Resisting theoretical imperialism in the disciplines of occupational science and occupational therapy

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Background: Claiming that the degree of consensus within an academic discipline is a marker of sustainability, some occupational scientists have challenged members of their discipline to work towards philosophical and conceptual consensus. However, because dominant theories of occupation reflect specific Western perspectives, proposing consensus suggests either that the global majority ought to conform to Western perspectives or that Western perspectives are assumed to be universal.

Method: Issues confronting occupational theorists (scientists and therapists) are not unique. Accordingly, this paper employs illustrative examples from feminist theory displaying the assumption of universal perspectives and propensity to theoretical imperialism. These examples are used to highlight the necessity and value of incorporating cultural diversity within theory.

Discussion: Dominant feminists' theories were challenged by women of colour, third world and colonised women, lesbians, and disabled, working class, older and poor women, and their underlying universal assumptions were exposed as heterosexist, classist, ableist, racist and an inadequate basis for theory. This review suggests that knowledge is partial and situated, and that theories prevail due not to their intrinsic superiority but to superior power.

Conclusion: Occupational scientists and occupational therapy's theorists are exhorted to draw from a diversity of cultural perspectives, such that theories are inclusive rather than exclusive.


Document Type: Review Article


Publication date: January 1, 2011

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