Today is



(L. occupationem, seizing, taking possession, employment, n. of action from occupare to seize, occupy). The action of occupying or condition of being occupied or that in which this action is embodied (in the senses of the verb).


(a) The action of taking possession, esp. of a piece of land, seizure, as by military conquest etc., entrance upon possession
(b) ‘the occupation’ the period during which a country was held by German etc. troops


(a) actual holding or possession, esp. of a piece of land, rarely also of an office or position, tenure, occupancy
(b) a piece of land occupied by a tenant: a holding


the taking up of space or time


(a) the being occupied or employed with, ore engaged in something, that in which one is engaged; employment, business
(b) a particular action or course of action in which one is engaged, esp. habitually or statedly; an employment, business, calling
(c) Spec Mechanical or mercantile employment; handicraft; trade (obs)


Use, employment (of a thing) obs


The exercising (of any business or office): exercise, discharge (obs)


Occupation bridge – a bridge for the use of the occupiers of the land – eg one connecting parts of a farm etc. separated by a canal or railway (also occupation road)

Occupation centre – an establishment where Occupational Therapy is practiced or where the mentally handicapped are trained or employed.

Occupation franchise – the right to vote a parliamentary elections as a tenant or occupier.

(archeol) occupation floor – layer, level (sherds, flints etc evidence)

The definition of occupation begins to provide a framework for a way of looking at the things people do when they are said to be ‘occupied’ in meeting their subsistence needs. Caulton (1998a), who has made a special study of the dictionary definitions of words associated with ‘occupation’ distinguishes five impressions gained from her searches.

(a) Legal uses of the word occupancy indicates situations where the ownership of a place is in dispute. When we say that a room is occupied however, we do not mean that there have to be people in it, just evidence of human goings on in it. There may be a person in a room without its being occupied. We would not say, if a student had fallen asleep at his desk and been left behind in the room after the class has gone, that the classroom was occupied, as we could well have said about it when the anatomy lecture was still going on there. Taking possession of a place (in occupation terms) is not just acquiring the title to it, or ‘owning’ it, but going on to do something on or with it. To occupy a place is not just to be an absentee landlord, it is to be the tenant. It is to be responsible for it. One may, of course, be both landlord and tenant. When geographers use the word occupy, or human occupation, it is to note the evidence of human activity – houses, tools, cultivation, food-stores, artifacts, etc. the marks of human transformation of the physical environment to meet needs.

(b) The second impression was one of the word occupy having to do with making a living – involvement in production, distribution and exchange of goods. We write our occupation on an official form, we state what it is we do to make a living. What is meant is what we are ‘paid’ for – how we get our ‘bread’.

(c) The third was a sense that to be occupied is to be busy, engaged, employed. There is a sense that here something is being worked out, problem solving is going on, that is, working out which was the best course of action from a number of possibilities to be seen in a situation. The examination of the situation in hand, constant action and reflection, having a care, a concern for, being anxious about. And although there is a sense of completion in the idea occupation, there is also a feeling that one must keep at it. That it involves tasks that must be done again and again. But they are tasks which have to be concentrated on, given particular attention to.

(d) Fourth was a definite association with the mind – of mental activity. What we do when we are occupied is conscious, deliberate, purposeful activity, not random, reflex or thoughtless behaviour. Occupying the mind implies being ‘mindful’, engaging as you would if you were actually transforming something physically. ‘Manipulating’ ideas, images, being witty or ingenious.

(e) Finally, it seemed that there was a strong association with the hand – occupation seemed to be related to manual work. We seldom say that our feet are occupied, though we do say that our hands or fingers are. Occupying seems to involve manipulatory experiences – in the environment, in physical space and, by extension, a similar kind of activity ‘in the mind’ where there is no visible change in the environment.

It would take a much larger work than this one to fully explore the idea of occupation, but I want to emphasise a few points here which have particular bearing. I found the work of Marx long after I had developed the ideas for this thesis and was surprised to find that he had already said so much about what I was discovering. Of course Marx is not talking about brain injury, but as I have explained in the introduction, I am interested in exploring what the brain injured individual has in common with the rest of humanity and for this I need to understand these things that we have in common, such as the way we meet our subsistence needs. Marx (1844) talks about the way that we transform ourselves at the same time as we transform our environment. According to him it is not our consciousness which changes the world, but the world which changes our consciousness. He is particularly concerned about the way that we meet our subsistence needs and the way that this transforms our consciousness, at the same time as we transform the environment.

Labour is, in the first place, a process in which both man and Nature participate, and in which man of his own accord starts, regulates, and controls the material re-actions between himself and Nature. He opposes himself to Nature as one of her own forces, setting in motion arms and legs, head and hands, the natural forces of his body, in order to appropriate Nature’s productions in a form adapted to his own wants. By thus acting on the external world and changing it, he at the same time changes his own nature (Marx 1912 p. 157).

Marx makes a connection between what a human being does and how he discovers himself in the course of doing it. There is a revealing of our nature through what we do. This revelation is available to ourselves and to those who take part in what is done.

Man’s potential, for Marx, is a given potential; man is, as it were, the human raw material which, as such, cannot be changed, just as the brain structure has remained the same since the dawn of history. Yet man does change in the course of history; he develops himself; he transforms himself, he is the product of history; since he makes his history, he is his own product. History is the history of man’s self realization; it is nothing but the self-creation of man through the process of his work and his production: “the whole of is what is called world history is nothing but the creation of man by human labor, and the emergence of nature for man; he therefore has the evident and irrefutable proof of his self-creation, of his own origins” (Fromm 1989).

We have to work in order to ‘make sense’ of the world, and the way that we work is very human. This development and refining our senses is the work of human culture and there is a very specific way in which engagement in activities brings it about.

We presuppose labour in a form that stamps it as exclusively human. A spider conducts operations that resemble those of a weaver, and a bee puts to shame many an architect in the construction of her cells. But what distinguishes the worst architect from the best of bees is this, that the architect raises his structure in imagination before he erects it in reality. At the end of every labour-process, we get a result that already existed in the imagination of the labourer at its commencement. He not only effects a change of form in the material on which he works, but he also realises a purpose of his own that gives the law to his modus operandi, and to which he must subordinate his will. And this subordination is no mere momentary act. Besides the exertion of the bodily organs, the process demands that, during the whole operation, the workman’s will be steadily in consonance with his purpose. This means close attention. (Marx 1912 p. 157)

The doing and the reflecting of the activity happened because the person has immersed themselves in what is being done. It is in this full engagement that one can see the possibility of meeting our need for occupation.

In the labour-process man’s activity, with the help of the instruments of labour, effects an alteration, designed from the commencement, in the material worked upon. The process disappears in the product; the latter is a use-value, Nature’s material adapted by a change of form to the wants of man. Labour has incorporated itself with its subject: the former is materialised, the latter transformed. That which in the labourer appeared as movement, now appears in the product as a fixed quality without motion. The blacksmith forges and the product is a forging. (Marx 1912 p. 160)

It is only when someone makes a mistake that they become evident in the process, only when the door is hung incorrectly that we think of the carpenter. These kinds of signs of individuality are not welcome when the success of a project has priority. In meeting our purpose we stand before our task, not as an ‘individual’, unique and differentiated from all other individuals, but as a labourer, who does willingly what needs to be done. This disappearance of the individual in order to manifest the purpose of what is being done is one of the necessary conditions of success.

It is generally by their imperfections as products, that the means of production in any process assert themselves in their character of products. A blunt knife or weak thread forcibly remind us of Mr. A., the cutler, or Mr. B., the spinner. In the finished product the labour by means of which it has acquired its useful qualities is not palpable, has apparently vanished (p. 162).


Occupation is therefore something which we hold in common. It is not something which emphasises our individuality in itself. Much of the work done in studying occupation suggests that it is those things which are common to us which are the real ground of occupation.

Common (SOED)

Belonging equally to more than one, belonging to all mankind alike.
Ordinary, prevalent, undistinguished and familiar.

Arendt (1958) distinguishes two different meanings to the idea of common sense. The first meaning is the more familiar one:

1. The only character of the world by which to gauge its reality is its being common to us all, and common sense occupies such a high rank in the hierarchy of political qualities because it is the one sense that fits into reality as a whole our five strictly individual senses and the strictly particular data they perceive (p. 187).

2. For common sense, which once had been the one by which all other senses, with their intimately private sensations, were fitted into the common world, just as vision fitted man into the visible world, now became (with Cartesian reason) an inner faculty without any world relationship. This sense now was called common merely because it happened to be common to all. What men now have in common is not the world but the structure of their minds, and this they cannot have in common, strictly speaking; their faculty of reasoning can only happen to be the same in everybody (p. 257)

If it is the structure of the mind which is common to all there is great danger that the person with brain injury would fall outside of this commonality. If this is the case there is therefore nothing to link him to the rest of humanity and his loneliness is real and intractable. There is also no way out except to adapt his damaged structures to those of others and if this is not possible then the case is hopeless. Yet, it one accepts the first meaning of common sense, one accepts that the world itself is common to all of us. The particular way that his skewed cognitive processes are fitted together does not detract from the fact that he too can fit within a common reality with the rest of us. In the work that he does in making a world which is shared he breaks through the intensity of his loneliness.

Next page: Alienation

Site Links

Home page
Methods and Ethics

Guestbook (to be enabled soon)

Brain damage stories-
Stories intro
Story 1 - The accident
Story 2 - The OT arrives
Story 3 - The CD rack
Story 4 - The troll
Story 5 - The door
Story 6 - At work
Story 7 - The letterbox
Story 8 - Employment

Occupation in Literature -
Literature intro
Being "well occupied"
The practitioner / OT
The person with brain injury

Discussion -
The need for occupation
Becoming well occupied
Ethical concerns
Occupation and neurology
Future research

Works cited

Brain injury and head injury resources

Occupational Therapy and carer resources

OT jobs

Rehab equipment

Physical rehab

Brain injury web sites

General brain injury resources

Organizations and programs

USA Brain injury association chapters

Headway branches

Brain injury Research

Brain injury support and chat

Brain injury mailing lists

Personal stories

Residential programs and similar services

Home page | Contact us | Copyright © | Privacy