Essay Example on the Sociology of Complementary and Alternative Health Care

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Wesleyan University
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According to Steuter (2002), science is an inherently political arena in the sense that the established order has set its own standards which it considers legitimate and dismisses alternative points of view. Any new initiatives in the field of science and medicine that do not conform to the established order are considered illegitimate. Steuter defines ideology as "a set of ideas that shapes our understanding of what is natural, rational, and legitimate" (93). Ideologies are often used in the realm of science for social groups to justify their own positions and to marginalize and discredit the positions of their rivals.

Historically, the medical field in North America has transformed from a pluralistic arena where homeopaths, folk healers, midwives and other practitioners were considered dominant to the establishment of allopathic professional knowledge as the dominant form (93). This transformation soon delegitimized other forms of medical practices including homeopathy. However, the practice of homeopathy continued to grow in North America. To counter the threat of homeopathy, American physicians formed the American Medical Association (AMA) in order to exclude homeopathy. This is in contrast with the Canadian physicians who did not openly attack homeopathy but rather opted to appeal to the government to restrict the practice of alternative medicine.

The formation of the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) and subsequent expulsion of homeopaths from the association subdued homeopathy. However, the increasingly well-informed public is embracing homeopathy as an alternative for the failures of allopathic science. Homeopathy has helped resolve some of the most chronic complaints such as fatigue and depression that allopathic science has failed to resolve. Steuter quoted Maclean's magazine report that education, income, and status as the characteristics of alternative medicine users brought about by higher household incomes and education as well as spirituality (97).

Parallels can be drawn between the sociology of complementary and alternative health and reflexive sociology. Christopher Fries (2001: 329) defines reflexive sociology as "a self-referential approach to social research, which turns methods of constructing the research object back on themselves so as to produce a more accurate understanding of the social world". The reflexive sociology helps us to understand how medical practitioners have shaped cultural practices and how they are products of the practices. The structure-agency issue is important in sociology in that it helps us to understand the nature of the relationship between objective social factors and the subjective action. Further, understanding society and behaviors are different from understanding other objects because social scientists are viewed in reflexive sociology as also objects under study whereas social actors are also shaped by the society. Hence, Bourdieu observed that "Social science is, then, a social construction of a social construction" (as cited in Fries, 2009: 329) to imply the duality of the structure-agency issue of social science.

Reflexive sociology illuminates on the issue of scholastic universe biases subjected to alternative medicine on how it is constructed as an object of study. Christopher Fries (333) illustrates alternative medicine as an object of study, embedded in complex cultural negotiations can be studied along three different research streams; as a medical science guide by scientific rationality, as an epidemiological study, and as a social and behavioral science. According to reflexive sociology, one stream should not assume the compatibility of research methods and goals of the other streams.

The resurgence of alternative medicine in recent decades represents a specific instance of the structure - agency issue. The practice of conventional medicine has been subjective for users who for several decades believed in its practice. However, as household incomes increased and users became more educated, they increased the use of complementary and alternative medicine. Medical users as subjects have over time become social objects in the application of the various medical orientations.

List of References

Fries, C. J. (2009). Bourdieus Reflexive Sociology as a Theoretical Basis for Mixed Methods Research an Application to Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Journal of Mixed Methods Research, 3(4), 326-348.

Steuter, E. (2002). Contesting the Rule (s) of Medicine: Homeopathys Battle for Legitimacy. Journal of Canadian studies, 37(3), 92-111.

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