What's in a Name? A Boundary Work Analysis of the Controversy over University Homeopathy Education

  • Elizabeth Caldwell (Speaker)

Activity: Talk or presentation typesOral presentation


Between 1999 and 2009, a number of UK universities taught Bachelor of Science (BSc) degrees in homeopathy, in response to the growing popularity of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) and concerns about standards of training for non-medically qualified practitioners. However, a number of prominent scientists launched a vigorous campaign in the media against the degrees, resulting in their closure. This paper presents a thematic analysis of the boundary work carried out by campaigners, from 65 articles published in UK print media between 1998 and 2015. The data show that a number of rhetorical strategies were used to denigrate homeopathy degrees and designate them as non-science, such as associating them with profit, religion and magic. In contrast to previous debates about CAM, one important strategy in the boundary work was a focus on the scientific implausibility of the extreme dilutions used to make homeopathic medicines. This spotlight on scientific legitimacy proved to be a decisive strategy in rendering homeopathy as non-science and therefore not eligible for inclusion in BSc programmes. The subsequent expulsion of homeopathy from the academy has had profound implications for the position of CAM in British society, as both accreditation of CAM therapies and statutory regulation are now bound not only to clinical legitimacy but also to scientific credibility. This case demonstrates that boundary work can be carried out not only to protect science from outside influence, but it may also be used to intercede in the affairs of other allied professions, in this case medicine.
Period2 Sep 2017
Event titleAnnual Meeting of the Society for Social Studies of Science: STS (In)Sensibilities
Event typeConference
LocationBoston, United States, MassachusettsShow on map
Degree of RecognitionInternational