Bodies of knowledge: Nature, holism and women's plural health practices

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Journal Article
Health (United Kingdom), 2013, 17 (3), pp. 300 - 318
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The proliferation of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM), and women's high level of engagement with these practices, has presented sociology with a range of questions regarding gender, embodiment and identity work in the context of contemporary medical pluralism. The current study, drawing on 60 qualitative interviews with women from the Australian Longitudinal Study on Women's Health (ALSWH), examines how a group of Australian women negotiate CAM and biomedicine in a range of health and illness contexts. Selected from the mid-aged cohort of this national study, here we explore their accounts of engagement with CAM and biomedicine, unpacking their logics underpinning, and rhetorical practices surrounding, their therapeutic engagement. The results provide significant insight into: the importance of ideas about nature, holism and strengthening; perceptions of the harshness and softness of medicines for women's bodies; and, the relative importance of scientific proof vis-a-vis individual subjectivities. Ultimately, their accounts illustrate gendered and embodied strategies of strategic integration, and importantly, border crossing. We conclude that while women's engagement with CAM and biomedicine may be indeed be gendered in character, we suggest a rethinking of gender-based resistance (to biomedicine) or gender-alignment (to CAM) arguments; the notion of women as designers would more adequately capture the landscapes of contemporary medical pluralism. © The Author(s) 2012.
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