Date of Award

2015

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group

Anthropology

First Advisor

Adriana Petryna

Abstract

Homeopathy is an alternative healing method originated by German physician Samuel Hahnemann in the 18th century. Since its advent, it has undergone many transformations, as a clinical method as well as a philosophy, as it has confronted the changing climates of scientific knowledge and politics. Today, it faces challenges to its existence from industry and “official” science and medicine and is riven with internal discord on matters of homeopathic ideology and orthodoxy. This dissertation seeks to illuminate the nature of these challenges by studying the homeopathic community in France, where homeopathic treatment is widely sought by patient-consumers and is partially reimbursed by the public health insurance system. The specific focus of this research is the loss of homeopathy’s “thickness,” which describes the method’s clinical particularities, which attend to the “whole” patient and which are being erased as the homeopathic remedy industry in France transforms homeopathy from a form of clinical expertise into a “thinned” consumer healthcare commodity. Through ethnographic interviews conducted over a period of 18 months with a range of stakeholders in the French homeopathic community, including industry actors, physicians, pharmacists, and academics, this dissertation explores how these stakeholders differentially articulate the method’s epistemological, ideological, and political identities, risks, and hopes for the future. The future of clinical homeopathy is increasingly determined by industry, to which the homeopathic community has affixed its hopes of survival. The research herein suggests that industry is ultimately not interested in preserving homeopathy’s “thick” clinical method; it is only interested in the “thin,” simplified, market-friendly version of homeopathy that sells product. The effect of industry’s remaking of homeopathy is that it obviates the role of the traditional homeopath. And to the extent that homeopaths rely on industry for financial support of their research and professional conferences, they are complicit in their own decline. Many homeopaths fear challenging industry because to do so would be to challenge the hand that feeds them. The ethnographic accounts in this dissertation provide a view on clinical homeopathy’s Faustian bargain with industry.

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