Soc Sci Med. 1997 Oct; 45(7): 1129-33.
Contingent legitimacy: U.K. alternative practitioners and inter-sectoral acceptance.
Centre for Research in Primary Care, University of Leeds, England, U.K.
Although alternative medicine has achieved an increasingly high profile in recent years, surprisingly little social research has been conducted in the area. This is noticeably the case when considering inter-sectoral contact and collaboration. This paper fills that gap by drawing on evidence from a large-scale study of non-orthodox practitioners in the U.K. By examining the lived experience of interaction the study aimed to discover the level of professional legitimacy which alternative practitioners routinely enjoy or are denied by mainstream practitioners. Results show that the last decade has been characterised by an increasing liberalisation of attitude toward inter-sectoral collaboration throughout the mainstream. However, the evidence also shows that this cannot be equated with the existence of a generalised acceptance of alternative practitioners, professional legitimacy. There is a schism within orthodoxy on this issue and that schism is occupationally based: at the extremes, consultants remain characteristically dismissive of alternative practitioners, nurses overwhelmingly enthusiastic. The nature of the non-orthodox practice being considered was of little significance. It is argued that the identification of differentiation within orthodoxy on this issue marks a significant point in developing an understanding of relations between the "sectors" and its component parts. There is a clear potential for conflicting developmental paths of action between orthodox groups, and for differing conceptions of who and what constitute a legitimate part of the medical totality. Cross-sectoral alignments, which challenge the state sanctioned dichotomy of mainstream/alternative, are viewed in quite different ways throughout orthodoxy. Knowledge of this intra-sectoral differentiation is essential to an understanding of emerging patterns of inter-sectoral relations.