Accepted Paper:

"Because so many people feel abandoned or they become somebody who is socially soundless": how healers in a remote Australian town are addressing social death  
Aqua Hastings (University of Newcastle)

Paper short abstract:

Traditional, complementary and alternative healers are overlooked as a health resource. Stigmatisation of cultural medicine leads to social death of practitioners and those who need healing. In remote Australia, healers use contextually relevant practices to enhance social and cultural wellbeing.

Paper long abstract:

Traditional, Complementary and Alternative Medicine (TCAM) is an under-utilised health resource worldwide, due to lack of structural recognition. One system of medicine - biomedicine - seeks to dominate by marginalising the practitioners and practices of all other systems, condemning them as 'unscientific'. The consequence appears to be social death of culturally-based healers. Dominant perspectives that view non-biomedical healers as 'unscientific' and therefore socially attenuated, also view remote health through a deficit lens. Such perspectives report notoriously poor health outcomes in remote areas, and access difficulties. Nevertheless, in a remote town in Australia, far from urban regulatory norms, TCAM practitioners are playing a vital role in community wellbeing. In this setting, healers use contextually relevant healing practices that are culturally-based, and adapt their methods to local needs. Despite the stigma attached to non-scientific systems, TCAM practitioners are engaging with concepts of health that fall outside of normative biomedical concepts. In contrast to 'the absence of disease', understandings of health and healing in this setting are inseparable from the living landscape, entwined in community networks, and imbued with spirituality. TCAM practitioners represent a form of resistance to the social death prescribed by dominating biomedical worldviews. Engaging with culturally relevant practices, local healers are providing contextualised health care and thereby enhancing social and cultural wellbeing.

Panel P30
Social death by neglect in health and health systems