Performing 'pragmatic holism': Professionalisation and the holistic discourse of non-medically qualified acupuncturists and homeopaths in the United Kingdom.

Research paper by Assaf A Givati

Indexed on: 14 May '14Published on: 14 May '14Published in: Health (London, England : 1997)


Complementary and alternative medicine practitioners have often utilised 'holism' as a key identification mark of their practice, distancing themselves from 'the reductionist biomedicine'. However, the past couple of decades have witnessed increased engagement of several complementary and alternative medicines in professionalisation, which includes a degree of biomedical alignment while 'reducing' holistic claims in order to provide practice with a 'credible outlook' and move closer to the mainstream, a development which challenges the role of holism in complementary and alternative medicine practices. This article explores the strategies by which two groups of complementary and alternative medicine practitioners, namely, non-medically qualified acupuncturists and homeopaths in the United Kingdom, pragmatically accommodate holistic notions as a professional resource, a process of negotiation between maintaining their holistic premise, on the one hand, and the drive to professionalise and enhance their societal status, on the other. Based on in-depth interviews with non-medically qualified acupuncture and homeopathy practitioners and school principals, textual analysis of practitioners' web sites and observation of practice, the findings demonstrate the dynamic approach to 'holism' in complementary and alternative medicine practice. This discourse, through which practitioners use a range of strategies in order to 'narrow' or 'expand' their holistic expression, can be described as 'pragmatic holism', by which they try to make gains from the formalisation/standardisation processes, without losing the therapies' holistic outlook and appeal.