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?
Think of your home, the community where you live, the stores where you shop, the people you run into everyday - these are the places you occupy. Why have you chosen those places? Or have you not chosen them? How do those places affect you as a person? What do they say about you? How do those shared places affect your community? Are they accessible? Are they safe? How are those places organized? What are the 'rules' within those places? How do those rules affect you? How do they affect others?

Imagine that it is morning, and you are just waking up. What is the first thing that you do? Why do you do that first? Who taught you to do that? If you live with others, do they do have the same morning routine? Why? Why not?

What do you do after your morning routine? (Or perhaps you don't have a morning routine?) Do you leave home to work? If so, what kind of work do you do? Why did you choose that kind of occupation? Did you not choose it? How does your work affect you? How do the 'rules' of your work affect you? What other kinds of people choose your kind of work? What other kinds of people don't? Why?

Is your occupation staying home to work, to take care of your home, to take care of your children? Why? Why not?
Is going to school your occupation? What are you studying? Why did you choose to study that?

Or do you sleep through the day to work or study in the evening? Why? How does this affect you? How does it affect others around you?

Are you looking for an occupation? Are you looking for paid work or other things to do? Or are you retired? What does this mean for you, for others around you, for your community?

Can you always choose what you want to do? Why, or why not?

Do others tell you what to do? Do they value what you do? Does society tell you what to do? Why, or why not?

If we want to change the way society organizes occupations, the way it values certain occupations over others, how can we do this?

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 the various dimensions of "human occupation."

In occupational therapy, human occupation has traditionally been categorized into:
  • productive occupations
  • self-care occupations
  • leisure or restorative occupations
Whether this model captures the complexity of human occupation remains to be seen.

One final word about "occupation:" Many fields are interested in daily life and the structure of daily life. As occupational scientists, let's consider one last question: What new insights can be raised by using the language of occupation?