Shiatsu Practitioners: Forging a Path Through a Landscape of Practice

Spurr, Susan Margaret (2015). Shiatsu Practitioners: Forging a Path Through a Landscape of Practice. PhD thesis The Open University.



This thesis is an exploratory study of Shiatsu as a distinct type of healthcare practice.

Situated within the sociology of the professions as the wider academic context, this study focuses on Shiatsu practitioners and the process of professionalisation in relation to complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). Neo-Weberian theory is used to examine the field of CAM, highlighting its marginalisation by the medical profession. What counts as legitimate knowledge is raised as an important question in relation to the process of professionalisation and CAM.

Ethnography and narrative inquiry form the basis of the methodological approach. My experiences as a Shiatsu practitioner gave me ‘deep familiarity’ in the field of my research and I examine the challenges in this respect and discuss reflexivity as a methodological tool. The recruitment strategy led to a spectrum of participants’ experiences across a broad temporal dimension and I argue this is a particular strength of the study. Concepts of ‘social positioning’ and ‘turning points’ provide important theoretical considerations of the analytic framework.

The data-led chapters collectively form a trajectory of participants’ pathways through a ‘landscape of practice’. These chapters highlight key tensions and turning points in relation to the trajectory of ‘Getting into Shiatsu’ and ‘Getting out there to practise Shiatsu’, particularly in respect of the status of knowledge and earning a living as a Shiatsu practitioner. These tensions are discussed in the context of professionalisation, and highlight some of the wider structural factors -for example the interface of Shiatsu with the NHS, other CAM practices as well as society in general. The issue of marginalisation provides a connection between Etienne Wenger-Trayner’s concept of landscapes of practice and neo-Weberian theory in relation to CAM practices. The experiences of participants in this study are potentially relevant to other practitioners not only in other marginalised emerging professions but also practitioners in more established professions.

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