Reflecting on the boundaries of medicine

Thursday 8 December 2022 (12:00-14:00)

Martin Bell


Traditional, Indigenous, Complementary and Alternative Medicines in contemporary health care.

In the latest of the HSMC at 50 Seminars, Caragh Brosnan, Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Newcastle, Australia, and Nicola Gale, Professor of Health Policy and Sociology at the University of Birmingham, look at the factors driving the scientific ‘success’ of one particular form of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM): traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). 

Whereas CAM is often seen as incommensurable with biomedicine and bioscience, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has, paradoxically, assimilated into dominant spaces of knowledge production and legitimation, such as the International Classification of Diseases.

In Australia, TCM comprises a designated area of cooperation with China, and TCM research is carried out in numerous universities by otherwise mainstream scientists. Focusing on the Australian case, and drawing on interviews with TCM researchers, Caragh will show how TCM works as a set of conceptual and material boundary objects that facilitate its uptake in bioscientific research domains.

In this seminar, Caragh will locate TCM research in the wider context of Australian-Chinese knowledge exchange, pointing to the significance of boundary objects in international scientific collaboration. Together, these contextual, conceptual and material elements help explain how and why TCM has transcended scientific scepticism to become an object of scientific study.

This event is part of a wider programme at the University of Tampere. 

Speaker Bios

Carah BrosnanCaragh Brosnan is Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Newcastle, Australia. Her research focuses centrally on debates over legitimate knowledge in health care contexts, and how such contestations relate to power, professional identity, professional education and knowledge production. Caragh has published widely in sociology and STS, including the edited volume Complementary and Alternative Medicine: Knowledge Production and Social Transformation (with Pia Vuolanto and Jenny-Ann Brodin Danell).



Nicola GaleNicola Gale is Professor of Health Policy and Sociology at the University of Birmingham, UK. She is currently Head of the School of Social Policy. Her research focuses on health/care workforces and the risks and tensions of front-line public health work. She has a career-long interest in the practices of TM/CAM practitioners and how they work at the margins of (bio)medicine.  She has published widely in sociology and medical/health research journals, and edited this collection: Routledge Handbook of Complementary and Alternative Medicine: Perspectives from social science and law. (with Jean McHale, 2015).



Throughout 2022, we are celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Health Services Management Centre at the University of Birmingham. This is 50 years of being one of the UK’s foremost centres for research and evaluation, teaching and professional development for health and social care organisations. 50 years of being a “critical friend” of the healthcare community and striving to bridge the gap between research and practice.