A critical review of the sociology of alternative medicine: Research on users, practitioners and the orthodoxy

Mohammad Siahpush

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

58 Scopus citations


The popularity of alternative therapies in the past two decades has been accompanied by a proliferation of sociological works investigating different aspects of this phenomenon.1,2 A major strand of the literature in 'the sociology of alternative medicine', which concerns three social actors: users of alternative therapies; practitioners of alternative therapies; and physicians (the orthodoxy). Research on users of alternative medicine has mainly investigated the causes of people's use of these modalities and has focused on three questions: Why do people use alternative medicine? Why has alternative medicine become popular in recent times? and, What is the sequence of events that leads to alternative medicine use? Research on alternative practitioners has mainly investigated the issue of professionalization of these practitioners. Research on physicians has mainly investigated: physicians' views on and professional relationships with alternative therapists; physicians' views on the efficacy of alternative therapies; the orthodoxy's views on the knowledge base of these therapeutic systems; and physicians who use alternative techniques. The article argues that a paucity of empirical research is a major weakness of the present state of the sociology of alternative medicine and thus several research possibilities are delineated. Its aim is to provide a critical review of the literature on each of the above topics and suggest future research possibilities.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)159-178
Number of pages20
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2000
Externally publishedYes


  • Alternative medicine
  • The sociology of alternative medicine

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)


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