Complementary and alternative medicines: a reflection on definitions, designations and social demarcations

  • Elsa Pegado Instituto Universitário de Lisboa (ISCTE-IUL), Centro de Investigação e Estudos de Sociologia (Cies_Iscte), Lisboa, Portugal
Keywords: complementary and alternative medicines, medicine, health


“Complementary and alternative medicines” (CAMs) is one of the more common terms used to designate a range of medicines, therapies and therapeutic practices that both find themselves on the margins of so-called “conventional medicine” and are enjoying a growing social visibility in contemporary western societies. Based on a bibliographical review of the existing studies on this subject, the author responds to the need to delimit this field by offering a sociological reflection on the relevant social classifications. The article is organised along three lines: (i) definitions – what CAMs encompass; (ii) designations – the meanings of the terms; (iii) demarcations – the boundaries between these and other therapeutic practices.