Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Research in Anthropology and Sociology

"A Remedy That Suits Me": Classification of People and Individualization in Homeopathic Prescribing

Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Research in Anthropology and Sociology

"A Remedy That Suits Me": Classification of People and Individualization in Homeopathic Prescribing

Article excerpt

When it comes to the topic of classification in relation to medicine there is a great body of critical work in medical sociology that treats biomedicine as a classificatory medicine which objectifies the human body and makes the patient passive and helpless through its various technologies. At the same time, many scholars of alternative and complementary medicine usually explain the growing popularity of these medical systems through their emphasis on a holistic and individualized treatment of the patient. I propose in this paper a more nuanced view of classification and of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) as exemplified by homeopathy, starting from the assumption that classifications, from the highly individual and idiosyncratic to the more standardized ones, are a basic feature of human life that shape interpersonal encounters. As Vincent Crapanzano notes, through various types of classification, including professional or more mundane ones, we find ourselves in a conspiracy of understanding based on rhetorical moves, or, in his words:

The individual, I would suggest, need only have the illusion - indeed, such an illusion may be a social inevitability - that he is responding as his counterpart responds. Together they negotiate a reality and accommodate to each other; they enter a conspiracy of "understanding". They generate the selves they chose by choosing their counterparts; that is, they typify the other, label him, name him, characterize him, take possession of themselves. The individual and his counterpart become rhetorical figures for each other. (Crapanzano 1982, p.192)

In the next section I will describe homeopathy as a medical practice and its selfdescription as an individualizing medicine. Then, I will discuss two types of classification of people and their importance in homeopathic practice, focusing on the one that I find most intriguing, the remedy-patient categorization. The empirical material on which this analysis is based was gathered from diverse sources: observations of a three days seminar on Materia Medica (a collection of descriptions of homeopathic remedies) in which two live cases were taken; informal discussions with several homeopaths that participated at it; participant-observations of two homeopathic consultations; 17 interviews with patients and homeopaths, and readings of a Romanian homeopathic textbook and descriptions of remedies.

Homeopathy as an individualizing medical practice

Homeopathy is a broad label, since there are many schools of thought and methods to practice it. For example, in Romania there is a strong differentiation between "clinical homeopathy" and "classical homeopathy". In the following, I am referring to what is called "classical homeopathy". Moreover, my discussion of the homeopathic consultation refers to the ideal encounter, recommended by classical homeopathy, which, of course, is not followed exactly by every practicing homeopath or in every consultation. A systematic source of divergence from this ideal type of consultation may appear due to the fact that in Romania every homeopath has also studies of general medicine. Therefore, there can be cases in which a neat separation in practice between the two systems of medicine can be hard to establish.

Usually, homeopathy is described as an alternative or complementary medicine based on several principles. Although these are not the only ones, I will mention the most important and frequently met three principles, when homeopathy is discussed in public discourse.

The first one is the "law of similars", introduced by Samuel Hahnemann, a German physician and founder of homeopathy, at the end of the 18th century. This states that "like cures like", or that a sick condition can be cured with the same remedy that administered undiluted to healthy persons would cause the same symptomatology of the sick condition. Knowledge of the remedies has been gathered through provings, empirical tests made on healthy people with the undiluted substances, through reported effects from therapeutic observations and incidental intoxications. …

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