Abstract

The history of occupational therapy may be understood as a continual transaction between two cultural discourses: pragmatism and structuralism. Pragmatism is a way of thinking that presupposes humans are agentic by nature and knowledge is tentative and created within particular contexts. Structuralism is a way of thinking that assumes humans are composites of recurring general frameworks and that knowledge is objective and can be generalized to multiple contexts. Early in the field’s history, both pragmatist and structuralist assumptions about the human and knowledge produced different readings, or interpretations, of what constituted the appropriate tools, methods, and outcomes for occupational therapy. Consequently, occupational therapy adopted an interesting mix of pragmatist language regarding the human and structuralist approaches to knowledge, resulting in professional identity problems still experienced today. However, recent developments offer an opportunity for occupational therapists to correct old identity problems through critically evaluating incompatible assumptions and carefully reading the prevailing cultural ethos.

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