Marxism and Occupational Therapy

November 4, 2013

in Extracts, Featured Articles

While doing research for my essay on my Occupational Therapy course, I found a fascinating section in a textbook on the influence of Marx, with just the gentlest inference that a good occupational therapist should be smashing capitalism. I thought it worth sharing.

You haven't read my books, have you?

Next on my reading list: “Providing meaningful occupation through full communism”.

Marxist thought is undoubtedly best known for its impact upon politics and sociology during the 20th century. Most people, on hearing the word Marxist, think of the historical communist regime of the Eastern Bloc (Wilcock 2001a). Such was the impact of Marx’s political thinking that his founding philosophies of the centrality of occupation remain relatively unknown. This is, in part, due to the fact that the majority of his early writings were not published in English until the mid-20th century (Wilcock 2001a).

The inclusion of a section on Marx may surprise some readers, yet he could be described as an early occupational scientist (Wilcock 2001a) (see Chapter 18 for an introduction to occupational science). Fundamentally Marx (1964) developed the concept of “alienated labour” which he viewed as an inevitable consequence of capitalist societies. Whilst Marx believed that occupations should be uplifting and socially involving, he also believed that, in general, individuals’ productive occupations were developed to produce commodities (Corrigan 2001). In essence, Marx argued for a socially just way of living: one that recognised that individuals require satisfaction in what they do as well as adequately meeting life’s requirements. Marx viewed the difficulties that faced individuals in life as largely being a result of the imposition of social organisation rather than naturally occurring (Hartery & Jones 1998).

Such a vision of occupation suggests that occupational therapists should focus on being agents of social change rather than a part of the process that maintains social conformity. Indeed, Corrigan (2001) suggests that “the profession’s need to maintain credibility within other discourses inadvertently diminishes its capacity to act socially” (p.204). In other words, it could be suggested that in occupational therapy’s determination to become accepted within the systems in which it works it has, to a certain extent, limited potential to become a social agent for change.

Increased recognition of the impact of society on the individual’s occupational potential has, however, redressed this balance to a certain extent, and occupational therapists are increasingly adding their voice as agents of social change. The Person-Environment-Occupation model of practice has embraced occupation therapy as an agent of social change (see Chapter 8) and this too has been enhanced through occupation therapy’s involvement in community-based rehabilitation (see Chapter 17).

From Foundations for Practice in Occupational Therapy (2012) edited by Edward A. S. Duncan.

Bibliography:

  • Corrigan, K., Doing time in mental health: discipline at the end of medicine, British Journal of Occupational Therapy 64 (4) (2001) 203-5.
  • Hartery, I.; Jones, D., What is sociology? In: (Editor: Jones, D,; et al.) Sociology and Occupational Therapy: An Integrated Approach (1998) Churchill Livingstone, Edinburgh.
  • Wilcock, A.A., Occupation for Health: A Journey from Prescription to Self-health (2001) College of Occupational Therapists, London.

It is not mentioned in the book what exactly “Marx (1964)” is a reference to ( Do Not Pass Go, Do Not Collect £200), but curious googling leads me to believe it was this:

  • Marx, K., Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, New York City, International Publishers, 1964.
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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

drops of jupiter July 9, 2014 at 10:30 am

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Alex Bradshaw November 2, 2017 at 4:31 pm

Very excited to see any occupational therapists discussing intersections with radical politics. I’m an OT in the states and have long been fascinated and focused on how our field can become more ensconced in the movement to fight for racial, economic, social, and climate justice. Cheers.

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