The body, health, and healing in alternative and integrated medicine : an ethnography of homeopathy in South London
During the recent exponential rise in the use of alternative medicines (AM) in the West and increasing integration into the health service, little research has been done on AM in the context in which it is practised, or over time to look at changing belief systems. This thesis provides an anthropologically informed analysis of one alternative therapy in depth - homeopathy- explored from the multiple perspectives of biomedical and lay homeopaths, users and students of homeopathy. The ethnography comprised 18 months participant observation in 4 settings in south London: the surgery of a homeopathic GP; a homeopathy adult education class; a vaccination support group; and a low cost homeopathy clinic for victims of crime. The fieldwork is contextualised by a critique of the existing research on users of AM; a review of the history and politics of integration of AM and a review of anthropological conceptions of the body and health. Analysis of the empirical data reveals different groups of users of homeopathy with differing beliefs around health, healing and the body. 'Pragmatic users' had a normative biomedical view of health. 'Committed users' moved away from the normative biomedical position and were enculturated into a different view of health and the body through interaction with lay homeopaths. Inherent in these practitioners' and users' beliefs and practices were a number of oppositions to science-based medicine. Prolonged fieldwork enabled the changing views of users to be charted as they moved from biomedical to alternative views. The medical homeopath stayed allied to many biomedical beliefs about the body and health, partly as a result of general practice constraints of time, colleagues and training. Tensions between his biomedical and homeopathic practice lead to paradoxical behaviours that confused his patients. These findings problematise the notion of integration, of trying to incorporate two opposing ideologies into one system. Implications for alternative medicine more widely are discussed.