Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin - Learning from Alzheimer's Disease

Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin | Projects | Learning from Alzheimer's Disease | Sub-Projects | Alternative Medicine in a Biomedical Context

Alternative Medicine in a Biomedical Context

Lara Keuck and Seraphina Rekowski


The turn to alternative medical practices and the critical rejection of rationalized modern medicine is often understood as the present-day revival of older medical knowledge. This claim to represent the “old” is an important moment in the self-fashioning of alternative healers and functions to legitimize their methods as a special form of therapy that often exempt themselves from empirical scientific proof.

This project will pursue a different approach to the evaluation of alternative medicine and examines how it became institutionalized in the 20th century and the changes that followed. It charts the shift in alternative medicine’s role as a countermodel to being part of the “mainstream” and the compromises which being part of institutionalized medicine entailed. In particular, it looks at how the identity-defining borderline to conventional medicine has blurred and new relationships must be found that allow rapprochement and cooperation, which serve as a minimal basis for anchoring alternative medical methods in the healthcare system.


How does alternative medicine identify itself when it ceases to be an “alternative”? What relationship is found between a romantic and a rational understanding of nature, when biomedical physicians and practitioners of alternative medicine are working together? At what point does this cooperation create tension and what claims are shared by both sides? This project examines cases of institutionalized alternative medicine within the established health care system. Its focus is the tension between alternative medicine and biomedical ideals, instruments and institutions and therefore it aims to make clearer what relationship is formed between their obviously contradictory methods and the limits of rapprochement between them.