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Research Article

Occupational security: A holistic values-based framework for supporting occupations and safety

ORCID Icon, ORCID Icon, ORCID Icon & ORCID Icon
Received 15 Mar 2023, Accepted 07 Feb 2024, Published online: 21 May 2024

ABSTRACT

In an ongoing era of global-scale, cascading, and intersecting crises, including climate change impacts, ongoing armed conflicts, and the COVID-19 pandemic, security is becoming increasingly challenging. The escalating dangers and restrictions arising from these events, adversely affecting life itself and related occupations, has resulted in insecurity disproportionately affecting the most vulnerable and marginalized communities. This often contributes to outcomes that directly relate to security, such as poverty and homelessness. In this conceptual work, we present occupational security as a holistic means to understand and address safety concerns for individuals and populations adversely affected by crises, that have both local and global impacts. Besides global crises, long-term, ongoing, and interrelated security risks from racism, poverty, lack of shelter, and colonisation are also in the purview of occupational security. This concept extends the notion of occupation by including non-humans. Using a values-based framework, occupational security challenges neoliberalism and neoliberal notions of security, which are individualist in nature; and instead, provides a collectivist approach. The values proposed for this framework incorporate sustainability, justice, peace, compassion, authenticity, and accuracy to ensure occupational security and safety for all. We propose that the framework of occupational security has the potential to enhance occupational science scholarship, as well as facilitate collaborative engagement with wider disciplines concerned with issues of security.

The magnitude and breadth of recent catastrophes, exemplified by the COVID-19 pandemic, the far-reaching effects of climate change, and persistent conflicts, unequivocally underscore their global, rather than merely local, nature. The potential dangers inherent in these crises are existential in both literal and figurative senses because they are leading to unmitigated harm and have potential to end life as we know it. This is especially in the contexts of climate change impacts that are increasing in frequency and intensity; and ongoing wars, such as the Ukraine war, which could potentially escalate to a global nuclear war. Informed action must be taken now to reverse and recover our planet and its inhabitants who are facing unprecedented levels of insecurity. Our present and future generations require addressing these security concerns in a holistic manner.

Occupational science has evolved as a discipline with increased relevance in its scope and application (Christiansen & Townsend, Citation2004; Clark et al., Citation1991, Citation1993; Glover, Citation2009; Zemke & Clark, Citation1996). Occupational science offers a means to systematically study occupations, defined as activities in which humans engage, which are anthropocentric in nature. To address the aforementioned concerns regarding local and global crises, with an occupational science lens, ‘occupational security’, is named and developed as a new values-driven framework to address gaps in existing notions of security, to enhance and ensure security for all, in a holistic manner. With this frame, we expand and extend the human-centred or anthropocentric notions of occupations using a post-humanist approach to include non-humans, their occupations, and co-existence with humans. As such, occupational security is geared towards understanding and addressing this aspect in the daily lives of individual and collectives, both for humans and non-humans. We propose this novel conceptual framework with the aims of improving present security measures at the level of implementation, especially for those who are underprivileged and lack opportunities to voice their perspectives and, therefore, are largely neither listened to nor protected by actions taken to address their pressing issues and security concerns.

The connection between security and persistent issues such as poverty, homelessness, colonialism, environmental degradation, and racism are deeply intertwined and multifaceted (Greaves, Citation2018; Huey, Citation2012; Wackernagel et al., Citation2021). We contend that poverty and homelessness often create insecure spaces where individuals are more vulnerable to crime and violence, as they may lack the resources to secure their basic needs or protect themselves adequately. Systemic factors like colonialism and racism have historically marginalized certain communities, leading to economic disenfranchisement, social exclusion, and environmental degradation, which have contributed to their heightened insecurities and vulnerabilities (Levy, Citation2011). Furthermore, discriminatory practices, which may exist within the security infrastructure such as law enforcement and the criminal justice system, can exacerbate feelings of insecurity among marginalized groups, perpetuating cycles of oppression and injustice. As such, the occupational security framework applies to these issues as well as interrelated crises that are global in nature and/or relatively new, such as the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change.

This paper is organized in four parts as follows: first, we present our positionalities in forming the concept of occupational security. Next, contemporary notions of human security are presented using an occupational science lens. Following, the constructs of occupations and occupational security are described based on Indigenous knowledge, Actor-Network Theory, and ethical values, supported with illustrative cases to highlight the importance of these values. Finally, potential implications and applications of the framework are discussed, especially in the context of occupational science research.

Positionality, Motivation, and Intentionality

The concept of ‘occupational security’ emerged during graduate work undertaken by the lead author in rehabilitation sciences. He shared its initial conception while taking a graduate course in occupational science in the 2021 Fall term offered at the University of British Columbia (UBC). He developed the framework by focusing on its main features, which were submitted as a final assignment for the course. Advocating that non-humans be considered to also have occupations with equal rights, he presented the occupational security framework at the inaugural 2022 World Occupational Science Conference [WOSC] held at UBC from August 18-22, 2022 (WOSC, Citation2022). Taking the constructive feedback and engagement from the wider occupational science community at this event into consideration, this work was further refined with guidance from co-authors. He is a brown, male of Pakistani descent who has lived and is conscious of the pervasive impact of colonialism, racism, and discrimination on the lives of marginalized individuals. His positionality prompts him to challenge systems of power, actively resist stereotypes, and advocate for justice and equity in all spaces, both within and beyond the university.

The second author is a white cis-gendered female settler of European ancestry raised in a working-class family who was privileged to be able to access post-secondary education. The third author is a white, male settler whose family emigrated from Europe to North America three generations earlier. As a child of a single parent, he has some previous experience with occupational insecurity. The fourth author is a Japanese woman, currently doing her PhD in Canada. Since 2011, she has been working with Indigenous and local communities in the Indian Himalaya, Zimbabwe, and Japan, to revitalize ancestral millet grains for food sovereignty and climate change adaptation. All authors believe in the sanctity of life and are deeply concerned about the present state of security measures with escalating impacts of local and global crises, and so aim to address these challenges in a meaningful manner with occupational security.

Occupational security emerged and is rooted in the first author’s ongoing efforts as a climate scientist who has observed and worked on disasters as a result of climate change, the COVID-19 pandemic, and his ongoing work in supporting global peace. This includes work on resolving transboundary issues of water management and air pollution in South and Southeast Asia. In May 2021, along with colleagues, he formed a non-profit society entitled, “Peaceful society, science and innovation foundation” in Vancouver. The aims of the society are to reform science, technology, and innovation to realize peace and address key issues including climate change impacts, rapid escalation of conflict, lack of open science for addressing the pandemic, and lack of resources to address escalating climate change impacts. To address these concerns and to act, the lead author’s graduate work involves studying the evolving role of rehabilitation sciences in the pandemic, with a focus on Long COVID, climate extremes, and the intersection of climate change and future pandemics. His efforts for the past 18 years on climate change impacts continues in collaboration with colleagues and various institutions. It involves research and advocacy work on climate adaptation and developing resiliency from floods, droughts, landslides, heat waves, wildfires, air pollution, along with other crises events, for example, earthquakes, epidemics, and pandemics.

During the period of forming the concept of occupational security and writing of this work, the first three authors lived through the COVID-19 pandemic and various climate change impacts in British Columbia, Canada, and discussed and were troubled by issues of security. The fourth author was based in Japan during this period. These shared experiences and motivations led the co-authors to humbly propose occupational security to complement and supplement existing concepts in occupational science (and related fields) along with current global efforts to help mitigate disasters and realize human peace and security.

Human Security: From State Responsibility to the Individual

The notion of human security has evolved from ‘state security’ to an individualized notion of ‘human security’ (Lautensach & Lautensach, Citation2020). Formerly, human security was based on the notion that states are responsible for the security of their citizens. The inception of this notion of security began with the ideals of a nation state as set out in 1648 in the Peace of Westphalia treaties. In that conception, the state was conceived as a primary provider of security to its citizens (Pitsuwan, Citation2007). With the formation of the United Nations (UN) and subsequent passing of resolutions, this notion of security has gradually shifted from the perspective of the state providing security to the responsibility being placed on individuals themselves (Lautensach & Lautensach, Citation2020). In 2001, recognizing that state security is insufficient to protect people from threats, such as human rights violations, political oppression, famine, and mass forced population movements, the UN established the Commission on Human Security (CHS) (Ogata & Cels, Citation2003). However, these UN measures and related solutions, though well-intentioned, have not been realized.

We posit these failures to be traceable to the recent rise in neoliberalism spreading its own brand of globalization for more than 3-decades. Moreover, we contend that CHS and related interventions by the UN rely on limited anthropocentric notions of security as proposed under ‘human security’ by Sen (Citation2000, Citation2013). One definition of human security is “the attainment of physical, mental, and spiritual peace/security of individuals and communities at home and in the world – in balanced local/global context” (Hastings, Citation2013, p. 68). It must be made clear that the key difference between this definition and the view proposed here, with respect to the prior definition, is that there is no mention of the role of the state in the collective attainment of ‘human security’. We also highlight that such notions of security are anthropocentric, thereby lacking the inclusion of security for non-human beings, which we seek to redress with this occupational security framework.

The shift of security from a state-based concept towards an individualist notion is traceable to the development of neoliberalism in the 1980s, which led to globalization and rampant spread of capitalism and related socio-political transformations (Saad-Filho & Johnston, Citation2005). In simple terms, neoliberalism is an economic and political ideology that emphasizes limited government intervention in the market, deregulation, privatization, and the promotion of free-market capitalism as a means to achieve economic efficiency and individual freedom. Neoliberalism can be formally defined as:

a loosely demarcated set of political beliefs which most prominently and prototypically include the conviction that the only legitimate purpose of the state is to safeguard individual, especially commercial, liberty, as well as strong private property rights … this conviction usually issues, in turn, in a belief that the state ought to be minimal or at least drastically reduced in strength and size, and that any transgression by the state beyond its sole legitimate purpose is unacceptable. (Thorsten & Lie, Citation2006, p. 14)

It is clear from this definition that neoliberalism requires that the role of the state regarding security be limited and diminished to an individualist level, while the emphasis is on ensuring related rights for property. While we do acknowledge the UN’s (Citation2016) position that “governments retain the primary role and responsibility for ensuring the survival, livelihood and dignity of their citizens” (p. 6) in their human security framework, we observe that this is not actually practiced due to enacted neoliberalist policies and practices. As such, besides us addressing such frameworks as being anthropocentric, there has also been critique of the conceptualization of human security itself as being vague and lacking practicality (Burgess & Owen, Citation2004; Khong, Citation2001). Moreover, Grayson (Citation2010) pointed out that human security policies are under the overarching influence of neoliberalism itself. This leads to a failure in its application due to neoliberalist agendas including privatization of essential services, austerity measures that undermine social safety nets, deregulation leading to environmental degradation, and an outright lack of ethics in favour of profits and unmitigated dominance of market values. Some of the ways neoliberalism contributes to insecurity include increasing privatisation of security leading to a decline in state capacity (White, Citation2012), loss of social cohesion, increasingly competitive societies loneliness, and overall decline in well-being (Becker et al., Citation2021), as well as rise in transnational crime (Passas, Citation2017). Grayson highlighted that “the difficulties experienced in operationalizing human security lie in the myriad ways human security policies have revealed themselves to be subordinate to an existing, well-established and equally diffuse policy agenda: neoliberalism” (p. 498). The bias towards neoliberalism and its interactions in social structures and across governments undermines both human and non-human security as is seem in rampant systemic inequities, local and global environmental degradation, and climate change. We delve deeper into certain aspects of these crises and security issues by providing concrete examples of an occupational security framework in the next section of this paper.

Within occupational science itself, many scholars have highlighted the negative influence of neoliberalism that favors individualism, capitalism, and market-based approaches that favor profit, social division, and competition (Frank, Citation2022; Gappmayer, Citation2019; Huot, Citation2013; Huot et al., Citation2022; Laliberte Rudman, Citation2013). While neoliberalism is promoted as well intended, existing failures of security in the face of global crises call for the re-examination and the lack of implementation in real life situations. To address these concerns, we conceptualize occupational security as a values-based framework to improve the present state of both human and non-human security. In doing so, we seek to displace neoliberalism in a reasoned manner, such that security and safety is privileged collectively and for all.

Occupational Security and Ethical Values

To overcome the present limitations and often unjust, harmful, and ineffectual neoliberal approaches to human security, we conceptualize occupational security in the following manner. We expand the notion of occupations from being human-centred to include those by non-humans. Here, non-humans denote both other living beings and life-sustaining non-living elements including air, water, energy, and land. This is based on the idea that we, as humans, are part of nature, a key distinction from the usual notion of human security which is anthropocentric. In contrast, the basis of occupational security is the relational consideration of non-humans with humans with respect to occupations. It acknowledges that all occupations are related to their safety and well-being, and these are contextually situated and interdependent.

In the occupational science literature, Sellar (Citation2009) has proposed consideration of non-humans be included in occupational science, via assemblage theory as developed by DeLanda (Citation2006). In addition, Algado and Townsend (Citation2015) called for an environmentally and ecologically informed occupational therapy with the motivation of addressing the climate crisis. Algado (Citation2023) extended these ideas into the concept of ‘occupational ecology’ which is proposed to extend to other disciplines, with the main motivation of resolving the environmental degradation climate crisis as before. Barlott and Turpin (Citation2022) later proposed occupations as an assemblage of both humans and non-human bodies, using the theory of assemblages developed by Deleuze and Guattari (Citation1984, Citation1987). They have also explored the potential of modifying Dewey’s transactional framework (Aldrich & Cutchin, Citation2012) to include non-humans, such as technology, in a case study involving communication technologies for people with learning disabilities (Barlott et al., Citation2023). In the context of the Anthropocene and climate change crisis, Kiepek (Citation2024) proposed the inclusion of non-humans in occupational science and occupational therapy using an Indigenous worldview lens, with a particular focus on occupational justice. Most recently, and drawing from Kiepek (Citation2024), Steelman (Citation2024) has similarly proposed consideration of animal species having occupations in occupational science with a focus on extending occupational justice to accepting their rights.

Our conceptual basis is distinctly different from all the studies cited above; however, we do acknowledge their contributions about including non-humans in the context of occupational science and occupational therapy disciplines. In particular, the works of Algado (Citation2023), Kiepek (Citation2024), and Steelman (Citation2024) are all based on the motivation to address present issues related to the Anthropocene, such as the climate crisis and mass extinction of species. We find these proposals reactionary and prompted by the Anthropocene and related crises, rather than being based on a foundational recognition of non-humans’ intrinsic value. Focusing on the inclusion of non-human species mainly because of Anthropocene and related climate change frames non-human entities primarily as instruments for human ends. This approach risks valuing non-human life and ecosystems mainly for their utility in combating or adapting to climate change, rather than recognizing their worth independent of human interests.

This instrumental perspective may not provide a stable or comprehensive foundation for ethical considerations, as it bases the value of non-humans on their relevance to human problems. If the primary motivation for including non-humans is to address climate change, there may be a tendency to prioritize actions and policies that have immediate benefits for climate mitigation or adaptation, potentially at the expense of longer-term environmental health or the intrinsic value of certain species or ecosystems. This could lead to selective conservation efforts that focus on more apparently useful species and ecosystems, neglecting others that are equally important for biodiversity and ecological integrity. The proposals by these authors, though well intentioned, can therefore reinforce anthropocentrism. Basing the inclusion of non-humans on this utility rather than intrinsic value can dilute the ethical imperative to respect and protect non-human life and the environment. Such pragmatic approaches might lead to a weakened commitment to environmental ethics in situations where the direct link to climate change is less apparent, undermining broader environmental protection efforts. Recognizing the intrinsic value of non-humans encourages a more profound reconsideration of human-nature relationships. Such a transformation is crucial for addressing the root causes of environmental crises, including climate change. As such, we contend that these studies miss an opportunity to challenge deeper anthropocentric biases and ethical frameworks that fail to acknowledge non-human beings as deserving of rights and ethical consideration on their own merits, rather than through the lens of human-centered crises or benefits.

In contrast, our approach considers non-humans as valuable in of themselves. Hence, we focus on security itself and question and challenge the notion of the dominance of anthropocentrism inherent in ‘human security’ and its limited solutions. As such, we propose a holistic framework in occupational security that is not only based on a particular value, such as justice, but additional shared values, which is an alternative security framework in which justice is an ethical consideration among others. Moreover, the ontological bases of the present works are inherently based on limited assumptions, such as Steelman (Citation2024) focusing only on animal species, drawing on moral philosophers such as Nussbaum (Citation2023), who also considers these as non-humans, excluding for example, other species and non-living non-humans. Such limited specializations are fragmented from our perspective where besides the interconnection of all living beings, consideration of other non-living beings is as important, such as air, water, and fire.

In an invited review, Townsend (Citation2024) positively endorses both Steelman’s (Citation2024) work as being of a ‘landmark’ quality and Kiepek (Citation2024) for providing a basis for this work, without recognizing concerns raised in our work. Townsend’s review missed the authors’ motivation in calling for the consideration of non-humans, and the inherent lack of consideration of intrinsic value of these beings in their respective proposals. Moreover, she did not notice their limited scope in focusing only on occupational justice as a value and only on animal species. These gaps, from our perspective, can potentially lead occupational science to repeat anthropocentrism and miss out on a deeper transformation and collective elevation in consciousness. Our concerns of this review serve as a caution to raise awareness, with the aim of progressing and advancing occupational science, while preventing any potential harm from perpetuation of anthropocentrism, as well as other forms of potential harm and injustice.

To highlight an important difference from all the studies cited above (in the occupational science literature), our holistic inclusion of non-humans comes from both Indigenous knowledge and Actor-Network Theory. The latter is unexplored in the occupational science literature; although Sellar (Citation2009) did cite Bruno Latour, one of the key founders of Actor-Network Theory. Latour (Citation1991) posited a relational consideration of humans and non-humans to overcome the artificial divides prevalent in contemporary societies. Our approach, unlike others, therefore, balances and holistically integrates both traditional and present-day knowledges and frameworks. This integrated framework holds great potential for occupational science and occupational therapy, given the use of largely humanist or anthropocentric frameworks like Dewey’s transactional framework (Aldrich & Cutchin, Citation2012) as well as frameworks based on materialism and social constructionism.

Based on our distinct theoretical underpinnings, in the following sections, we propose for the first time in the occupational science literature, via the formation of occupational security framework, that besides humans, non-humans be equally considered to have occupations (in relation with other non-humans), along with, and in the context of their associated rights and security. Moreover, we also highlight here that implications of our work go beyond occupational science and occupational therapy as disciplines, as it challenges human security and lays a new foundation of security itself, which is geared to address a wide range of contemporary and future issues.

Indigenous Knowledge: Nurturing Harmony in Human and Non-Human Relations

Indigenous knowledge systems have long provided frameworks through which communities understand and engage with the natural world, emphasizing a holistic relationship between humans and the environment. This intricate connection underscores a philosophy where non-human entities—animals, plants, and even geographical features—are regarded as vital and sentient participants in the ecological web. Cajete (Citation1999) encapsulated this perspective within a Native American context, proposing that sustainable living is not merely about the management of resources but about maintaining a deep, reciprocal relationship with all forms of life. These knowledge systems are often based on oral traditions, passed down through generations, and incorporate a deep understanding of the environment, its ecosystems, and the spiritual and cultural significance of different species (Berkes, Citation2008).

Spirituality and reverence for the natural world are intrinsic elements of Indigenous knowledge, serving as a guiding principle for environmental stewardship and community well-being. This spiritual connection to the land and its non-human inhabitants is often manifested through ritual, storytelling, and cultural practices that reinforce the interdependence of all life. Berkes (Citation2008) noted that across various cultures there exists a profound respect for the environment that is grounded in spiritual beliefs, where ecological principles are often inextricable from the sacred. He also explored this notion beyond Indigenous belief systems, identifying parallels in other faith traditions that recognize the sanctity of the earth and its creatures, suggesting a universal potential for cross-cultural and interfaith dialogue on environmental care. As an example, the sea holds a profound and sacred significance for the Mi’kmaw, an Indigenous people whose ancestral land encompasses the Atlantic Provinces of eastern Canada, the Gaspe Peninsula, and parts of the Northeastern USA. This vast and ecologically diverse region is known as Mi’kma’ki to the Mi’kmaw (Morrison & Wilson, Citation2004). The Mi’kmaw’s relationship with aquatic resources is integral to every aspect of their way of life, including their cosmological beliefs, educational practices, political and familial organization, and trade and economy (Prosper et al., Citation2011).

Indigenous knowledge regarding humans and non-humans recognizes that humans are not superior to other beings but are part of a larger ecological community. This perspective is often reflected in traditional ecological knowledge, which involves a detailed understanding of the interdependent relationships between different species and their habitats (Cajete, Citation1999, Citation2018). For example, Indigenous peoples of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, a federally recognized tribe of Potawatomi people located in Oklahoma, USA, have long observed the migratory patterns of animals and the effects of seasonal changes on plant growth and have responded by developing sophisticated methods for managing ecosystems sustainably (Kimmerer, Citation2013). As such, Kimmerer (Citation2002) also promoted for the inclusion of such Indigenous ecological knowledge in biological education, suggesting that this can foster a greater sense of responsibility and interconnectedness with the living world among students.

In many Indigenous cultures, such as that of the Nuu-chah-nulth people, the concept of tsawalk, as explained by Atleo (Citation2004), reflects an understanding of the world as a unified, interconnected whole. The Nuu-chah-nulth’s recognition of the interrelation between entities is a testament to an epistemology that blurs the boundaries between human and non-human, highlighting the spiritual dimension of ecological relationships. Indigenous knowledge also emphasizes the importance of reciprocity and respect in human–non-human relationships (Kimmerer, Citation2013). For example, traditional hunting practices often involve protocols and ceremonies designed to honor and give thanks to the animals being hunted, and to ensure that they are harvested in a sustainable and respectful manner (Prosper et al., Citation2011). Similarly, many Indigenous cultures have taboos or restrictions around the use of certain plants or animals, which are designed to ensure that they are not overused or exploited (Cajete, Citation1999, Citation2000, Citation2018).

In the context of environmental decision-making and security, the acknowledgment of non-human agency and spirituality has significant implications. Arquette et al. (Citation2002) illustrated this through the lens of the Mohawk community, where holistic risk assessment incorporates cultural, spiritual, and ecological factors. Such approaches recognize the voices of non-human actors, acknowledging their right to exist and influence environmental policy. This broadens the scope of environmental ethics and related education, as articulated by scholars such as Simpson (Citation2002), to include non-human welfare, suggesting that the flourishing of human societies is intimately tied to the health of ecosystems and their non-human members.

In the occupational science literature, various authors have studied diverse Indigenous communities and their occupations. Frank (Citation2011), using Dewey’s transactional framework studied cultures and occupations among the Pueblo, Navajo, and Ohlone peoples, finding their reverence for nature. McNeill (Citation2017) studied the occupations of the Tapuika tribe’s occupations and proposed their worldview rooted in Māori creation narratives, emphasizing inclusion and participation in everyday occupations despite historical colonial alienation, and noting recent Treaty Settlements granting tribal access to ancestral lands for traditional kaitiakitanga (guardianship) over both human and non-human entities. Nunoz et al. (Citation2022) explored the interplay between capitalist, colonial, and patriarchal domination and collective occupations like artisanal fishing and medicinal plant harvesting in Chile’s Bio Bio Region, using a decolonial lens to elucidate their potential as forms of resistance and re-existence, while advocating for further research in occupational science to foster decolonizing practices and counterhegemonic strategies against such domination.

Actor-Network Theory: Exploring Human and Non-Human Relationalities

Besides Indigenous knowledge and practices, in his landmark work, “Reassembling the Social”, Latour (Citation2007) called for a relational consideration that would take sociology beyond its typical and asymmetrical focus. His proposal was to reassemble contemporary conceptions of the social by considering non-humans and humans in a relational manner beyond humanist assumptions. The concept of non-human agency is a cornerstone of Actor-Network Theory, wherein both humans and non-humans are ascribed the ability to act and participate in networks. Latour (Citation1991) reasoned for the dissolution of the dichotomy between subjects and objects, in that non-humans be seen as potentially active participants that influence and shape social dynamics. Hence, frameworks like Actor-Network Theory are termed ‘post-humanist’. Our theoretical basis is, therefore, post-humanist and relational and in harmony with Indigenous knowledge, whereby non-humans are also considered to have agency. Instead of relegating non-humans as passive background elements, this framework embraces them as active participants, challenging human agency.

This reconfiguration of agency challenges traditional notions of intentionality, as it ascribes a form of action to entities typically considered inert or passive. Harman (Citation2009) built upon Latour’s work, engaging with the metaphysical dimensions of Actor-Network Theory and questioning how objects can have effects that are not solely the product of human activity or intentionality.

Callon (Citation1984) exemplified this expanded sense of agency through the case study of scallops and fishermen in St Brieuc Bay, where both humans and non-humans engage in a process of translation that shapes outcomes. Here, the non-human scallops are not merely resources to be harvested but are actors that affect the fishermen’s practices and the overall success of the fishing industry. This transformative interaction elucidates that agency is not a fixed attribute but a relational effect emerging from the network’s interactions, which includes non-human elements. In a similar vein, Law (Citation1992) further explicated the heterogeneous nature of networks in Actor-Network Theory, highlighting that non-human entities, like technology, do not just serve as the backdrop for human action but are entwined with humans in the performance of action. He emphasized that non-humans are integral to the arrangement, tactics, and diversity of actor-networks, as they actively participate in the shaping of social order.

Adding another dimension, Pickering’s (Citation1995) “The Mangle of Practice”, emphasized the temporal emergence of agency, where human intentions are constantly reconfigured through their engagement with material resistance and affordances. This mangle of practice speaks to the dynamic and evolving nature of agency within actor-networks. The notion of intentionality thus becomes a contested terrain within Actor-Network Theory, as it is not just humans who ‘mangle’ but also non-human actors whose resistances and affordances shape human goals and the networks at large. The synergy between Pickering’s mangle and Latour’s (Citation1996) clarification on Actor-Network Theory provides a nuanced understanding that the agency of non-humans does not stem from an intrinsic intentionality akin to human volition but from their capacity to make a difference, alter states of affairs, and partake in the shaping of social relations and technical ensembles. This work is also informed by a novel historical sociology based on the Actor-Network Theory and mobilities paradigm (Sheller & Urry, Citation2006) developed by the lead author for studying crises events (Chishtie, Citation2018).

A holistic values-based framework

Based on the considerations regarding the relationality of humans and non-humans, and concerns raised about the present notion of security, occupational security is defined as the interrelated, sustainable, just, and compassionate protection of humans’ and non-humans’ right to a safe, peaceful, and dignified life including engagements in occupation with measures and solutions that are authentic and accurate. Occupational security considers the interdependence and relationality of humans and non-humans within occupations, and the need to do occupations in peace and safety. At a broader level, occupational security expands the notion of occupations from being human-centric by including non-humans and their agency. Moreover, by considering security, the notions of safety and well-being are considered relationally with daily activities While it is possible to view non-humans as merely the conduit through which human occupations are enabled, this mode of relationality again privileges humans and their occupations, and thereby disregards the agency of non-humans. We posit here that daily occupations are not exclusive to humans; rather, occupation is part of other living beings as well, and these could be independent of humans. This consideration becomes critical in the context of ensuring their security and safety. Examples of non-human occupations abound in the case of the animal species, including individual, communal, and transactional occupations between ant colonies (Wilson & Hölldobler, Citation1988), tree species (Simard & Durall, Citation2004), and apes (Montgomery, Citation2009). These are some examples we highlight to support and include occupations by non-humans.

Our conceptualization of occupational security is values-based or formed based on ethics. The five underlying and interrelated values are sustainability, justice, peace, compassion, and authenticity with accuracy. While these values are not exhaustive, we contend that these values are most pertinent to the issues at hand and for the foreseeable future. As such, the occupational security framework is open to other values as they become relevant due to the inherent complexity and unique evolving nature of global issues and crises. To support our claims, we provide definitions with examples and evidence to highlight the relevance of these values for occupational security below.

Sustainability

Sustainability, with its aims to sustain life for the long-term, has many conceptualizations. A useful definition is based on three pillars; namely, environmental, economy, and equity (Basiago, Citation1999; Portney, Citation2015; Purvis et al., Citation2019; Waas et al., Citation2011), implying that any measure of sustainability must take these interrelated aspects into consideration. Based on interdependence, occupational security emphasizes sustainability and these pillars as an important value to improve present notions of security, which are human-centric, and unsustainable, individualist notions of being grounded in neoliberalist and capitalist ideologies. Occupational security highlights the vital interdependence of life and identifies sources of insecurity and crises along with considerations of sustainability.

As an example, highlighting the need of occupational security, is climate change due to unsustainable practices that comprise rampant fossil fuel extraction and use leading to unmitigated destruction of ecosystems, including extinction of various non-human species. Since its inception, The International Panel on Climate Change has released reports that have unequivocally found that human activities are behind the excess greenhouse gases leading to climate change (Masson-Delmotte et al., Citation2021). The present state of this global crisis is indeed unprecedented and existential in nature. With decades of warning by climate scientists, there is still no substantial cooperative climate action by governments at large (Williams & McEwen, Citation2021). The fossil fuel industries have lobbied successfully to raise doubts about climate change for politicians and public alike, leading to policies that favor continued extraction and economic gain (Hall, Citation2015; Supran & Oreskes, Citation2021). The addiction to fossil fuels, despite having access to renewable resources, leads to increased greenhouse emissions which, in turn, increases insecurity across the globe with climate impacts that are increasing in frequency and intensity. Considerations of sustainability, which also require security of non-humans and protecting biodiversity, can potentially help address the climate change issue along with environmental degradation at local and global scales.

The security of not only our current populations but also that of future generations and the very existence of life on planet Earth are at risk, underscoring the imperative to transition to sustainable ways of living. This requires a systemic change from existing failures of neoliberalism, which are based on false assumptions of capitalism and individualist notions of being. The resulting economic and political systems are built on unrealistic assumptions of free-market ideology based on notions such as limitless resources, humans as competitive agents, and the treatment of the environment as an external reality. Sustainability requires long-term solutions that are harmonious with each other and nature. Sustainability highlights the significance of acknowledging interconnectedness and interdependence, in contrast to the prevailing systems’ dichotomy between humans and nature, which is precipitating crises stemming from climate change.

Justice

Pre-existing systemic injustices and structures of power have led to worsening of the present state of affairs; hence, addressing these are of critical concern to ensure a just distribution of security. For occupational security, collective notions of justice, including social justice, climate justice, and occupational justice are relevant for occupational security. Occupational security acknowledges the roles and rights of both humans and non-humans in activities related to occupations. This perspective allows it to enhance and support existing frameworks that primarily focus on human participants. Occupational justice is a key concept in occupational science that promotes fairness and rights to occupations for humans (Farias et al., Citation2016; Hocking, Citation2017; Townsend & Wilcock, Citation2004). Occupational security can potentially complement and supplement its focus on human occupations to include non-humans, though in a different manner as compared to ideas proposed by Kiepek (Citation2024) and Steelman (Citation2024) based on our distinct approach. Overall, occupational security aims to holistically consider various aspects of justice to address issues by improving understanding of highly complex situations and problems to ensure delivery of just security for all.

As an example of injustice at a global scale, we present the ongoing vaccine inequity in the COVID-19 pandemic, with major countries in the global North deciding to not share vaccine patents with countries in the Global South based on the neoliberal agenda of profit-making even during crisis events. The vaccine inequity can be seen through vaccination rates which vary significantly across different countries. As of September 2021, in the UK, 62.6% of the population had been fully vaccinated; while in the US, the number stood at 51.3%. In sharp contrast, the figures were considerably lower in Nigeria, with only 0.7% of the population being fully vaccinated, and in Kenya, where it is slightly higher but still low at 1.5%. On a continental level, the North American population has a vaccination rate of 41.6%, whereas Europe has achieved a higher rate of 47.5%. The situation is much more concerning in Africa, where only about 2.6% of the population has been fully vaccinated. These disparities in vaccination rates prolonged the pandemic and underscore the urgent need for global efforts to ensure equitable vaccine distribution and access to protect people’s health worldwide (Altindis, Citation2022). As a result, there is not only increased suffering that disproportionately impacts poor and vulnerable countries and their citizens, but actions taken by the global north countries are unethical (Moodley, Citation2022). A measure of this impact was found in a study by Gozzi et al. (Citation2023), who reported that in 20 representative lower- and middle-income countries (LMIC), vaccine access could have prevented over 50% of the deaths that ultimately occurred. As such, the lack of sharing has resulted in the rise of COVID-19 mutations, something that, again, has disproportionately impacted citizens of countries in the Global South.

While there is scant research evidence, we recognize the challenges to occupations and in turn, occupational security of individuals in the LMIC. In regard to implications for occupational therapy and occupational science, Venkatapuram (Citation2024), using the capabilities approach, highlighted the inequity. In contrast to this approach, given that the capabilities approach is anthropocentric, occupational security will also focus on the inequities and insecurity to non-humans who face continual loss of habitat which increases the probability of disease outbreaks (Barbier, Citation2021). Occupational security considers all these aspects and seeks to redress these security measures to change present ways for preserving occupations, safety, and security for all.

Peace

Peace is a state of harmony, characterized by the absence of violence, conflict, and tension. It includes moving away from the dominant notions and practices of so-called mainstream ‘development’ that has caused destruction, especially for the ecosystems and non-human beings (Mische, Citation1994). The advantages of peace are numerous and wide-ranging, and can have a positive impact on individuals, communities, and nations, as well as non-humans. Peace improves quality of life, such that in peaceful societies individuals can live without the fear of violence or crime, which leads to increased safety, well-being, and security (Kemp, Citation2004). People can freely pursue their interests, and social relationships are strengthened. Peaceful societies are characterized as having better access to basic needs like food, water, and shelter, that leads to improved living standards (Global Peace Index, Citation2016). Peace promotes circular economies which enables both humans and non-humans to fulfil their life’s needs, strengthening social cohesion and reciprocal, harmonious relationships with nature (as indicated earlier in the Indigenous knowledge section), such that people are more likely to trust and cooperate with each other, leading to stronger social relationships and a sense of belonging. This, in turn, is expected to lead to social and political stability, sustainability and better governance (Brauch, Citation2019).

In the past 3,000 years, humanity has not been able to achieve long lasting peace (Holslag, Citation2018). China has been in wars for more than 11 centuries, the Roman empire for more than half of its time, while the USA has been in wars for over a century (Holslag, Citation2018). The past 250 years also saw the rise of rampant colonization by powers like the UK, France, and Spain. Peace is a requirement for life and security; hence, this occupational security value focuses on the ongoing direct and indirect impacts in people’s daily lives. Lasting peace for humanity remains an unrealized social condition; however, occupational security creates possibilities to meaningfully address present and future conflicts, both for humans and in recreating harmonious relationships with non-humans.

A clear example is the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war with resulting atrocities affecting both those in the line of fire and those who are afar. The loss of lives and suffering of the Ukrainian people since 2020 is tremendous; while globally, there have been economic, environmental, and social impacts. The possibilities of further escalation and rise of global tensions and politics highlight that for security for all, peace is a high priority and concern for life and the planet. Threats include escalation of this conflict beyond the Ukrainian borders should the use of weapons of mass destruction such as nuclear weapons be deployed. The escalation and development of weapons and military expenditure in the wake of the Ukraine war is estimated to have risen to above 2 trillion US dollars (Tian et al., Citation2023).

Decades have been marked by numerous arms races, with annual expenditures reaching trillions of US dollars for the advancement of more lethal weapons, predominantly led by countries including China, Russia, and the USA (Kühn, Citation2021; Meulewaeter, Citation2020; Rhodes, Citation2008). With peace as an inherent value, ensuring occupational security for both humans and non-humans would mean incorporating security solutions that fulfil this condition rather than revert to its opposite, such as further escalation of war. Broadly speaking, occupational security is aimed to change contemporary frameworks, policies, and practices based on neoliberal ideology to reverse these dangerous trends. It stands for a peaceful way to end conflict by dialogue and mediation rather than escalation of violence, and to ensure that cycles of violence towards humans and non-humans are not perpetuated.

Compassion

Based on compassion and love for all life forms and their interdependence, occupational security considers this value as key in enhancing relationality among beings. Feelings of safety, connection, and support are considerations largely missing in neoliberalist systems. With the increase in the division and isolation effects of capitalism, colonialism, and neoliberalism, with compassion these divides may be healed with empathy, sympathy, and understanding. While compassion is needed among humans, this must be extended to non-humans through actions such as conservation, as this is an era of mass extinction caused by mass development and industrialization (Wallach et al., Citation2018).

As an example, species like bison were on the verge of extinction in North America and are a threatened species due to human greed and dominance over Native North Americans, along with worsening environmental conditions (Isengard, Citation2020). Over-extraction and rampant violence against nature lacks compassion and has been highly destructive and polluting since the industrial revolution over 200 years ago (Jarrige & Le Roux, Citation2020; Shanmugam, Citation2023). Occupational security endeavors to address and reverse these perilous trends and trajectories wherein equal compassion is extended to non-human entities, affirming their right to coexist harmoniously alongside humans. The over-exploitation and degradation of ecosystems not only jeopardize non-human species but also threaten human survival, underscoring the interconnectedness emphasized by Indigenous wisdom amidst the escalating global crises of climate change. While actions to balance care of humans and nature should have happened much earlier, it is now critical to extend care and compassion to non-humans to achieve some level of balance to reach reciprocal and harmonious relationships.

Authenticity and accuracy

Authenticity can be defined as the quality of being genuine, original, and true to oneself or one’s identity. It refers to the degree to which something or someone is perceived as being honest, sincere, and trustworthy. Accuracy refers to the degree to which something is free from errors, mistakes, or omissions, and represents the true or correct information. Both these notions are key to occupational security to attain a meaningful understanding and provide a path towards solution or reform. In an era of misinformation, media manipulation, and spin, crisis itself is used as an opportunity—also termed as ‘disaster capitalism’ (Klein, Citation2007)—especially by neoliberalist capitalist systems to procure, for example, government contracts, deregulatory measures, and market advantages for the sake of profit and, as such, rely on mainstream media to advance their agenda while obscuring their actual actions and intent.

Based on the values of authenticity and accuracy, occupational security would require full disclosure from authorities of any form of security solution provided to the public for the purposes of transparency, in order for the public to gain insights and question the underlying values, motivations, and efficacy (including that of performance and long-term impacts) that allow ways for all to access security. Such transparency of security measures would facilitate self-reflection and involvement from individuals who are potentially partaking in such measures and opens avenues of communication across communities.

As an example, the wilful tampering of data and lack of sharing of key information was seen in the obfuscation created by certain media regarding the efficacy of the vaccines (Ball & Maxmen, Citation2020; Roozenbeek et al., Citation2020; Smith et al., Citation2023; Zhao et al., Citation2023). The pandemic highlighted the profound impact of misinformation on daily occupations, such as those affecting individuals’ health decisions and exacerbating global inequalities. Misinformation about vaccine safety, efficacy, and necessity, proliferated by certain media outlets and online platforms, led to vaccine hesitancy and resistance among the public (Caceres et al., Citation2022). Most countries in the Global North did not support the transfer of the vaccine patents to underprivileged countries affecting the spread of the virus to this day (Altindis, Citation2022). Occupational security aims to consider such actions in terms of their authenticity and accuracy, especially with the rise of new technologies and means to mis-communicate to the wider public.

Implications and Applications of the Occupational Security Framework

The purpose of this theoretical work is to propose the concept of occupational security to holistically address impacts of global crises on daily lives, with its effects ranging from enhancing understanding of complex problems, to challenging and reforming the state-of-affairs, to full resolution of such crises. For occupational scientists, occupational security provides a new avenue to consider and understand global aspects in local situations and daily lives. The inclusion of non-humans broadens the scope of occupational perspectives, recognizing their influence and value. This approach aids in gaining a better and deeper understanding of and formulating solutions for global crises, including the development of policy reforms. Moreover, as a values-based framework, it supports and enhances existing occupational science concepts and frameworks; for example, occupational justice (Farias et al., Citation2016; Hocking, Citation2017; Townsend & Wilcock, Citation2004) and occupational transition (Crider et al., Citation2015; Scalzo et al., Citation2016), as time and transition is of critical importance in crises. The values proposed in this work apply to local as well as global situations, including global crises, for example, climate change impacts, pandemics, and wars. It embraces the complexity of the issues being faced and, as such, it is open to other values and revisions to ultimately improve responses and security measures to upcoming issues and crises. We acknowledge that the main limitation of this work is that it is conceptual at this stage. As such, potential critiques of this work may arise to highlight its present lack of pragmatic and practical quality. While the values proposed now are reasoned in reference to real-life and ongoing crises, further testing and refining through empirical research and engagement in real-life situations and events is necessary, especially in demonstration of its efficacy in helping resolve security and interrelated issues in a satisfactory manner.

In summary, in this work we have introduced occupational security as a holistic framework to address both local and global-scale crises. It highlights the gaps in the present anthropocentric and unjust practices of security. Because it is based in ethics, and explicitly includes non-humans, occupational security overcomes, at the conceptual level, the divisions and interrelated lack of ethics in the present neoliberalist system and its purported security solutions. Such measures often undermine equitable access to resources, safety, and justice for all, as neoliberalism prioritizes profit, market freedom and individual responsibility over collective welfare, which leads to disparities in security, wealth, power, and opportunity.

The growth of the concept of occupational security would be demonstrated by its uptake in the literature and usage for research and practical application. In upcoming thesis work by the lead author, we plan to apply occupational security along with occupational justice and occupational transition to the issues of Long COVID and climate extremes, to better understand the experiences of security measures taken for and by those facing these chronic and disabling conditions. With occupational security as a guiding framework, and demonstration of its usefulness through research studies, we hope that occupational scientists and occupational therapists can enter productive collaboration with security professionals (who work in various fields, including law enforcement, security services, cybersecurity, risk management, and emergency management) specializing in the safety and security of people, organizations, communities, and systems to support lasting safety, well-being, and security for all.

Disclosure Statement

No potential conflict of interest was reported by the author(s).

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