Resituating the meaning of occupation in the context of living

Reed, Kirk
Smythe, Liz
Hocking, Clare
Item type
Degree name
Doctor of Health Science
Journal Title
Journal ISSN
Volume Title
Auckland University of Technology

This study explores the meaning of occupation, defined as a “conceptual entity… [which] includes all the things that people do in their everyday life” (Sundkvist & Zingmark, 2003, p. 40). Using a phenomenological hermeneutic method informed by the writings of Martin Heidegger (1889-1976) and Hans-Georg Gadamer (1900-2002), this study provides an understanding of the meaning of occupation interpreted from the perspective of 12 New Zealand adults who experienced a disruption to their occupations. The review of the literature suggests that early writers from the time of the Bible identified that occupation is not ‘wide open’, there are many factors that shape how and when a person engages in an occupation, which in turn shapes the meaning of occupation. Within the occupational therapy literature, discussion of the meaning of occupation is overshadowed by describing and defending practice. In occupational science scholars and researchers have focused largely on understanding occupation from a conceptual perspective rather than the ontological meaning of occupation. The exploration of the meaning of occupation is being advanced by only a few. In this study participants told their stories about their occupations. Data were analysed by indentifying key themes and engaging in a hermeneutic thinking process of going back to the work of Heidegger and Gadamer. Writing and re-writing was the method used to bring new understandings to the data. The findings of this thesis suggest that the meaning of occupation is complex, and tends to remain hidden. Analysis focuses on the call, Being-with, and possibilities. The call to occupation seems to be in response to what it is we care about or what concerns us. Being-with others while engaging in an occupation creates a bond and mood; the meaning of occupation changes depending on who the occupation is done with or without. The meaning of occupation is also revealed in the possibilities that are opened up or closed down. Occupation shows both ourselves and others what it is we are capable of in the journey of who it is we are becoming. Each of these facets of meaning work in unison and can be likened to three cogs in a wheel, each interconnected with the others. The thesis concludes by recognising that not all voices have been heard and argues for uncovering more about the meaning of occupation from the perspective of lived experience. A challenge is made to consider the meaning of occupation not as something that is individually derived but as something that is connected to the broader context of the world and others in the world.

Occupation , Meaning , Occupational therapy , Occupational science , Phenomenology , Health studies
Publisher's version
Rights statement