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The resounding body : epistemologies of sound, healing, and complementary and alternative medicine on Canada's West Coast

University of British Columbia
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  • Medicine
  • Philosophy


The main claim of this dissertation is that practices of sound healing are driven by a skepticism towards how conventional medicine conceptualizes and treats the body. Therefore, sound healing in thought and practice may be seen as revolving around an implicit desire to redefine the body, health, and listening. I refer to this as “negating the biomedical body” and show how it is underscored by frequent recourse to medical concepts adopted from complementary and alternative medicine. This dissertation illustrates how practitioners’ negating of the biomedical body as well as their deeply embodied conception of listening and sound bear surprising consistency across a variety of sound healing practices. In this sense, sound healing is caught up in changing values regarding health, medicine, and healthcare delivery in the contemporary west. Notwithstanding its antithetical stance, however, sound healing can also be further understood when its dialectical relation to science and medicine is considered. In practice this unstable and problematic relationship is most pronounced in the contradiction between practitioners’ negating of the biomedical body (rooted in embodiment and indeterminacy) and popular appeals to science (rooted in representation and objectification). Ultimately, I argue that in lieu of recognition from established medicine, a distinguishing role for sound healing rests on resolving this dialectical tension. This it accomplishes through the formulation of a new vernacular— hinging on terms such as “vibration,” “frequency,” and “resonance”—and a privileging of the body’s immaterial and energetic dimensions (a process I term the “naturalization of energy”). I suggest that one outcome of this dialectic is the new “body-as-vibration,” a conceptual model of the body that is believed to be amenable to science but that still preserves sound healers’ need to formulate a new epistemology for the body and health.

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