Alternative Medicine in Modern France

Observers of the French medical scene may be struck by an apparent paradox. France  is a major producer and consumer of nonconventional remedies, and by certain measures  its use of alternative medicine ranks among the highest in Europe. Yet France stands out  even among the countries of southern Europe, which have been less willing than those of  the north to tolerate medical activities outside the norms of official biomedicine, for its  institutionalized hostility to unsanctioned forms of medical practice. This situation has  deep historical roots, which this essay seeks to reveal.

Although it would be premature to  attempt a full synthesis of a subject that remains largely unexplored, this account will offer  a preliminary survey of the development of alternative medicine in what might seem an  uncongenial environment. France was far less  fertile  soil  than the United States or  Germany for the growth of organized unconventional medical systems, movements, and institutions. Yet alternative medicine flourished there in different forms, and the very  disadvantages under which it laboured contributed to its characteristic pugnacity and may even have enhanced its public appeal.

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