Towards the within: Visual culture, performance, and aesthetics of acupuncture
This research attempts to account for the current popularity and use of acupuncture and other holistic therapies in Galway, Ireland. I have identified three research areas that are essential for understanding the popularity and use of holistic medical practices: visual culture, performance, and aesthetics. The visual culture of holistic medicines draws from exoticized imagery associated with Asian and Celtic/Folkloric Ireland and produces visual narratives marked with cultural syncretism. This imagery also provides the initial context in which patients and the general public begin to recognize and distinguish the status of these therapies as alternatives to biomedicine. Patient interpretations of the therapies—and their efficacy—are influenced by the images, symbols, and metaphors used in the magazine and leaflet promotions, as well as by the design of clinical spaces.
Examination of the patient-practitioner interactions comprises the “performative” aspects of acupuncture and the social reality it creates. The verbal and nonverbal interactions play a significant role in constructing acupuncture as an appealing form of holistic healing, and how patients come to define it as pleasurable, naturalistic, and—curiously enough—as noninvasive. Patient interpretations of the social and bodily aesthetics of treatments contribute to the ways in which patients develop constructs of efficacy. Descriptions of bodily sensations and somatic imagery, use of metaphorical language, and the aftereffects of treatment experienced by patients all influence how patients define acupuncture’s efficacy. Research into how acupuncture is successfully constructed as a form of holistic medicine in Ireland suggests that its popularity is in part due to its alternative status, which indicates that the success of holistic healing practices in Ireland stems from the culture’s history of concurrently sustaining both biomedical and folk healing practices. We can also regard the popularity and use of acupuncture (as well as other forms of holistic therapies in Galway) as signaling an increase in economic standards of living while also embodying a means for negotiating the social stresses and pressures associated with late-Capitalist modernity.
Key words. Visual and medical anthropology, Ireland, Ethnomethodology, Visual Culture, Phenomenology, acupuncture
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