For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

"Hannah Arendt’s vita activa: A valuable contribution to occupational science"

by Jansson, Inger; Wagman, Petra (2017)


Occupational science is undergoing dynamic development and claims have been articulated that human occupation must be understood from multiple ontological standpoints. Hannah Arendt (1906–1975) is known for her work The Human Condition in which she explored human occupation from a philosophical and political standpoint. She distinguished the modalities labor, work and action, and labelled them vita activa. The aim of this paper is to present Arendt and her vita activa, in order to provide examples of its relevance for occupational science, showing how vita activa can assist occupational scientists to take a deeper perspective on human occupation. According to Arendt, human occupation is always conditioned. The condition for labor is necessity, which reflects human biological needs and represents the basics of life. The condition for work is utility, as something persistent and durable is produced. Action is the activity that takes place between people without the intermediary of things. Similar to occupational science, vita activa is concerned with human doing but their origins differ. Arendt also emphasized the public sphere as an arena for human occupation, a viewpoint that is shared with recent occupational science literature. The need to expand the scope of occupational science to encompass all aspects of human occupations, including the deleterious, has been expressed and vita activa can contribute to broadening this perspective. Examples of the need for sustainability in working life are also presented in this paper.


Arendt, Occupational Science, Vita Activa, Production


On Arendt

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