From body-talk to body-stories: body work in complementary and alternative medicine.

Abstract

This paper explores the 'body work' undertaken by practitioners of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM), in the light of ethnographic research on the education of osteopaths and homeopaths. The data presented focus on practitioners' experiences of learning to communicate, touch and facilitate the healing process for their patients. Two new concepts are introduced: listening to body-talk and constructing body-stories, which are discussed as aspects of body work. Body-talk expresses the idea that the embodied patient is not a passive recipient of healthcare, but that the 'body' is able to communicate its distress and its needs. The body-story concept highlights the interactional nature of the therapeutic encounter and the profound interrelation between the treatment and case-taking aspects of the practitioner's clinical tasks. By drawing on key sociological concepts of the body and embodiment, reflexivity and narrative, I argue that the dialogical construction of body-stories challenges Cartesian dualism. Finally, I discuss what the data might mean for the future development of the sociological concept of 'body work', drawing particular attention to the necessity to problematise the concept of the 'body' and to pay great attention to body work as embodied work.

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