Article review: “The Challenge of Occupation: Describing the Things People Do” – Clare Hocking (2009)

Article review: “The Challenge of Occupation: Describing the Things People Do” – Clare Hocking (2009)

Hocking says that occupational science must seek to provide in-depth information about what occupation is, rather than just how people engage with it or what they experience as a result of doing it. She outlines her idea of what the definition of occupation is and how it is context-dependent on the culture it occurs within.

otter reviewing paper
Story checks out.

As a result of increased knowledge she argues it would help OT practitioners to see people as ‘occupational beings’ and provide improved appreciation of the meaning occupation has to people’s lives, together with the demands required to carry them out. Using this knowledge would eclipse personal experience alone, for example you may know from personal experience that cooking a large meal is tiring and time-consuming and so may direct an Asian patient recovering from stroke to withdraw from the seemingly burdensome occupation of preparing dinner for her husband. But armed with research knowledge that meal preparation is seen as a gift to family, you could instead consider ways to adapt the occupation to allow the patient to continue since it holds meaning across this culture.

For occupational scientists, the benefit would be creating a concrete benchmark from which to examine the varying definitions of ‘occupation’ and an understanding of how occupation contributes to preserving tradition, community and wider societal culture and is more than  merely a habit or skill. It would also be a base for further research into areas such as how changes in occupation brought about by new technologies or lifestyles have affected health outcomes.

Hocking describes research strategies in order to obtain further knowledge about what occupation is, in order to aid the development and improvement of occupational theories.

Ethical principles to consider when obtaining this information are:

  • acknowledging the diversity within a named occupation (not trying to gloss over deviations from the norm but explore further)
  • serving occupational justice (by researching occupations of marginalized or disabled people)
  • considering the sustainability of occupations (in terms of environmental impact and contribution to a positive society).



Clare Hocking (2009) ‘The Challenge of Occupation: Describing the Things People Do’  JOURNAL OF OCCUPATIONAL SCIENCE vol 16(3) OCTOBER 2009, pp 140-150.

Abstract: This article proposes that to fulfil the vision of the founders of the discipline, occupational scientists must develop a new strand of research and scholarship dedicated to generating knowledge of occupation itself, rather than people’s engagement in it. The goal is to inform both occupational science and therapy by providing knowledge of the occupations people strive to engage in and their impact and importance. Such investigations would encompass the capacities, knowledge and skills required for participation; who participates and what is done; the rules, norms or processes governing participation; where and when participation occurs, using what resources; the regularity, duration,  tempo and steps involved; the history of an occupation; its function and outcomes; the kinds of meanings it holds; its sociocultural, political, economic, geographic and historical context, and how occupations influence health. Ethical responsibilities in generating this body of knowledge are outlined, including dispelling normative assumptions, serving occupational justice and considering issues of sustainability. Building this unique body of knowledge will require both synthesis of interdisciplinary knowledge and gathering objective and subjective accounts of occupation.