Dance with the devil: Finding subjective meaning in our use of time in neoliberal economies ABSTRACT

Abstract for the accepted paper:

Time and meaning are both critical concepts in occupational science and therapy. They provide, first, the envelope of time in which activities take place and second identify the significance that those activities hold for both the individual and their situated socio-cultural context (Pemberton & Cox 2014, 2015). Moreover in the philosophy of the occupational therapy profession the use of time to participate in meaningful occupations is believed to be integral to health and wellbeing (Wilcock 1999). Yet over busyness and time scarcity are increasingly reported as causing stress and ill health in modern life, particularly, although by no means exclusively, in countries based on principles of neoliberal capitalism (Clouston 2015). Neoliberalism is an economic model that uses both human and natural resources to best advantage to secure growth and power. In terms of people this means that those who participate in paid work are increasingly pressured to exchange more and more of their time and energy for productivity in work and consequently find that other non-paid occupations, including those that are freely chosen and personally meaningfully can be compromised in order to expend the necessary time and energy to achieve expectations in work (Clouston 2014, 2015). Paid work of course is a fundamental and purposive activity that can underpin self-esteem and personal identity; thus participation in work is important. Arguably however, its social value in neoliberalism is exaggerated and its links to wellbeing illusionary (Kahneman et al 2006). Moreover because of the focus on work as the most valued occupation, those who do not participate in it are frequently derided or undervalued as members of society (Clouston 2015). In this paper I argue that the use of time and meaning in terms of occupations are juxtaposed in modern Western economies because these countries use the global marketplace to promote productivity and growth and utilize resources, both natural and human to best advantage to achieve this. This means that what people ‘do’ in time has a performance orientation and occupations that do not generate financial acumen or market growth are less socially valued because they do not feed into this performance orientation (Clouston 2015). This can promote ‘occupational compromise’ (Clouston 2014, p, 514) over ‘occupational integrity’ (Pentland & McColl 2008, p.136) and erode wellbeing. I suggest that as occupational scientists and therapists we need to consider how we can instigate a meaning orientation in everyday life.


Clouston TJ. 2014. Whose occupational balance is it anyway? The challenge of neoliberal capitalism and work-life imbalance. British Journal of Occupational Therapy 77,10, 507-15 Clouston TJ. 2015. Challenging stress, burnout and rust-out: Finding balance in busy lives. London: Jessica Kingsley Kahneman D. et al. 2006. Would yo be happier if you were richer? A focusing illusion. Science, 312, 1908-10 Pemberton S. & Cox D. 2014. Perspectives of time and occupation: Experiences of people with chronic fatigue syndrome/myalgic encephalomyelitis. Journal of Occupational Science, 21, 4, 488-503 Pemberton S. & Cox D. 2015. Synchronisation: Coordinating time and occupation. Journal of Occupational Science, 22, 3, 291-303 Pentland W. & McColl NA. 2008 .Occupational integrity: Another perspective on “life balance”. Canadian Journal of Occupational Therapy 75,3, 135-8 Wilcock AA. 1999. Reflections on doing, being and becoming. Australian Occupational Therapy Journal. 46, 1, 1-11.


Clouston TJ. 20187 Dance with the Devil: Finding subjective meaning in our use of time in neoliberal economies. 4th Occupational Science Europe (OSE) Conference: ‘Meeting in diversity-Occupation as common ground’, HAWK university, Hildesheim, Germany 7th-9th Sept.

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