The Politics of Healing: Histories of Alternative Medicine in Twentieth-Century North America

The Politics of Healing: Histories of Alternative Medicine in Twentieth-Century North America

The Politics of Healing: Histories of Alternative Medicine in Twentieth-Century North America

The Politics of Healing: Histories of Alternative Medicine in Twentieth-Century North America

Synopsis

Takes on controversial issues like alternative treatment for cancer and research funded by pharmaceutical companiesExplores the historical roots of anti-vaccination movementsExamines the role of food in alternative medicine and the health food movement of the mid-20th century

Excerpt

Over the past decade, alternative medical therapies have played an increasingly prominent role in American health care. In the nation's grocery stores, homeopathic treatments and over-the-counter herbal remedies crowd aisles that were once largely devoted to analgesics, sore throat lozenges, and fruit-flavored, animal-shaped children's vitamins. Eager to fill their beds and their coffers, hospitals advertise-even celebrate-the inclusion of nontraditional medical practices. Medical schools, too, embrace this development with curricular reforms aimed at teaching prospective physicians about alternative forms of healing. With attention turning toward a range of mind-body and holistic treatments, health care in the United States seems more full of variety than has been the case since the establishment of modern medical authority in the early 1900s. Indeed, the emergence in the medical lexicon of a well-recognized acronym, CAM (for “complementary and alternative medicine”), is suggestive of how these alternatives are becoming a visible, and increasingly significant, current within the medical mainstream.

At first glance, it would appear that the burgeoning interest in alternative healing has appeared almost phoenix-like, at the tail end of a century that started with the near-extinction of such alternatives. Decades had passed, it seemed, since the mainstream medical practitioners drove out the “irregulars, ” tarnishing the alternatives as-at best-based on unsound science and-at worst-fraudulent quackery. The standard narrative of the rise of allopathic medical care in the United States suggests that the Progressive era was the crucial period, during which physicians successfully established their institutional and therapeutic authority. For example, in his epic and influential award-winning account, The Social Transformation of American Medicine (1982), Paul Starr described the period from the 1890s to the 1920s as a time when M.D.'s were able to sway most Americans to their cause, thereby gaining the hegemonic control necessary for the establishment of a state-sponsored monopoly of health care in the United States. Lacking both institutional power and scientific legitimacy, nonorthodox therapies retreated to the margins. Few people sought out alternatives because people came to rely on the medical model, trusting their physicians' claims to a regime of expert knowledge, and becoming skeptical-if not outright disdainful-of different voices. In this grand narrative, the central issues confronting American medicine by the late twentieth century were administrative in scope: in . . .

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