Homeopathy plays a prominent role in the consumer healthcare market in France, unlike the US where it plays a marginal role. In France, it both competes with and is complementary to biomedicine. At the center of this strategic ambiguity are the globules (small beads) of homeopathic medicines, which are made to embody this dual role. By directly observing and interviewing key actors in the industrial production of homeopathic medicines in France, this project addresses the following question. How are homeopathic remedies produced to function as both a contestation of and complement to biomedical therapies?

Intellectual merit Despite its increasing market presence in France and elsewhere, including the United States, homeopathy has largely failed to garner the attention of scholars of anthropology and the social studies of science. This project will begin to fill this gap in our knowledge and shed light on the industrial dimensions of an alternative treatment regime. It will focus on the range of processes by which knowledge, technology, and politics play decisive roles in the production of a treatment commodity. The production of a homeopathic remedy entails continual material and symbolic transformation through the application of various technologies (such as agricultural, laboratory, manufacturing) and forms of expertise (such as farming, scientific, marketing, regulatory). How this production process is shaped by evidence-based research, technologies and expertise, values and ideologies, national and international regulation, and a host of uncertainties is at the core of this inquiry. It engages domains of knowledge related to the social studies of science, the anthropology of medicine and pharmaceuticals, and the anthropology and sociology of business in order to produce an integrative analytic approach.

Potential broader impacts The results of this study will provide the social sciences with a much-needed tool to expand its traditional domains to include sites whose technologies, materials and methods both mirror and diverge from those of biomedicine and rethink a category of healthcare whose identity and activities situate it both inside and outside the traditional domains of medical anthropology.

Project Report

This project gathered ethnographic data in support of a doctoral dissertation in anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania. The goal of the research was to understand how the homeopathic medicines industry in France produced remedies that function as both a complement to and contestation of biomedicine. Unlike in the US, homeopathy in France is widely used and is even partially reimbursed by the state health insurance system. Over the course of the project, it became clear that the double function of homeopathy was produced not just within the industrial context, but also outside of it. It also became clear that the line here between inside and outside is an artificial distinction that conceals how the material and symbolic production processes of industry cannot be disarticulated from the larger social, political and economic forces beyond the industrial setting that configure homeopathic medicine not just as a material commodity in the consumer healthcare market, but also as a potent symbol of homeopathic ideology, which, for adherents, grounds moral reasoning and organizes illness meaning. The intellectual merit of this project lies in its attention to the range of processes by which knowledge, power and politics play decisive roles in the material and symbolic production of a treatment commodity. The (re)production of a homeopathic remedy entails continual transformation through the application of various technologies (e.g., social, literary, material) and forms of expertise (e.g., scientific, marketing, juridical). How this production process is shaped by the politics of knowledge, evidence and embodiment, values and ideologies, and a host of uncertainties is at the core of this inquiry. It engages domains of knowledge related to the social studies of science, the anthropology of medicine and pharmaceuticals, and the anthropology and sociology of business in order to produce an integrative analytic approach. The broader impact of this research is the provision of data that can furnish the social sciences with a much-needed tool to expand its traditional domains to include sites whose technologies, materials and methods both mirror and diverge from those of biomedicine and rethink a category of healthcare whose identity and activities situate it both inside and outside the traditional domains of medical anthropology.

Agency
National Science Foundation (NSF)
Institute
Division of Social and Economic Sciences (SES)
Type
Standard Grant (Standard)
Application #
1155996
Program Officer
Frederick M Kronz
Project Start
Project End
Budget Start
2012-04-01
Budget End
2013-03-31
Support Year
Fiscal Year
2011
Total Cost
$10,920
Indirect Cost
Name
University of Pennsylvania
Department
Type
DUNS #
City
Philadelphia
State
PA
Country
United States
Zip Code
19104