Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Editing the American influence out of the history of occupational therapy

During the very long social justice debate that preceded the revised AOTA Code of Ethics there were repeated claims that social justice represented a Core Value of the occupational therapy profession.  Those claims have been thoroughly addressed here and here.  In these entries and several other previous entries information was presented to support the claim that American influences are germane to understanding the driving forces behind the formation of the profession.

In my ongoing readings related to this topic I was comparing textbooks and am developing some new questions.  I am very curious about information that was recently edited out of the new edition of the Occupational Perspective of Health, 3rd ed (Wilcock and Hocking, 2015).

In An Occupational Perspective of Health, 2nd ed., Wilcock (2006) discusses the driving forces leading up to the formation of the occupational therapy profession.  She explains that changes occurred as Ruskin and Morris' ideas (via the Arts and Crafts movement) were brought to the United States.  She writes

However, because the Puritan work ethic was so central to American culture, Ruskin's and Morris' conception of a preindustrial, creatively absorbed craftperson became reinterpreted so that eventually no distinction was made between modern and pre-industrial work habits.  American Arts and Crafts leaders, along with their progressive contemporaries, drew back from fundamental social change for social justice, favoring instead "a new kind of reform" aimed at "manipulating psychic well being" and fitting individuals into emerging hierarchies.  This notion of "mental and moral growth" was compatible with 19th century American ideas about individualism, which was central to capitalism, its liberal democracy ideology, and values focusing on human rights... Similarly at Hull House, where Ruskin's and Morris' photographs had pride of place, the Arts and Crafts ideology was reinterpreted from a socialist to an individualistic focus.

This analysis is in line with my previous essays on this topic and in my estimation this is an accurate representation that dismisses the fallacious 'Social Justice as Core Value' argument.  Unfortunately, this entire section has been edited out of the 3rd edition of the same text.  Instead, Wilcock and Hocking (2015) offers this:

Neither the antimodern socialist revolution focus, nor the capitalist, individualist growth focus, nor the establishment of occupational therapy was successful in creating global awareness of the need to consider people's inner being and occupational nature in future social or health planning, although all went some way in that direction.  Later, the dominance of reductionistic medicine led to public health practitioners being tied to a practice geared to civic sanitary conditions and control of epidemics of infectious diseases, and the diminution of broadly based, population-focused occupational approaches to health, delaying a collective consciousness of their importance.

So an accurate analysis of the American forces that shaped the unique focus of the profession is now removed and we are left with an accusation that those influences were detrimental to what I will label as Wilcock's and Hocking's Occupational Therapy New World Order, which is all based on a new justice paradigm.  This is consistent with other academic efforts to bend history in order to fit a social justice narrative.

I am wondering if Wilcock's original analysis is edited out of the 3rd edition discussion because its presence undercuts the arguments of social and occupational justice proponents. It is unfortunate that she did not EXPAND on this line of analysis and include information on the influence of the Transcendentalists, the Boston Society of Arts and Crafts, the Emmanuel Movement, and George Barton. This all becomes immensely important as it relates to our theory development because it helps us to answer questions about whether or not that American influence is important.  I argue that it is, and that is why I spend so much of my research time attempting to reconstruct the neglected Barton thread of the occupational therapy story.

These topics are important for uncovering the full truth about our historical roots and Core Values.  When we omit important historical facts and analysis we have incomplete information to form proper opinions.  This kind of cherry picking has led some scholars to misinterpret history and to oddly focus only on justice models or feminist interpretations of Hull House influences.  A proper historical analysis will balance all of these factors together and will not selectively edit anything out.

History should be history.  It should not be selectively edited and it should not be revised to suit current political and justice agendas.


Wilcock, A.A. (2006). An Occupational Perspective of Health, 2nd ed. Thorofare, NJ: Slack, Inc.

Wilcock, A.A. and Hocking, C.H. (2015). An Occupational Perspective of Health, 3rd ed.  Thorofare, NJ: Slack, Inc.


Sarah Lyon said...

I really want to get my hands on some original texts from this era. Any recommendations on what to read and where to find it?

Christopher Alterio said...

Hi Sarah,

I have a lot of possible recommendations - give me an idea of topics you would like to start with and I can point you in a direction.