For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

"Regarding Hannah Arendt’s valuable contribution to occupational science: Some tensions with her approach to philosophy, politics and science"

by Turnbull, David (2018)


Jansson and Wagman’s (2017) article in the Journal of Occupational Science introduced Hannah Arendt’s vita activa as making a valuable contribution to occupational science. The present paper explores a variety of tensions with her philosophically inspired view, offering further considerations in relation to its contribution to occupational science. It is argued that the vita activa is not a stand-alone concept. Rather, it is richly textured and underpinned by Arendt’s own explorations of the vita contemplativa, as well as the theme of love with which she began her philosophical and political career. Arendt (1958/1998) made an explicit effort to overcome the historical split between activity and thought that runs through Western intellectual tradition, seeking to unite them in a single project: “to think what we are doing” (p. 5). Elsewhere, Arendt explored the possibility that there is a peculiar kind of evil that is rooted in thoughtlessness. Hence it is necessary to regard thinking as the primary aim in all her works. This is the point of origin of a number of tensions to be explored in relation to claims concerning her contribution to occupational science. In particular, although it is always an individual who thinks, recent studies undertaken in occupational science have an increasing tendency to disregard individual perspectives, labelling them ‘insufficient’. Yet insufficiency abounds. Occupational science’s evident incapacity to give answers to the question ‘who am I?’, its fumbling in the dark over the relation of self and world, and its inadequacy over questions of love and moral judgement, are concerns that are central to Arendt’s own critique of science in general. What contribution then can Arendt’s thought make towards integrating such concerns with occupational science; or even if this is not possible in occupational science qua science, what may be her contribution in philosophical discussions surrounding it?


Arendt, Occupational Science, Vita Activa, Political Philosophy


On Arendt

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