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What is Occupational Science?

Overview of Occupational Science

Occupational science is a new academic discipline that generates knowledge about human occupation and humans as occupational beings. In occupational science, occupation refers to all the things that people do in their everyday life, not just paid employment.

Occupational scientists research what people do in their daily lives and what influences their occupational potential.

AOSC is the world's first occupational science education and research centre.

Occupational science is the study of human occupations. It is a basic science dedicated to the understanding of human occupation, using both qualitative and quantitative methods of inquiry.

Occupational science is an interdisciplinary field that evolved in the late 1980s when anthropologists, geographers, public health researchers, occupational therapists, and others began to focus their research on human occupation.

The term "occupational science" was coined by a group of academic occupational therapists at the University of Southern California under the leadership of Elizabeth Yerxa.

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What is "human occupation"?

When you hear the word "occupation" the first thing that comes to your mind is probably your job, what you get paid to do, what you trained to become.

But "occupation" can mean much more than that to an open mind. Consider the following:

How do humans occupy the space around them? How do humans occupy time? How do they occupy themselves in the course of their daily lives? And why?

How do groups of humans occupy space and time? How do these groups structure their space and time? What are the implications of these social structures?

How does the structure of work, home life, and community life determine what we think about doing and what we want to do? How do culture, economics, policies and more shape what is taken for granted as "normal" everyday life? How do humans exert agency through their occupations i.e. what do they do to shape the structure of their societies?

When it comes to human occupation, there are certainly more questions than answers - which is why occupational science has evolved. In any case, there is certainly no sure definition of "human occupation" but hopefully the passage above has helped you consider the various dimensions of "human occupation".

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Who are occupational scientists?

Currently, the majority of occupational scientists are occupational therapists and occupational therapy educators/researchers. However, because Occupational Science is a discipline with a unique focus-the complexity and centrality of occupation in human life-the field draws from a remarkable breadth of interdisciplinary resources, including:

  • Anthropology
  • Sociology
  • Psychology
  • Education
  • Biology
  • Performing and fine arts
  • Literature
  • Pediatrics
  • Gerontology

Each of these disciplines provides different perspectives on the underlying components of occupation. These components are then researched further to understand how adaptation and engagement in occupations shape our lives.

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What does occupational science offer?

Occupational science offers us the chance to gain a better understanding of human occupation. This knowledge has the potential to contribute to various professional and academic fields (e.g. social sciences, health sciences, business and administration), and ultimately to help build healthier, more equitable, more prosperous communities.

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What do occupational scientists do?

Occupational scientists conduct research to answer such questions as:

  • What gives human activities meaning?
  • How is meaning experienced?
  • What are the health promoting benefits of occupation?
  • What happens to people when their occupations must change?
  • What are the cultural influences on the nature and meaning of occupation?
  • How do gender, class, or other social factors influence occupational pursuits?
  • What are the biological bases for our daily orchestration of occupations?
  • How do neurobiological structures and processes effect human engagement in the world?
  • How do different types of engagement in the world alter neurobiological structures and processes?
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