The challenge of authenticity: exploring the role of language and identity in conducting an ethnographic study of Chinese medicine (TCM) provision and use in Chinese-community based settings in the UK
Maria Tighe (Bristol University)
Paper short abstract:
I explore challenges encountered during the course of fieldwork in Chinese-community based Chinese medicine (TCM) clinics in the UK. Utilising a reflexive and phenomenological approach I situate 'practitioner-research' as a contentious interdisciplinary approach to anthropology at home.
Paper long abstract:
In this paper I explore challenges encountered during the course of fieldwork in Chinese-community based Chinese medicine (TCM) clinics in the UK. Utilising a reflexive and phenomenological approach I situate 'practitioner-research' as contentious inter-disciplinary approach to anthropology at home. The parallel process is justified with attention to the UK heath service research framework and previous ethnographic studies, which highlight participant observation as the heart of the method. The various means through which observations are rendered participant are discussed, including an analysis of research relationships as co-producers of ethnographic direction. The organizational categorisation of TCM as either Chinese traditional 'ethnic' or complementary and alternative medicine in the UK is an emergent issue; part revealed and part constructed during fieldwork. Researcher positioning-in relation to Chinese and English language and identity-reflects and informs global tensions in the TCM development process. However, in the UK clinical context real language limitations furthered a phenomenological opportunity for analysis. The primacy of the body and 'medical gesture' affirmed by Levinas (1998) afforded a focus on the 'face to face' response in the immediacy of the treatment encounter. This raises ethical issues in the fields of health services research and professional Chinese medicine. The role of research in legitimising or illuminating particular Chinese medicine practices among medical and/or ethnic populations, alongside the cultivation of the academic practitioner-researcher in performing this role. Further implications include the value of ethnography in highlighting the essential plurality of Chinese medicine practices in the UK, and the importance of reflexivity in mirroring the use of culture and language as powerful organizational gesture. The analysis reminds as to the diversity of persons and languages represented in Chinese medicine research, resource and occupation. Ethnographic experience suggests a need for collaborative dialogue; acknowledging the challenge of professionalising authenticity in changing global social worlds.
Ethnographies of medical encounters between Europe and Asia