2016 Paper and Panel Presentations


Panel presentation, September 2016, Joint Conference of Society for the Study of Occupation: USA and Canadian Society of Occupational Science, Portland, Maine, USA.

Abstract: Critical reflexivity regarding the ‘conditions of possibility’ (Kantartzis & Molineux, 2012) shaping knowledge construction in occupational science has raised concerns regarding several limits, including the predominance of an individualistic orientation, a reliance on Eurocentric and Anglophone conceptualizations of occupation, a neglect of issues of power and politics, and the incorporation of middle-class and feminized notions of ‘good’ occupations. In turn, several scholars have proposed the incorporation of critical perspectives into occupational science as a means to expand its scholarship, particularly in directions that attend to social injustices and enhance the emancipatory potential of scholarship (Farias & Laliberte Rudman, 2014). Purpose/aims: This panel will share examples of how research that is informed and shaped by different critical theoretical perspectives has the potential to enhance the social and political relevancy and efficacy of occupational science scholarship. Methods: Drawing upon their respective research, including work that examines how structural, discursive and other contextual factors create and perpetuate inequities for Indigenous families and children, disabled youth, persons experiencing long-term unemployment, and immigrants and refugees, each panel member will outline how the incorporation of critical theoretical frameworks and methodologies within their program of research pushes ‘conditions of possibility’ in occupational science scholarship. Intent: Participants will gain insights into how critical perspectives can be incorporated into occupational science scholarship, and will generate ideas for further incorporation in relation to diverse social issues of relevance to occupation. Importance to occupational science: Incorporating critical perspectives into occupational science can expand scholars’ capacities to engage in epistemic reflexivity, enhance understanding of social and occupational injustices, and enact transformative scholarship that imagines and works towards expanded occupational possibilities for diverse societal groups (Gerlach, 2015; Laliberte Rudman, 2014; Townsend, 2015).


Paper presentation, September, 2016, Joint Conference of  Society for the Study of Occupation: USA and Canadian Society of Occupational Science, Portland, Maine, USA.

Abstract: Public policies in North America are constructed according to a market view of society wherein individuals are reduced to classifications or definitions that can be easily grouped and governed (Stone, 2012). In these policies, there is an increasing emphasis on citizens’ moral obligations to achieve self-sufficiency through contributions to the market (Schram et al., 2010). The economics-based approach to policy trades holism for categorization and equates work with societal participation, fostering exclusion when people’s situations do not fit neatly within these pre-defined boxes. Attending to public policy requires complicating its application and understanding how policy mandates are negotiated and achieved. If occupational scientists aim to shape public policy, they must grapple with the contributions that a holistic occupational perspective can make within the market-based policy arena, as well as the potential impacts of scholarship that examines the implications of policy for service provision and everyday life. Purpose: The purpose of this paper is to illustrate how the occupational perspective can expose, explain, and begin to fill “cracks” in public policies that purport to support citizens’ everyday lives and societal participation. A pair of presenters from the United States and Canada will present their research about unemployment to highlight the contributions that an occupational lens can make to various policy discussions.  Methods: The presenters will discuss the elements of their multi-sited research, including the multiple perspectives within the policy arena that they are trying to understand through collaborative ethnography (Lassiter, 2005) and situational analysis (Clarke, Friese, & Washburn, 2015). Intent: The presenters will identify how their research a) addresses specific public policy issues, b) generates knowledge about how policies are “made” through front-line service provision (Lipsky, 1980/2010), c) illustrates the complexities of occupation that are obscured in market-based policy approaches, and d) demonstrates that a focus on everyday occupation illuminates the supports and tensions that issue from policy mandates. Attendees will gain insights into the potential policy contributions that stem from critical occupational science research. Based on these insights, attendees will have a foundation for identifying other social needs and policy initiatives that can be critiqued and enhanced through occupational science research. Importance to occupational science: his presentation will generate concrete ideas for analyzing and influencing public policy from an occupational perspective. It is important for occupational scientists to understand how public policy can be a vehicle for impacting occupational engagement at community and societal levels.


Panel presentation, June, 2016, Council of Occupational Therapists for European Countries and European Network of Occupational Therapists in Higher Education, Galaway, Ireland.

Abstract: This innovative symposium explores the advantages of creating synergies between critical social theories, occupational science, and occupational therapy. Drawing on their respective research, each discussant will examine: (1) how dominant discourses and practices within and outside occupation-based literature and practice tend to locate ‘problems’ at the individual level; (2) how occupations and occupational engagement are shaped by structural inequities, and (3) implications for occupational therapy research and practice. Background:The impact of social determinants on individual and population health and wellbeing continues to garner international attention. However, both occupational science and occupational therapy have been critiqued for employing an individualistic lens. Such a lens can foster uncertainty about how to address social and occupational injustices. Method: Given a commitment to enacting occupational therapy’s social mandate, contributors draw on their research which examines how: structural factors create social and health inequities for Indigenous families and children (Gerlach); prevailing understandings of social inclusion reinforce social inequities for disabled youth (Teachman), and contemporary understandings of long-term unemployment shape occupational possibilities (Rudman, Aldrich & Huot). Results: Participants will gain insights into how critical perspectives can facilitate occupational justice and inform occupational therapy. Conclusion: Critical perspectives challenge occupational scientists and therapists to attend to the socio-political context of occupations and inform socially responsive forms of occupational therapy. Application to Practice: Critical perspectives have the potential to shift intervention towards addressing socio-political mediators of occupational engagement.


Paper presentation, 2016, Alternate Routes Symposium, York University, Toronto, ON, Canada.

Abstract:  The rise of neoliberal activation labour market policies has been accompanied by the incorporation of new public management principles purported to optimize the efficiency and effectiveness of employment services (Sauer, Gaitsch,Penz, Glinser & Hafbauer, 2015).While legislative reforms to Canada’s employment and income security policies are well documented, the local-scale implications of simultaneous administrative reforms to employment service delivery through managerial techniques, such as performance-based contracting, continue to receive scant attention. Drawing on a multi-sited ethnography of employment service delivery in London, Ontario, and informed by political economy, street-level bureaucracy and governmentality literatures, we examine the consequences of this “hidden track of welfare reform” (Brodkin 2013). After briefly outlining key managerial reforms to employment service delivery, with a particular focus on outcome measurement and monitoring, we draw upon interview and observational data collected within 4 service organizations to identify a number of detrimental effects at organizational and service provider levels including: heightened  insecurity given less stable and project-oriented funding; work intensification related to both increased performance expectations and the administrative burden of multiple accountability systems; and more hierarchical and less collaborative relations with the Government of Ontario. Although service provider informants often articulated viewing enhanced performance management as an economic necessity, our analysis also explores tensions that play out at the level of service delivery given narrow definitions of service delivery success embedded in performance measurement systems, and more multifaceted understandings of client success expressed by agency staff and management. In presenting these findings, we aim to contribute to a more robust assessment of the limitations and costs of managerial reforms to social service delivery in Canada.


Paper presentation, October, 2015, Society for the Study of Occupation: USA, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA.

Abstract: Policy responses to long-term unemployment are often based on a range of ‘official’ definitions that address: 1) the duration of joblessness, 2) expected activity engagement during joblessness, and 3) market factors that affect job availability (Blustein, Medvide, & Wan, 2012). In the United States, long-term unemployment is defined as being without work for 27 weeks or more (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2014), and policies mandate that long-term unemployed people actively search for work if they want to receive government-funded assistance and retraining. Predicating social assistance on a range of definitions may appear to account for the varied circumstances surrounding joblessness; however, such definitions are often operationalized in ways that restrict benefits (Lipsky, 2010) and ignore people’s diverse everyday needs. In this presentation, we draw on findings from two of our studies to illustrate how ‘official’ definitions fail to incorporate an understanding of unemployed workers as occupational beings. Using a collaborative ethnographic orientation (Lassiter & Campbell, 2010), both studies aim to understand how political discourses shape policies, social assistance programs, and everyday responses to long-term unemployment. The first study utilized semi-structured interviews and observations to understand the experiences of eight self-identified long-term unemployed workers in the United States and Canada. The second study is currently ongoing and has used semi-structured interviews to understand the perspectives of 12 stakeholders at employment-focused organizations in the United States and Canada. Two key findings illustrate why it is important to include an occupational perspective in policy-related ‘official’ definitions. The first finding, based on an analysis of interviews with unemployed workers, suggests that the feeling of “being stuck” is: 1) central to the experience of long-term unemployment, 2) pervades most occupational pursuits during unemployment, and 3) is related to the occupation of seeking resources (Magasi, 2012) for personal and family survival. The second finding, drawn from an analysis of interviews with organizational stakeholders, is that service delivery representatives tend to depart from static ‘official’ definitions and instead operationalize more variegated experience-based definitions that recognize the centrality of resource seeking in long-term unemployed workers’ lives. Our discussion aims to answer the question: How does the recognition of “resource seeking” as an occupation fit with prevailing “activity expectations” and discourses about the “right” way to spend time during joblessness? We suggest that an occupational perspective attends to long-term unemployed workers’ extensive resource seeking practices and unsettles current definitions that dictate the provision of social assistance. Accordingly, we propose the necessity of translating an occupational perspective to policymaking and service provision arenas to fully address the needs of people experiencing long-term unemployment.


Paper presentation, May, 2015, Canadian Association of Occupational Therapists Conference, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.

Abstract: Since the 2008 recession, social policies and services have been re-configured in Canada and the United States in ways that individualize the problem of unemployment and ‘activate’ people who are jobless. Few studies have examined how activity expectations that are part of unemployment activation policies are negotiated within service provision, or the implications for how persons experiencing long-term unemployment engage in the range of occupations that comprise daily life.  Objectives: This cross-national ethnographic study aimed to understand how long-term unemployment is negotiated at the levels of service provision and within daily life. Methods: Data collection included 2-3 semi-structured interviews with service seekers experiencing long-term unemployment (N=8), and multiple informal interviews and observations with front-line employment support service providers (N=7). Data were analyzed using critical discourse and situational analysis. Results: Consistent with activation policies, service seekers engaged in a range of activities related to being an “activated job seeker”, including enhancing one’s marketability, job seeking, and securing a job. However, both service seekers and providers pointed to the ways in which service seekers became ‘stuck’ not only within job seeking processes but within other life realms. Conclusion: Activation policies present homogenous solutions to the problem of long-term unemployment while failing to address the diverse ways that social conditions shape and perpetuate experiences of long-term unemployment. Occupational science can foster occupational justice by illuminating inequities and tensions, such as being activated but stuck, resulting from contemporary policy approaches.


Paper presentation, October, 2014, Joint Conference of Society for the Study of Occupation: USA and Canadian Society of Occupational Science, Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA.

Abstract: Occupational science is increasingly attending to how sociopolitical discourses and policies influence everyday occupation (Laliberte Rudman & Forwell, 2013). Given that occupational science is a global discipline, research must account for how such social forces differ across international contexts. This paper will highlight preliminary findings from a cross-national ethnographic pilot study of occupation during long-term unemployment. The pilot study took place at sister non-profit organizations that provided services to people who were unemployed in the United States and Canada. Each author generated data at one of the sites, beginning with informal (non-audio recorded) interviews with two to four front-line service providers (Lipsky, 2010) and repeated observations of group classes and individual client-provider meetings. Each author also conducted up to two 30 to 90-minute interviews with four service seekers from each site. All data generation occurred between March and November 2013 and included a total of 14 participants. Study data continues to be iteratively analyzed based on both critical discourse (Cheek, 2004) and situational (Clarke, 2005) analytic approaches. This presentation will address how the topic of occupation manifested in individual service seeker interviews as well as interactions between service providers and service seekers at each site. Preliminary findings reveal that sociopolitical discourses overtly influenced provider-client interactions by constructing service seekers as ‘activated unemployed job seekers’ (Olsen, 2008) and idealizing particular occupations relative to such a construction. Discussion of these findings will attend to how service providers and service seekers framed the occupational implications of long-term unemployment in each study context. In particular, the discussion will focus on the imperatives of becoming work ready and procuring work, and how service seekers negotiated occupations relative to those imperatives in the United States and Canada. This presentation will also describe the expansion of this pilot project into a larger interdisciplinary international study. Currently underway, this expansion aims to include marginalized sub-groups within the population of unemployed people, such as immigrants and people with criminal backgrounds. The presentation will close with two questions: 1) What is the potential of such work to illuminate contradictory social forces surrounding work and unemployment? 2) How can the study of occupation address and be used to rectify such contradictions for various groups in society?