Knowing the Body and Embodying Knowledge - the Practice of Complementary and Alternative Medicine

Friday, July 18, 2014: 6:45 PM
Room: 304
Oral Presentation
Nicola GALE , Health Services Management Centre, School of Social Policy, University of Birmingham, Birmingham, United Kingdom
Bringing together findings from several empirical studies I have conducted over ten years with students, practitioners and teachers of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM), I will define and illustrate the concept of ‘embodied knowledge’. I will argue that the concept has significant implications for practice and scholarship in the field of health care research, and give specific consideration to issues of spatial/bodily boundaries and timescales in practice.   

While health professionals of all types have been traditionally been viewed as (more or less) credible brokers of knowledge about the human body in health and illness, the embodiment of the practitioner him/herself is an important counterbalance to the focus on abstract knowledge of the bodies of 'others'.

The philosophies of different CAM approaches are enacted in day-to-day practice within their social context, with an impact not only on the recipients of CAM treatments but also on those delivering them. The bodies on both sides of the CAM therapeutic encounter are often not primarily constructed as medical bodies; they may be ‘energetic’, ‘emotional’, or ‘spiritual’ bodies.  The ‘disease’ of biomedicine becomes instead framed as ‘dis-ease’, an imbalance or disturbance of energy.  In these models, biomedical timescales and spatial/bodily boundaries are not necessarily relevant. Touch can be ‘energetic’ rather than physical, and the focus on the subjective tellingof illness, means that experience can be crafted during the clinical encounter into body-stories (Gale 2011) that actively integrate personal, lay, medical and CAM concepts of aetiology and healing. 

I will present an overview of the embodied pedagogies in practitioner training, the challenges of making the transition from training to professional practice and the embodied experiences and practices of being an established and expert practitioner. I will argue that the concept of ‘embodied knowledge’ is vital to our understanding of the knowledge base of healing practices internationally.