Article review: “Having and using objects in the western world” by Clare Hocking (2000)

Article review: “Having and using objects in the western world” by Clare Hocking (2000)

According to Riley (2012),  this article uses occupational science to illustrate the meaning of ‘ identity’ in the CMOP-E.

It describes how a sense of self and social identity are represented by the objects someone makes or uses. Using objects in this context includes making, wearing, maintaining or restoring, displaying, collecting and consuming objects, operating or using objects as tools, as well as purchasing things (the focus of consumer research). Hocking used information from sources of psychology, consumer research, sociology, anthropology, disability studies and popular literature to make her conclusion. This aligns with the view that occupational science draws from many different disciplines to create its understanding of occupation.

Western people use objects to create and express a sense of self and an identity, and that the way they use objects to achieve this is placed in a cultural and historical context.

The self is how we view ourselves internally, and our memories/knowledge of experiences that have shaped us.

Identity is how society views us, and assigns us a social identity.

otter seeing mirror of self

Objects are used as mirrors of self, reflecting attitudes, values, relationships & achievements. People selecting objects for themselves choose those that represent their ideal self and not actual self. Objects are used as mirrors of identity, especially clothing, and offer the chance claim or to buy into a desired social identity. They reflect desired social position, status identity, gender identity.

People use objects to transform or develop their identity, to become more successful, exciting, attractive, or socially statused. Westerner culture assumes that that people have an individual rather than collective identity. In other cultures eg India people’s preferred objects are those relating to family or communal prestige, rather than ones with individual meaning.

The more insecure Western people become in relation to the identity they want, the more they want the material symbols of that identity.

For Westerners using objects is on a continuum between Stoicism (practical, puritan,rational decisions about need, spiritual, simple, long term gain over short term reward) and at the other end of the scale, Romanticism (emotional expression, beauty for sake of it, self-expression, freedom of desire, complexity, conspicuous consumption, hedonistic (note; not the same as happy).



Riley J (2012) Occupational science and occupational therapy: a contemporary relationship. Chapter 14 in Boniface G, Seymour A (eds) Using occupational therapy theory in practice. Oxford: Wiley Blackwell.

Hocking, Clare (2000) Having and using objects in the western world. Journal of Occupational Science vol 7 (issue 3), pp148-157.

Abstract: This interpretive study explores how Western people construct self and express identity though the objects they acquire, make and use in their day-to-day occupation. Drawing on literature from psychology, consumer research,sociology, anthropology, disability studies and popular literature, it proposes that people use objects to reflect self and identity, and to transform self and others. Using a history of ideas methodology, the author argues that Western people take for granted that the objects they have and use reflect an individual rather than collective identity, and suggests that the ways people use objects to construct self and identity are informed by the philosophies of both Stoicism, which emphasises self discipline and rational decision making, and romanticism which celebrates people’s emotional depth, creativity and self expression.