This thesis deals with alternative medicine (referred to as CAM) in public health care. Fieldwork was conducted at the Royal London Homeopathic Hospital (RLHH) in London, England, in the fall of 2004. The goal of the thesis is two-fold. First, I have wanted to show how alternative medicine (in this case mainly homeopathy and acupuncture) is offered in public health care in Britain. Secondly, I have briefly discussed this from a Norwegian context and looked into the possibilities of CAM in public health care in Norway.
I have in this thesis made use of theories ranging from Stoner (1986) on medical pluralism; Eisenberg (1977) on the illness-disease distinction; Scheper-Hughes & Lock (1987) on the three bodies; Barth’s (2000) theory of knowledge systems; Gramsci and his concept of hegemony, as well as Foucault (2000) on British biomedicine. I have argued that biomedicine is a system of knowledge which is not exempt from cultural analysis, and I have wanted to show how biomedicine holds hegemony over CAM. Simultaneously, using Gramsci’s definition of hegemony, I have argued that in Britain this hegemony is neither static nor complete; rather it is dynamic and based on process.
The reasons for RLHH’s existence in Britain are to be found, I have argued, in specific British socio-political and historical traits; a specific form of British biomedicine; in the British homeopathic history and the two main homeopathic organizations; the Royal and elite patronage of homeopathy, as well as RLHH being a hospital where the doctors are educated as biomedical doctors. This, together with the hospital focusing on biomedical research on homeopathy, makes the homeopathy practiced there in many ways biomedical in its approach. Finally, from a Norwegian point of view, I have argued that the chances of having homeopathic hospitals like RLHH in Norway at present are limited. It will in many respects depend – as will future acceptance of CAM – on the future doctors’, policy makers’ and researchers’ willingness to accept CAM, even if no scientific proving of it is found.