Bree Bauerschmidt, David L. Nelson; The Terms Occupation and Activity Over the History of Official Occupational Therapy Publications. Am J Occup Ther 2011;65(3):338–345. https://doi.org/10.5014/ajot.2011.000869
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© 2021 American Occupational Therapy Association
The history of articles in the American Journal of Occupational Therapy and its predecessors reflects trends and changes in professional terminology and the thoughts underlying that terminology. In this study, we investigate use of occupation, activity, and related terms across 9 decades of occupational therapy literature from the 1920s to the 2000s. The literature for 3 years of each of the 9 decades was scanned electronically. A random numbers table was used to equalize the number of words across decades, and a computer search function was used to determine each term’s frequency of use for each decade. Results indicated that the term occupation was widely used in the 1920s but then declined until the 1980s. With a rapid increase in use in the 2000s, the term occupation actually appeared more often than it did in the 1920s. The term activity appeared infrequently in the 1920s but gained popularity from the 1930s to the 1960s. From the 1970s to the 1990s, the use of both terms was quite low. This study shows that basic occupational therapy terminology has fluctuated dramatically over time. Given the essential link between terminology and theory, these changes arguably reflect authors’ and editors’ changing viewpoints on the profession’s fundamental nature.
Uncovering detail, knowing the relationship of particular details to a larger picture, and using that detail both to enhance the understanding of a historical situation or event and to guide additional data gathering may serve as part of a system of checks and balances that promotes accuracy in historiography. (p. 243)
Occupation(s) and occupational were coded as things done voluntarily by patients, clients, or others used as examples of doing, while excluding Categories 2, 5, 6, 7, and 12.
Occupational performance required no special coding rule.
Activity(ies) was coded as things done voluntarily by individual people or by nonprofessional groups, as in therapeutic group activities, while excluding Categories 4, 7, 8, and 9.
Activity(ies) of daily living required no special coding rule except that it also included abbreviations ADL and IADL.
Irrelevant use of occupational or (rarely) occupation(s) was coded as the use of an adjective before therapy, therapist, aide, teacher, class, building, work, center, or department (e.g., occupational therapy or occupations teacher).
Job-oriented occupation(s) or occupational was coded as job classification or vocation only when the author was clearly not discussing occupation as doing, as therapy, or as part of occupational therapy theory (e.g., occupational classifications).
Occupational activity required no special operationalization.
Biologically oriented activity(ies) was coded as reflexes or totally automatic human or nonhuman motility.
Organization-oriented activities or activity was coded as things done by organizations or professional working groups (e.g., activities of a task force).
Task(s) was coded as actions to be done voluntarily by patients, clients, or others used as examples of doing (e.g., task analysis).
Organization-oriented task(s) was coded as actions not related to therapy, including actions to be done by organizations or professional working groups (e.g., task group).
Military-oriented occupation(s) was coded as military seizure and administration.
Our exclusive domain is occupation. We must refine, research, and systematize it so that it becomes evident, definable, defensible and salable . . . [Occupation] is our latent power if we will but keep it as our focus and direction. (p. 43)
[t]he ultimate statement of pride and confidence in the profession will be the full adoption of the term occupation in the language of the profession, with each occupational therapist taking personal responsibility for explaining to the world why we are called occupational therapists. (Nelson, 1997, pp. 22–23)
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