Biomedicine & Alt Healing Systems: Issues Of Class, Race, And Gender

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"A concise, wide-ranging synthesis of the history of alternative medicine in the United States, its social composition, and its relations to conventional biomedicine."

-David Hess, author of Science and the New Age

Examining medical pluralism in the United States from the Revolutionary War period through the end of the twentieth century, Hans Baer brings together in one convenient reference a vast array of information on healing systems as diverse as Christian Science, osteopathy, acupuncture, Santeria, southern Appalachian herbalism, evangelical faith healing, and Navajo healing.

In a country where the dominant paradigm of biomedicine (medical schools, research hospitals, clinics staffed by M.D.s and R.N.s,) has been long established and supported by laws and regulations, the continuing appeal of other medical systems and subsystems bears careful consideration. Distinctions of class, Baer emphasizes, as well as differences in race, ethnicity, and gender, are fundamental to the diversity of beliefs, techniques, and social organizations represented in the phenomenon of medical pluralism.

Baer traces the simultaneous emergence in the nineteenth century of formalized biomedicine and of homeopathy, botanic medicine, hydropathy, Christian Science, osteopathy, and chiropractic. He examines present-day osteopathic medicine as a system parallel to biomedicine with an emphasis on primary care; chiropractic, naturopathy, and acupuncture as professionalized heterodox medical systems; homeopathy, herbalism, bodywork, and lay midwifery in the context of the holistic health movement; Anglo-American religious healing; and folk medical systems, particularly among racial and ethnic minorities. In closing, he focuses on the persistence of folk medical systems among working-class Americans and considers the growing interest of biomedical physicians, pharmaceutical and health care corporations, and government in the holistic health movement

Author Biography: Hans A. Baer is professor of anthropology at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. He is the author or editor of eight books on anthropological aspects of race, religion, and medicine, including Encounters with Biomedicine: Case Studies in Medical Anthropology.

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Editorial Reviews

Doody's Review Service
Reviewer: Jamesetta A. Newland, MS, RN, CS, FNP (Pace University)
Description: The author provides painstaking detail of the historical and political emergence of two systems in the U.S., biomedicine and alternative health systems. Rich descriptions of health practices of various groups demonstrates clearly the impact of class, race/ethnicity, and gender on the culture of healthcare services, access, and utilization in this country.
Purpose: The purpose is to provide a comprehensive overview of the relationship between biomedicine and a wide array of alternative medical systems in the United States. It is imperative in today's society of diversity that healthcare professionals understand, respect, and integrate the health beliefs and practices of various ethnic minorities in a culturally sensitive way into the delivery of services. The author provides numerous illustrations of alternative healthcare practices in various groups, including differing world views and the conflicts and similarities with traditional biomedicine.
Audience: The author does not state specifically for whom the book is intended. It will be useful to anyone interested in the reality of medical pluralism in the United States, and especially useful to professionals who work with ethnically or racially diverse groups. The author has extensive experience conducting research with marginalized groups in areas such as spiritualism, ethnomedicine, and osteopathy.
Features: The first part of the book covers the history and sociopolitical evolution of medical pluralism in the U.S., presented as an anthropologic discourse, and the topics of medical pluralism, biomedicine, homeopathy, osteopathy, chiropractic, naturopathy, acupuncture and the entire holistic health movement. These will be a difficult read for many. Subsequent chapters are more grounded and discuss different ethnic and racial groups. Rich illustrations of alternative health practices are given for Anglo-American and minority groups. The best thing about the book are the descriptions of the alternative health practices. The author uses the native terminology and gives thorough definitions or translations, which enhance understanding.
Assessment: This book is a comprehensive, but concise, description of the current medical pluralism in the U.S. It will be very useful to serious minded readers who want to better understand the situation from the perspective of the dominance over alternative medical systems by traditional biomedicine. The book compares more to writings in anthropology and sociology than to medical or nursing books.
Baer (anthropology, U. of Arkansas, Little Rock) examines medical pluralism in the US from the Revolutionary War period through the end of the 20th century, discussing healing systems as diverse as Christian Science, osteopathy, acupuncture, Santeria, and Southern Appalachian herbalism. He also explores the persistence of folk medical systems among working-class Americans, and the interest of pharmaceutical and healthcare corporations in the holistic health movement. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (

4 Stars! from Doody
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780299166946
  • Publisher: University of Wisconsin Press
  • Publication date: 5/2/2001
  • Edition description: 1
  • Pages: 240
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Table of Contents

Introduction 3
1 Nineteenth-Century American Medicine as a Pluralistic System 7
2 The Rise of the American Dominative Medical System under Corporate Capitalism 31
3 Osteopathic Medicine as a Parallel Medical System 50
4 Chiropractic as the Foremost Professionalized Heterodox Medical System 67
5 Naturopathy and Acupuncture as Secondary Professionalized Heterodox Medical Systems 85
6 Partially Professionalized and Lay Heterodox Medical Systems within the Context of the Holistic Health Movement 103
7 Anglo-American Religious and Metaphysical Healing Systems 121
8 Folk Medical Systems in a Culturally Diverse Society 144
9 Conclusion 179
Bibliography 193
Index 217
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