Accepted Paper:

Alternative medicine and healers in folk narratives  

Author:

Vesna Trifunović (Ethnographic Institute)

Paper short abstract:

Illness is a state that affects not just an individual, but also his/her direct surroundings, and, albeit indirectly, the whole society. Therefore, the severe consequences of illness may be of cultural, social, economic and other nature, as well. Just like with other important, unpredictable phenomena that are independent of human action and control (e.g. weather conditions that affect agricultural societies), the human mind tends to cope with illness by trying to put it under control, and not only by scientific means. Folk narratives about healing with the help of alternative medicine are the best proof of that. These narratives play a significant role when it comes to eliciting the trust in alternative healers and methods, but they also induce distrust in conventional medicine. Such narratives are particularly popular in Serbian society, and can be heard in many different contexts: during everyday conversations with friends, accidental contacts with strangers, in the media, etc. Some of the main intentions of those who transmit these narratives are to emphasize the efficacy of alternative modes of treatment, to promote the ones who practice the alternative healing methods, and at last but not least, to persuade the public about veracity of the story. Special language strategies and a specific „rhetoric of truth“ is used here with the aim to induce trust. However, this does not imply that a person who transmits the narrative necessarily wants to trick others. Such narratives are very much appealing to people and circulate even among friends and relatives because they talk about the possibility of a complete recovery. In this paper I intend to analyze the narratives that I have collected in conversations with informants and in printed media. I will observe them in the sociocultural context of Serbian society and within the frames of the theories of narrative. I argue that the power of narrative is particularly evident and significant in this case, and that it may have deep implications for people’s lives.

Paper long abstract:

Illness is a state that affects not just an individual, but also his/hers direct surroundings and, albeit indirectly, the whole society. Just like with other important, unpredictable phenomena that are independent of human action and control, human mind tends to cope with illness by trying to put it under control, and not only by scientific means. Folk narratives about healing with the help of alternative medicine are the best proof of that. These narratives play a significant role when it comes to eliciting the trust in alternative healers and methods, but they also induce distrust in conventional medicine. Some of the main intentions of those who transmit these narratives are to emphasize the efficacy of alternative modes of treatment, to promote the ones who practice the alternative healing methods and to persuade the public about veracity of the story. However, this does not imply that a person who transmits this narrative wants necessarily to trick others. Such narratives are very much appealing to people and circulate even among friends and relatives because they talk about the possibility of a complete recovery. In this paper I intend to analyze the narratives that I have collected in conversations with informants and in printed media. I will observe them in the sociocultural context of Serbian society and within the frames of the theories of narrative. I argue that the power of narrative is particularly evident and significant in this case and that it may have deep implications on people's lives.

Panel W132
Uncertainty and trust in medicines and therapeutic techniques