Article: "It can do no harm" – University of Copenhagen

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10 June 2013

Article: "It can do no harm"

- Body maintenance and modification in alternative medicine acknowledged as a non risk health regimen

Article by Inge Kryger Pedersen, Associate Professor at Department of Sociology, in Social Science & Medicine vol. 90, 2013.

Alternative medicine and the non-risk regimen
This article proposes the notion of a non-risk health regimen as a mode of recognising more dynamic aspects of risk-awareness in health care, in this case alternative medicine in Denmark.

Danish users of alternative medicine are in an ambivalent position. They are responsible citizens who care about their own health. On the other hand, they are doing this by paying out of their own pockets for attending non-authorised treatments with very limited scientific evidence for their effects.
This article draws on 138 qualitative in-depth interviews conducted in 2006–07 with 46 Danish users of different forms of session-based alternative medicine.

A recurring theme throughout users' accounts is that the treatments ‘at least can do no harm’. Many of the users regard pharmaceuticals or surgery as an artificial impediment and a threat to overall health, whereas the energy-stimulating processes initiated by the alternative practitioner are not considered risky.

The no harm discourse constitutes a sophisticated lay-explanation that brings together a wide range of explanations within which three themes are identified:

  • Responsibility
  • Optimisation
  • Desperation

Creating coherent narratives
By informing these findings with the concept of reflexive body techniques, it is shown that use of alternative medicine is a process of working on the self and body in a spectrum between transition (pain relief or self-development) and continuity (well-being or prevention of illness) and not only a quest for cure.

In this process ‘non-risk’ emerges as a lay explanation in the efforts of users to construct coherent self-narratives as agents in a risk-aware environment. The development of the notion of a non-risk health regimen invites and facilitates further studies on various lay motives within health care in general and contributes to explaining the popularity of alternative medicine in particular.

For more about the research project: Go to (Danish) or (English).