Chirobase Home Page
An Ethnography of a Chiropractic Clinic:
Definitions of a Deviant Situation
James B. Cowie, PhD
Julian B. Roebuck, PhD
While chiropractic has sought professional recognition and approval,
it continues to be regarded as "deviant" by the medical profession.
This book for the first time studies chiropractic in its natural setting
-- the clinic. It examines the health care practice of one chiropractor,
within the unconventional behavioral context of his clinic. A number of
questions are addressed:
- How does the clinic "set the stage" for the chiropractor?
What symbolic meanings does it present to the patients?
- How does the chiropractor present himself to his patients? In what
way is his behavior different from an establishment doctor's ?
- How does the chiropractor characterize his patients? Why are some "unacceptable"
for treatment? How are they handled?
- How does the chiropractor manage his "deviant" status within
Based on participant observation -- coauthor Cowie worked as part-time
assistant in the clinic under study -- this ethnography combines the perspective
of symbolic interactionism with a behavior setting approach. The study focuses
on the participants' own social definitions and rationalizations of the
situation within the specific ongoing operation of the clinic setting.
The authors review the general history, philosophy, and legal status
of chiropractic, as perceived by the practitioner himself. They then examine
the physical characteristics of the clinic, the influence of this setting
on the behavioral patterns of those involved, and the actual interaction
among the chiropractor, his assistant, and his patients, including the chiropractor's
methods of neutralizing his "deviant" status. The passages written
in the first person reflect Dr. Cowie's experiences.
This book is an important addition to studies of deviant behavior both
in its unique methodological approach and its emphasis on a figure who,
in spite of a "deviant" label, carries a considerable degree of
social power in ways that have until now been little understood.
In 1975, Dr. Cowie was Assistant Professor of Sociology at Delta State
University and Dr. Roebuck was Professor of Sociology at Mississippi State