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Research Article  |   January 2002
Pragmatism and Structuralism in Occupational Therapy: The Long Conversation
Author Affiliations
  • Barb Hooper, MS, OTR, is Assistant Professor, Occupational Therapy Program, Grand Valley State University, 1 Campus Drive, Allendale, Michigan 49401-9403; hooperb@gvsu.edu
  • Wendy Wood, PhD, OTR/L, FAOTA, is Assistant Professor, Division of Occupational Science, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Article Information
What is Knowledge
Research Article   |   January 2002
Pragmatism and Structuralism in Occupational Therapy: The Long Conversation
American Journal of Occupational Therapy, January/February 2002, Vol. 56, 40-50. doi:10.5014/ajot.56.1.40
American Journal of Occupational Therapy, January/February 2002, Vol. 56, 40-50. doi:10.5014/ajot.56.1.40
Abstract

The history of occupational therapy may be understood as a continual transaction between two cultural discourses: pragmatism and structuralism. Pragmatism is a way of thinking that presupposes humans are agentic by nature and knowledge is tentative and created within particular contexts. Structuralism is a way of thinking that assumes humans are composites of recurring general frameworks and that knowledge is objective and can be generalized to multiple contexts. Early in the field’s history, both pragmatist and structuralist assumptions about the human and knowledge produced different readings, or interpretations, of what constituted the appropriate tools, methods, and outcomes for occupational therapy. Consequently, occupational therapy adopted an interesting mix of pragmatist language regarding the human and structuralist approaches to knowledge, resulting in professional identity problems still experienced today. However, recent developments offer an opportunity for occupational therapists to correct old identity problems through critically evaluating incompatible assumptions and carefully reading the prevailing cultural ethos.