It is almost 40 years since I became an occupational therapist. I was a student in Liverpool and then a clinician, first in a large university teaching hospital in Oxford, then in a regional rehabilitation centre in Saskatchewan, Canada, and subsequently in a rural area of Saskatchewan. After some years in this role I decided to upgrade my education, so returned to the UK, and the University of Southampton, to undertake an MSc in Rehabilitation Studies. It was here that I met the work of critical disability theorists, such as Oliver and Barnes, whose work resonated so strongly with my own experiences of living and working with disabled people that I can recall sitting up in bed, reading their work with my heart pounding. The social model of disability was a revelation to me and supported my clinical perceptions that the problems confronting disabled people have more to do with their inequitable opportunities and resources than their physical conditions. I followed the MSc with a Ph.D. in Interdisciplinary Studies (Anthropology, Sociology, Rehabilitation Sciences) at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver.
I have always challenged those in authority. I simply cannot accept what I am told by those in positions of power unless their words are reinforced by evidence or by my own experience. This contributed to making my school years profoundly unhappy and has also led to my ongoing challenge to the leaders within my profession. So when some of our profession’s leaders advanced a model of occupation that comprised three core categories: self-care, productivity and leisure, I was initially excited that the occupational therapy profession was formally declaring itself to be concerned, not solely with self-care skills, but with the various productive and leisure occupations that contribute so much meaning and purpose to people’s lives. But over time, I began to question these three categories, which made little sense in the farming communities where I worked, even less sense to the participants in my doctoral research into the experience of living with high spinal cord injury, and no sense at all to my own daily routines, nor those of my partner, nor parents. For several years I awaited the revision of the occupational categories that I was sure would be forthcoming. But instead, the categories became entrenched as lore, as if the common sense with which they had been informed had been accepted as a reasonable substitute for empirical evidence, and as if the pronouncements of our leading theorists were somehow deemed to be correct or “true”. These categories continue to be taught to students around the world as if they constitute some sort of evidence-informed wisdom, to be bestowed by the global north upon those in less enlightened parts of the globe.
And there are so many unchallenged, culturally-specific assumptions within my profession that are exported as if they constitute “truth”! For example, occupational therapy’s theorists have asserted that people choose, shape and orchestrate their daily occupations, yet this is clearly a marker of privilege. The majority of the global population simply do what has to be done, what they are compelled to do or what they have the (limited) opportunity to do. Poverty, ableism, misogyny, patriarchy, racism, classism and ageism constrain the real opportunities for the majority of the world’s people to use their abilities. Thus, the daily occupations of many women and girls in every nation, for example, are chosen, shaped and orchestrated by men.
I am convinced that improvements in human health and well-being can only occur with improvements in human rights; and I believe that because occupation is a determinant of health, that occupational rights are human rights. My current work is therefore focused on foregrounding the relationships between occupational engagement, well-being, and human rights. And I can never stop challenging the assertions of those in power!
Relevant critical publications (up to 10):
Hammell, K.W. (2017) Critical reflections on occupational justice: Towards a rights-based approach to occupational opportunities. Canadian Journal of Occupational Therapy 84(1):47-57.
Hammell, K.W. (2015) Occupational rights and critical occupational therapy: Rising to the challenge. Australian Occupational Therapy Journal 62(6):449-451.
Hammell, K.W. (2015) Respecting global wisdom: Enhancing the cultural relevance of occupational therapy’s theoretical base. British Journal of Occupational Therapy 78(11):718-721.
Hammell, K.W. (2015) Client-centred occupational therapy: The importance of critical perspectives. Scandinavian Journal of Occupational Therapy 22(4):237-243.
Hammell, K.W. (2013) Client-centred practice in occupational therapy: critical reflections. Scandinavian Journal of Occupational Therapy 20(3):174-181.
Hammell, K.W., Iwama, MK. (2012) Wellbeing and occupational rights: An imperative for critical occupational therapy. Scandinavian Journal of Occupational Therapy 19:385-394
Hammell, KW., Miller, WC., Forwell, SJ., Forman, BE., Jacobsen, BA. (2012) Sharing the agenda: Pondering the politics and practices of occupational therapy research. Scandinavian Journal of Occupational Therapy 19(3):297-304
Hammell, K.W. (2011) Resisting theoretical imperialism in the disciplines of occupational science and occupational therapy British Journal of Occupational Therapy 74(1):27-33
Hammell, K.W. (2009) Self-care, productivity and leisure, or dimensions of occupational experience? Rethinking occupational “categories”. Canadian Journal of Occupational Therapy 76(2):107-114
Hammell, K.W. (2009) Sacred texts: A sceptical exploration of the assumptions underpinning theories of occupation Canadian Journal of Occupational Therapy 76(1):6-13
Email address: firstname.lastname@example.org
Location (city/town, country): Vancouver, BC; Oxbow SK, Canada
Current position(s): Honorary Professor, Department of Occupational Science & Occupational Therapy, Faculty of Medicine, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada.