In the shadow of occupation: Racism, shame and grief
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Elliot, Michelle L.
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Nicholls, L. and Elliot, M. L. (2018) In the shadow of occupation: Racism, shame and grief. Journal of Occupational Science (In Press)
In Freud’s seminal paper on mourning and melancholia, he distinguished between those who are able to mourn (i.e. relinquish their loved object or an idealised self) and those who become melancholic (i.e. forever lamenting the lost ‘object’). Freud also wrote of the ‘shadow of the object’ that denotes dark or hidden facets that could be considered around occupation. This paper adopts these theoretical perspectives in support of a deeper analysis of meaningful encounters that occurred within qualitative research studies with occupational therapy professionals and students. The authors describe researcher and participant moments of shame, loss, and grief in relation to encountering aspects of race and racism within their respective studies. Data were analysed utilising theories of intersubjectivity, critical feminist and race theory, and psychoanalysis within the qualitative research traditions of reflexivity. The paper proposes that the acknowledgement of the potential separation from or loss of the ‘other’ (research participant), of oneself (idealised researcher or professional) and/or the professional endeavour can allow for an authentic relationship and new learning to occur. The authors suggest that within a professional rhetoric of positive outcomes that can be achieved through empowerment and enablement, a shadow of a disavowal may be cast on complexity and complicity, which could prevent or limit the painful and necessary process of mourning to proceed. Our experience suggests that occupational science research and professional discussions which include stories of shame, grief and loss/failure can enable the development of ethically reflexive professionals who can learn from misunderstandings and their (inevitable) mistakes.