Accepted Paper:

Cancer patients and complementary and alternative medicine in Turkey  


Aysecan Terzioglu (Koc University)

Paper short abstract:

This paper aims at developing a critical perspective on the common medical and social discourses on complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) in Turkey, based on an ethnographic research on Turkish cancer patients' illness experiences and narratives. It describes the broad range of complementary and alternative medical methods, and explores how those methods are related to the medical conceptions of good and bad patients. This paper also investigates the ways in which those methods are informed by Islamic views and practices, and how this connection is evaluated in the Turkish medical realm, which is traditionally associated with modernity and secularism.

Paper long abstract:

This paper investigates complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) in Turkey, based on the illness narratives of Turkish cancer patients, which I collected and studied for my Ph.D. dissertation. It describes the broad range of complementary alternative medical methods that those patients benefit from, as well as providing a general categorization of those methods in Turkish society. Accordingly, these methods are categorized as the ones, which are informed by the global, new age trends, such as yoga, reiki and positive energy, and the "traditional" ones, which are based on popular Islamic and folk conceptions of health and illness. These categorizations also reflect the health behaviors of people with different socio-economic backgrounds, since the former is generally associated with people with higher education level and urban, middle and upper class background and the latter with less educated people with rural and disadvantaged background. This categorization also informs medical discourse on patients and influences the health care providers' differentiation of good and bad patients, as well as their attitudes towards those patients. This paper also analyzes how those dynamics and processes are influenced by the historical and current interaction between Turkish medicine and modernity and how the patients and health care providers evaluate the possibility for the discoursive and practical integration of CAM to the dominant biomedical system. This paper also questions the concept of "Islamic medicine" and how it is used in the Turkish medical realm, and relates that concept to the recent debates on the rise of political Islam in Turkey.

Panel W014
From medical pluralism to therapeutic plurality: medical anthropology and the politics of diversity, knowledge, and experience from multiple perspectives