Social Theory & Health

, Volume 12, Issue 2, pp 159–178 | Cite as

Relative bodies of knowledge: Therapeutic dualism and maternal–foetal individuation

Original Article


A strong body of knowledge attests to the fact that Australian women are using complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) at increasing rates. However, use of CAM in the context of maternity care is variable and distinctive because of heightened sensitivity to risk and the complexities that arise in managing maternal and foetal well-being concurrently. Drawing on qualitative interviews with 40 women who had recently given birth residing in a major city in Australia, we trace their use of CAM and biomedicine through a sequence of important health-care events during their pregnancies and up until the point of labour. We show that these women’s engagement with CAM and biomedicine depicts a pattern whereby CAM is used to ensure the women’s well-being while biomedicine is used to ensure a safe and healthy baby. We employ the concept of therapeutic dualism to analyse how this form of medical pluralism reproduces contemporary forms of pregnant embodiment – specifically the ontological separation of mother and foetus. However, we also highlight how this dualism is inexact. That is, bodies of medical knowledge may be separated and combined at specific points during pregnancy, and so too can the foetal and maternal body.


therapeutic pluralism embodiment pregnancy complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) 



This article is based on research conducted as part of the Australian Longitudinal Study on Women’s Health, the University of Newcastle and the University of Queensland. We are grateful to the Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing for funding and to the women who provided the survey data. We thank the Australian Research Council (ARC) for funding the research via a discovery Project Grant (DP1094765) and for funding Associate Professor Alex Broom via a Future Fellowship (FT100100294). We also thank the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) for funding Professor Jon Adams via a Career Development Fellowship. Thanks to Mary-Anne Paton for her copy-editing and final preparation of the manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Ltd 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.UQ Centre for Clinical Research, The University of QueenslandHerstonAustralia
  2. 2.School of Social Science, The University of QueenslandSt LuciaAustralia
  3. 3.University of Technology SydneyUltimoAustralia

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