Illness, biomedicine, and alternative healing in Brittany, France

Med Anthropol. 2008 Apr-Jun;27(2):190-218. doi: 10.1080/01459740802017439.


Through the lens of an illness narrative, this article focuses on the complex relationships between biomedicine and alternative therapies in Brittany, France. Themes drawn from the illness narrative highlight Breton ideas about the body, the source of healers' legitimacy, and the authority of the biomedical system. I argue that in this region, both biomedical and religious authorities are perceived to be allied to non-local elites, and both are subject to antagonistic criticism. Nonetheless, resistance to biomedicine through recourse to alternative therapies is mixed with ongoing dependence on the biomedical system, since patients seek strategic combinations of both systems to maximize health and other benefits. Pursuing alternative therapies empowers patients by enabling them to negotiate treatment options and to choose among competing narrative constructions of illness. By highlighting parallels between the Breton material and published work based elsewhere in Europe and North America, I argue that this case study has useful implications for anthropologists and medical practitioners working in broader Western contexts.

Publication types

  • Case Reports
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anthropology, Cultural
  • Chronic Disease / psychology
  • Chronic Disease / therapy
  • Complementary Therapies / psychology*
  • Decision Making*
  • Female
  • France
  • Humans
  • Narration
  • Neoplasms / psychology*
  • Neoplasms / therapy*
  • Patient Acceptance of Health Care / psychology*
  • Physician-Patient Relations*
  • Trust