Monday, October 31, 2005

Writing as occupation

I spend my time thinking about the topic of writing as occupation and whether or not it carries any therapeutic benefits. Here is an interesting article that caught my eye: Writing helping young Katrina survivors. I'd love to discuss these ideas with other people, so here are my thoughts - if anyone is interested.

Why would people be interested in the private writings of another person? Bunkers and Huff (1996) explain that "diaries are not so much inclusive because they contain everything from a given day, as they are inclusive in the sense that they do not privilege 'amazing' over 'ordinary' events." This celebration of the ‘ordinary’ is a longstanding theme in understanding meaningful occupation. Diary writing and diary reading provides a vehicle of social connectedness through the ordinary. This is a human need and is the basis of interactivity between the writer and the reader.

The use of the diary as an interactive tool provides an example of what Rowles (1996) describes as a ‘surveillance zone,’ or an extension of personal space that has multiple uses. These zones surround individuals and act as an area of potential socialization and contact with others. Through the use of a diary, a surveillance zone may serve as an extension of a person’s self-definition and identity.

Online diaries are a postmodern methodology for studying this kind of information. The term ‘postmodern’ is appropriate in this instance because it describes a virtual context where local environments and local relationships are no longer the basis of interactivity. Rather, people congregate online at virtual places (websites) where information is shared and where writing occurs. The nature of online interactivity includes, or even forces, dependence on the written form for communication.

There is very little information in the literature about online diaries and their uses, although the proliferation of journaling sites on the Internet is notable. In addition to the groups of people online who attest to the enjoyment of interactive journaling in a virtual context, some researchers are beginning to see this forum as a good source for narrative data for research studies. Henker, Whalen, & Jamner (2002) identified anxiety patterns in a population of teenage girls through analysis of online journals. Oravec (2002) discussed application of weblogs and online journals as educational tools and identify that they can be used to enhance students' critical thinking and literacy skills. It is important to note that online journaling is not restricted to populations of teenaged girls and college students; most online journaling sites have users from a broad age and geographic representation.

In addition to online diaries there are other ways that writing can act as an extension of Rowles’ ‘surveillance zones.’ For example, Stern (2002) discussed the opportunity of the Internet home pages as a forum for young women to create a narrative of their experiences. This narrative becomes a performance of their lived culture and provides a means of self-expression. Chandler (1998) applies the Levi-Strauss concepts of bricolage in describing the process that people use in construction of their online identities through authorship of their web pages. The new virtual context, essentially described by its reliance on the interactivity of writing on the Internet, is a powerful and important forum for individual self-expression. The Internet will continue to have a significant impact on the occupation of writing in the future. Hypertext allows people to write in a non-sequential post-structuralist format, such as was advocated for by Derrida; hypertext also meets the demands of multivocality, intertextuality and de-centeredness (Landow, 1992).

Writing offers a rich source of narrative information for conducting inquiries into other occupations. Occupational scientists who understand the power of writing will be able to use it both as a research methodology as well as a subject itself for further inquiry.

Occupational scientists should be particularly interested in studying hypertext as a new form of communication and self-expression. The accessible format of online journaling and the associated proliferation of journaling websites are both instant sources of data for qualitative studies. Occupational scientists might be particularly interested in investigating how writing is an occupation that has an empowering effect on human and social development across time.



Bunkers, S.L. & Huff, C.A., (Eds.). (1996). Inscribing the Daily: Critical Essays on Women’s Diaries. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press.

Chandler, Daniel (1998). Personal Home Pages and the Construction of Identities on the Web. Retrieved on 4/2/04 from short/webident.html

Henker, B., Whalen, C.K., & Jamner, L.D. (2002). Anxiety, Affect, and Activity in Teenagers: Monitoring Daily Life With Electronic Diaries. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 41, 660-670.

Landow, G.P. (1992). Hypertext-The converence of contemporary critical theory and technology. Maryland: John Hopkins University Press.

Oravec, J.A. (2002). Bookmarking the world: Weblog applications in education. Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy, 7, 616-621.

Rowles, G.D. (1996). Beyond performance: Being in place as a component of occupational therapy. In R.P. Cottrell (Ed.), Perspectives on purposeful activity: Foundation and future of occupational therapy (pp. 201-208). Bethesda, MD: AOTA, Inc. Reprinted from American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 45 (1991), 265-271.

Stern, S.R. (2002). Virtually speaking: Girls' self-disclosure on the WWW. Women's Studies in Communication, 25, 223-253.

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