Title

Occupation and the practice and politics of sustainable living

Start Time

5-10-2012 10:55 AM

End Time

5-10-2012 11:25 AM

Session Type

Event

Abstract

The growing sustainability discourse within occupational science necessitates research on sustainability from an occupational perspective. Sustainable living is often presented in popular media and social discourse as individual sacrifice for the collective good, or “living with less.” This narrow depiction has political, social, and academic implications and is problematic as we grapple with the consequences of global ecological degradation. It is also inconsistent with the narratives and experiences of people who undertake sustainability based lifestyles. This paper integrates analysis of depictions of sustainability and “green living” in popular media with an ethnographic case study of a family living a sustainability based lifestyle. Case study data collection included interviews, participant observation and administration of the Occupational Questionnaire (Smith et al); analysis methods included open and focused coding and ongoing member checking of findings. The case was selected from a larger study examining the experiences of occupational categorization of nonworking adults (Whalley Hammell), and is used here to illustrate the meanings and practice and problematize common depictions of sustainability based occupations. Sustainable living in the case study is constituted by a process of ongoing change and identity negotiation. Additional themes of social responsibility, community, occupational roles, and consumption emerged from this case study. Although the study began with inquiry into the experiences of a single family member, an unexpected finding was that the level of the individual was not ideal for understanding occupations or experiences related to sustainable living. A Communities of Practice framework (Wenger) was used to understand these experiences, and I suggest that inquiry at the family and community level may provide valuable insights and stimulate dialogue in occupational science about issues of sustainability. Such dialogue would broaden our understanding of occupation beyond the level of the individual. This paper makes suggestions for ways in which such inquiry might be better undertaken in Occupational Science. Findings from the case study indicate that sustainability based occupations are meaningful and complex, and may serve to enrich family life and community integration. This paper makes an argument for reframing the discourse to be consistent with the experiences of people who undertake sustainable living, to inform both scientific inquiry and the tone with which the broader sustainability discourse is undertaken.

Discussion questions:

  1. How can the lived experiences of individuals engaged in sustainability based occupations inform the sustainability discourse?
  2. What are the political implications of the language used to discuss sustainability?
  3. Does the popular and political discourse of sustainability shape occupational engagement?
  4. How can occupational science make a unique contribution to the sustainability dialogue?
  5. How can Occupational Science expand inquiry into the meaning and practice of occupation beyond the level of the individual?
  6. Consumption emerged as a key occupation within the case study, but is not often studied from an occupational science perspective. How might we approach the study of consumption as an occupation?

References

Occupational Questionnaire. Published in Smith, N.R., Kielhofner, G., & Watts, J.H. (1986). The relationships between volition, activity pattern, and life satisfaction in the elderly. American Journal of Occupational Therapy 4, 278-283.

Wenger, E. (1999). Communities of practice: Learning, meaning and identity. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Whalley Hammell, K (2009). Sacred texts: A sceptical exploration of the assumptions underpinning theories of occupation. Canadian Journal of Occupational Therapy, 76(1), pp. 6-13.

Whalley Hammell, K. (2009). Self-care, productivity, and leisure, or dimensions of occupational experience? Rethinking occupational “categories.” Canadian Journal of Occupational Therapy, 76(2), 107-114.

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Theoretical paper

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Oct 5th, 10:55 AM Oct 5th, 11:25 AM

Occupation and the practice and politics of sustainable living

The growing sustainability discourse within occupational science necessitates research on sustainability from an occupational perspective. Sustainable living is often presented in popular media and social discourse as individual sacrifice for the collective good, or “living with less.” This narrow depiction has political, social, and academic implications and is problematic as we grapple with the consequences of global ecological degradation. It is also inconsistent with the narratives and experiences of people who undertake sustainability based lifestyles. This paper integrates analysis of depictions of sustainability and “green living” in popular media with an ethnographic case study of a family living a sustainability based lifestyle. Case study data collection included interviews, participant observation and administration of the Occupational Questionnaire (Smith et al); analysis methods included open and focused coding and ongoing member checking of findings. The case was selected from a larger study examining the experiences of occupational categorization of nonworking adults (Whalley Hammell), and is used here to illustrate the meanings and practice and problematize common depictions of sustainability based occupations. Sustainable living in the case study is constituted by a process of ongoing change and identity negotiation. Additional themes of social responsibility, community, occupational roles, and consumption emerged from this case study. Although the study began with inquiry into the experiences of a single family member, an unexpected finding was that the level of the individual was not ideal for understanding occupations or experiences related to sustainable living. A Communities of Practice framework (Wenger) was used to understand these experiences, and I suggest that inquiry at the family and community level may provide valuable insights and stimulate dialogue in occupational science about issues of sustainability. Such dialogue would broaden our understanding of occupation beyond the level of the individual. This paper makes suggestions for ways in which such inquiry might be better undertaken in Occupational Science. Findings from the case study indicate that sustainability based occupations are meaningful and complex, and may serve to enrich family life and community integration. This paper makes an argument for reframing the discourse to be consistent with the experiences of people who undertake sustainable living, to inform both scientific inquiry and the tone with which the broader sustainability discourse is undertaken.

Discussion questions:

  1. How can the lived experiences of individuals engaged in sustainability based occupations inform the sustainability discourse?
  2. What are the political implications of the language used to discuss sustainability?
  3. Does the popular and political discourse of sustainability shape occupational engagement?
  4. How can occupational science make a unique contribution to the sustainability dialogue?
  5. How can Occupational Science expand inquiry into the meaning and practice of occupation beyond the level of the individual?
  6. Consumption emerged as a key occupation within the case study, but is not often studied from an occupational science perspective. How might we approach the study of consumption as an occupation?