The relationship between objects and identity in occupational therapy: a dynamic balance of rationalism and romanticism
This thesis uncovers the rational and Romantic assumptions about the relationship between objects and identity that are embedded in occupational therapy, and critiques current practice from that perspective. It is based on an initial assumption that there is in fact a relationship between people's identity and the objects they make, have, use and are associated with. This assumption is explored through an interpretive examination of the fields of literature that are commonly identified as informing occupational therapy, supplemented by selected popular literature. The exploration takes a philosophical approach, guided by notions from philosophical hermeneutics, including pre-understandings, the hermeneutic circle and fusion of horizons. The conclusion reached is that people informed by Western philosophies interpret the identity meanings of objects in both rational and Romantic ways. To inform the study, the nature of rationalism and Romanticism are then explained, and the implications of these philosophical traditions in relation to objects and identity are teased out. This interpretation is guided by a history of ideas methodology, which entails approaching historical texts from a new perspective, in this case the identity meanings of objects. Thus informed, occupational therapy literature, primarily that published in Britain between 1938 and 1962 is examined from the perspective of objects and identity. What is revealed is that rational and Romantic understandings of objects, and of patients' and their own identity are clearly discernible. Such understandings afforded early occupational therapists both ways to organise their growing knowledge of the therapeutic application of crafts and the transformative outcomes of occupational therapy intervention. Gradually however, factors both internal and external to the profession served to undermine therapists' Romanticism. Primary amongst these were World War II, which saw a redeployment of occupational therapists from mental health to physical rehabilitation settings; advances in rehabilitative medicine, which brought a reduction in secondary complications and the adoption of teamwork; and the development of new practice areas including domestic rehabilitation using gadgets to enhance function and pre-vocational rehabilitation. As a result, tensions between rational and Romantic understandings crystallised around two long-standing controversies. These were whether or not craft equipment such as weaving looms should be adapted to serve specific remedial purposes, and whether it was the process of making a crafted object or the quality of the finished product that was more important. In the event, these contested ideologies became largely irrelevant as craftwork was sidelined from mainstream practice. With it, occupational therapists' Romantic vision of transforming people's lives through creative activity also slipped away. Several reasons for this loss of one of the profession's founding philosophies are proposed. They include the substantial absence of the professions' philosophical foundations from its education, and the paucity of theory and research methodologies that might have informed the nature and process of transformative change that earlier occupational therapists had observed and reported. The thesis concludes by arguing for the importance of recovering a balance between rationalism and Romanticism. A call to action is issued, addressing change in educational practice, concerted research effort to identify and articulate transformative processes within occupational therapy, and political action focusing on the inclusion of Romantic perspectives within policy and strategic documents.