Origin of the concept

Where it all began…

My curiosity about what I have come to term the ‘Dark Side of Occupation’ began to develop when I was an occupational therapy student at Brighton University. Specifically, it was whilst I was sat in class, learning about health through occupation, that my ideas around the Dark Side of Occupation started to formulate. I wondered about the range of occupations that people engage in and perform that might not necessarily lead to good health but may, for example, provide a sense of wellbeing (smoking, at the time, being an obvious example). I then started to think about occupations that are not always deemed as being positive or productive and, even, those that may be illegal, such as graffiti art work.

It is crucial to consider how we define occupation – the core concept of the occupational therapy profession, its underlying philosophy, and of the discipline of occupational science. Undeniably, the focus of our literature has been upon occupation and its links to good health and wellbeing. Occupation is regarded as a source of meaning, purpose, choice, and control over our lives. For some time now, contributors, such as Townsend (1997), have discussed how occupations can be positive and productive, and are done to enable people to develop, both as individuals and as members of their society – that is, our personal and social identity. It is due to these beliefs that we are concerned with the consequences of not participating, or restrictions to participating in and performing meaningful and purposeful occupation.

Because the theories of occupation are at the very foundations of the profession, it is understandable that occupation has been continuously defined and explored. But, it is imperative to remain aware that, as Duncan (2011: 33) states, even though definitions are important, they do also ‘set boundaries and limitations’. I think it is therefore encouraging that our understanding of what constitutes occupation is ever-evolving and, notably, that occupation is understood as complex and multi-dimensional.

What I have proposed is that through appreciating how occupation needs to be viewed as multi-dimensional, or many-sided, there is a dark side to occupation (Twinley & Addidle, 2012). From my perspective, the dark side includes various dimensions of occupation that have not, traditionally, been examined. It therefore includes occupations that may not lead to good health and/or wellbeing.



Duncan, E.A.S. (2011) (Ed) Foundations for Practice in Occupational Therapy. 5th Ed. Edinburgh: Elsevier/Churchill Livingstone.

Townsend, E. (1997) Occupation: Potential for Personal and Social Transformation. Journal of Occupational Science, 4(1): 18-26.

Twinley, R. and Addidle, G. (2012) Considering Violence: the Dark Side of Occupation. British Journal of Occupational Therapy, 75(4): 202-204.

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