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Alternative Medicine

The term alternative medicine designates a wide range of healing practices that are in some sense opposed to—or excluded by—mainstream modern Western medicine. The proliferation of such practices in contemporary Western societies exemplifies the way in which consumer choice relates to people's entire “lifestyles”—such that even the selection of health care expresses the logic of social distinction. The epithet alternative must be treated cautiously, however. Although it is meant to connote something that is an equally acceptable alternative to that in general use or sanctioned by the establishment, the near-synonym complementary medicine is often regarded as preferable. This nomenclature radically diminishes the implication that different healing practices are necessarily strict alternatives, suggesting a less oppositional stance vis-à-vis the medical orthodoxy. The catch-all term complementary and ...

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