Social transformation on the neoliberal university: Reconstructing an academic commitment

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Gelya Frank’s (2022) keynote at the 27th USC Occupational Science Symposium invites the occupational science community to face the contradictions between its aspiration to create a ‘science of occupation’ and its actual practices under neoliberalism. Frank’s scholarship offers a path for the stalled science to reconstruct itself. Her theory of occupational reconstructions calls for discipline-wide conversations to formulate empirically answerable ‘consequential questions.’ The global relevance of Frank’s argument makes it important to consider Ong’s (2007) nuanced view of neoliberalism as a technology of governance that migrates and shows up differently in different contexts. Her theory of Occupational Reconstruction emphasizes social experimentation, solidarity through embodied engagement in shared occupations, relationships between shared narratives and collective actions, and non-coercive participation by people hoping to ameliorate a shared problem. Because such categories are open to local communities’ histories, languages and desires, the theory lends itself to research and practice in diverse situations, wherever people are struggling for social and occupational justice. Frank’s critical perspectives also apply to occupational therapy professional education. I offer the example of neoliberalism’s differential effects in Brazil, focusing on the candangos, an underclass of migrant workers recruited in the 1950s to build the modernist city of Brasilia, and their children and grandchildren in a recent course on occupational reconstructions at the University of Brasília, Faculdade de Ceilândia. Continuing global dialogue is necessary as Frank invites us to reengage with our academic and activist commitments.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)482-486
Number of pages5
JournalJournal of Occupational Science
Issue number4
Early online date17 Aug 2022
Publication statusPublished - 2022


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