational Science Website).

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To contribute information or suggest links contact Elizabeth Larson

University of Wisconsin–Madison

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