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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Rhetorical boundaries in the "new science" of alternative medicine Derkatch, Colleen Joan


This dissertation investigates scientific studies of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) as episodes of scientific boundary work: these studies shift, and then seek to fix, the boundaries between what counts as proper medical science and what does not. Rhetoric scholars have mapped sites of boundary work both in science and in various CAM practices, but there is still some question of how biomedicine itself responds to challenges to its borders—and, by extension, challenges to its social and epistemic authority. This dissertation examines the rhetorical constituents of biomedical boundary work by analyzing a corpus of CAM-themed special issues of the journals of the American Medical Association from 1998, in which members of the medical profession consider the implications of including under biomedicine’s purview health practices formerly considered outside it. The project examines this corpus, and responses published in both medical and popular outlets, to illuminate some of the ways in which members of a culturally dominant profession evaluate medical therapies in the face of disciplinary unrest, both within and beyond the borders of their profession. The chapters move from contexts internal to medicine to those external, mapping, sequentially, the historical-professional, epistemological, clinical, and popular dimensions of biomedical boundary work. The project aims to provide a more nuanced, stratified account of the rhetorical negotiation of medical and scientific boundaries. Its main claim is that, despite the willingness of many medical researchers and practitioners to elide distinctions between mainstream and alternative medicine, this research on CAM, and its related activities (i.e., publication, clinical practice), ultimately strengthen those distinctions and expand science’s authority in medicine.

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