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Negotiating the boundaries of ‘legitimate healthcare’: regulation, normativities and the social ordering of alternative and traditional healing

Kent Law School, University of Kent, Canterbury. 8-9th November 2018

In this workshop, we seek to interrogate the complex ways in which therapies that rest on assumptions other than those of biomedicine fit in healthcare practices, and public health systems. Even as biomedicine has come to establish its dominance as system of knowledge and practice in healthcare, patients around the world continue to rely on a multiplicity of therapies and techniques to address their everyday healthcare needs, illnesses and ailments. The cultural, epistemological and therapeutic make-up of these practices vary greatly, as does the socio-political positioning that they occupy in broader state understandings of care: for example, patients may rely on traditional therapies long-established in local practices, on healing practices borrowed from other cultural systems (and often transformed and adjusted to their new context), on newly emerged alternative therapies, or on hybrid systems of care that seek to provide newly imagined versions of long-standing practices. The relationship of each of these systems of care with biomedicine and the state will vary from a position of complementarity to one of opposition and/or exclusion, causing varied degrees of friction, or indeed of intended as well as unexpected collaborations.

Over the past few decades, the question of how to frame, organise and accommodate alternative and traditional practices in healthcare systems has become more salient. States around the world, and international institutions, have sought to reimagine how such systems of care could be regulated to facilitate the benefits that they may offer to patients, while limiting the potential risks that alternative and traditional healers (and their products) could pose. While at one level such effort is often presented as a matter of filtering between ‘genuine’ and ‘fake’, or ‘legitimate’ and ‘illegitimate’ therapies, these strategies are also loaded with socio-political implications, and rooted in deep historical and cultural contexts. They are complicated further by the epistemological challenge that systems of care that differ from the logics of biomedicine can pose for states and regulatory systems that have often come to rely on science to arbiter matters of legitimate in healthcare. Finally, they remain entangled in the complex institutional history of biomedicine, and its (post)colonial implications.

The workshop aims to bring together scholars engaged in critical reflections on the stakes, mechanisms and meanings that animate such processes of social ordering of ‘other’ therapies. Some of the questions we seek to address are: What is the role of recognition in the regulation of traditional and alternative medicines? What are the unexpected effects in practice from different regulation models? How do these regulatory models take into account for historical exclusionary practices entangled in social ordering systems like gender, race, nationality, and (post) colonialism?

For a preliminary programme, please see here:

November Workshop Text and Programme

For further workshop information and abstracts, please see here:

Workshop booklet


Upcoming in 2020:

Negotiating the place of traditional medicine in contemporary healthcare: what role for law? (to be held in 2020, details tbc).