CAM/IM SIG-sponsored panel for AAA 2020

Dear CAM/IM Members,
The Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) and Integrative Medicine (IM) Special Interest Group of the Society for Medical Anthropology is seeking paper abstracts for a CAM/IM SIG-sponsored panel to be presented at the AAA Annual Meeting in St. Louis, MO (November 18-22, 2020).  Details are as follows:

Title: Progress or Co-option?: Critical Reflections on the Increasing Integration of Complementary and Alternative Medicine in Hospital and Biomedical Clinical Settings


  • Dori Beeler, Postdoctoral Fellow – Health, Behavior and Society, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health
  • Laura Meek (CAM/IM SIG Co-Chair), Assistant Professor – Centre for the Humanities and Medicine, University of Hong Kong
  • Jane Saffitz (CAM/IM SIG Co-Chair), Assistant Professor – Department of Anthropology and Sociology, Denison University

Discussant: TBD (Suggestions welcome!)

Historically, anthropological interest in the use of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) has focused on medical pluralism and mainstream dissatisfaction with conventional biomedicine. In many cases, CAM problematizes modern distinctions between the medical, spiritual, and religious. Its healing techniques frequently address relations in holistic ways that challenge (bio)medical assumptions that ill-being resides solely in the self-bounded physical body. In contrast to conventional (bio)medicine, CAM is marked as “alternative”, “complementary”, “folk”, “indigenous”, or “traditional” medicine. This markedness bespeaks an unequal dichotomy—articulated today in the context of neocolonialism, late liberal capitalism, and biomedical hegemony—which has long contributed to two different domains within which patients and clients are treated: the public domain of a hospital or clinic (for biomedical treatments) versus the private domain of a practitioner’s treatment site (for holistic treatments). Anthropologists have investigated and challenged this dichotomy, pointing out how these domains are entangled and even mutually constituted in practice, while also raising concerns over issues such as the cost of treatments and differential insurance coverage, the co-option and commodification of indigenous knowledge, and problematic power dynamics between patient and doctor, client and practitioner.

In recent years, there has been an increase in the availability of CAM specialties within hospital and biomedical clinic settings in both the Global North and South, suggesting a trend toward integrative medicine (IM). While many CAM practitioners are heralding this development as a turn for the better and a win in a long-held battle with conventional biomedicine as the hegemonic adversary, this panel looks to delve more deeply into the complexities, ambivalences, and diversity of CAM’s emplacement within conventional biomedical settings. Our panel explores how—and if—this turn has changed the way that CAM practices are being taught and integrated with biomedical approaches. We encourage theoretically robust and methodologically rigorous papers that grapple with knotted formations of ethics, power, professionalization, standardization, and the co-option of practice. We especially welcome submissions from traditionally under-represented voices, junior and senior scholars alike, and seek papers from across all subfields of anthropology, including applied, practicing, community-engaged and publicly-oriented research. Papers may examine the reception of CAM by conventional health care practitioners, hospital administrators, patients, and/or community members across a wide range of geographic and institutional sites, and should pay particular attention to intersections of disability, race, class, gender, sexuality, and religion. We are particularly interested in work that engages issues of acculturation, assimilation, and co-option; the political economy of CAM within hospitals and biomedical clinics; and the specificity of place as CAM moves across transnational networks.

We invite interested panelists to submit a paper title, abstract (250 words max), current affiliation and contact info to Dori Beeler (, Laura Meek (, and Jane Saffitz ( by Monday, March 23. Decisions about acceptance of abstracts for this panel will be emailed no later than March 30.