Table of Contents ||| Chirobase Home Page

Preface to An Ethnography
of a Chiropractic Clinic

The "Chicago school" of thought referred to as symbolic interactionism is universally recognized as a major force in the theoretical tradition of American sociology. Yet, one of the most common criticisms leveled at the interactionist perspective is its alleged inability to come to grips with the "absurd" complexity of social reality which its adherents insist must be taken into account. Thus, the approach has been criticized -- often justifiably -- for a lack of coherence.

The original study of the social behavior occurring within a chiropractic clinic which ultimately led to the writing of this book was undertaken with the express purpose of trying to coherently reconstruct situationally limited social phenomena while intentionally keeping to the basic premises of symbolic interactionism. We have set forth neither any major new point of view nor a minor theoretical twist in our interactionist approach. Rather, the attempt has been made to devise a situationally heuristic methodology which would meet the demands imposed by the subject matter at hand, remain faithful to the underlying premises of the interactionist tradition, and contribute to the rapidly growing interest in the sociology of everyday life.

We have observed in our classes students who, quite obviously, have experienced the excitement which comes from discovering the novelty and impact of the interactionist approach. Most students however, at some time in their intellectual growth, express some doubts concerning the direct and cogent application of' this set of ideas to the study of specific social phenomena. Indeed, much of the literature supporting the interactionist approach seeks -- almost apologetically -- to explain away this dearth of systematic interactional analysis. It is hoped that the present work will be helpful to those who seek reinforcement in their belief that symbolic interactionism does have the potential for solid methodological explication.

A work of this nature should appeal to a wide variety of interests in the social sciences. The current interest in the dramaturgy of everyday life has led to a focus upon specially and temporally limited behavior settings. A major section in the book is devoted to a clarification of this concept. Students in sociological research methods courses almost invariably express interest in a methodology of this type due primarily to its appeal as a readily applicable technique. Specifically, students of the labeling approach to deviant behavior should find the present means of analysis useful in a variety of contexts. Further, it should appeal to many general sociologists who have specialized areas of teaching interest -- -for example, the sociology of occupations, medical sociology, dramaturgical sociology, and the sociology of religion. Finally, we have been encouraged by anthropologists who insist that what is needed in that field are more examples of the application of traditional field techniques to contemporary social situations.

Writing for a diverse audience is not an easy task. Yet, the subject of chiropractic in general has an almost immediate appeal even to those persons only vaguely knowledgeable of this unique form of health care practice. As will be seen, chiropractic is a fascinating and controversial subject, full of curiosities, ambiguities, even mysteries in the classical sense. The present study, however, is not devoted to the study of chiropractic as such. It is concerned with presenting an ethnographic portrait of one chiropractic clinic in one section of the United States and should not be construed as being representational of the entire chiropractic profession.

Basing our opinion on personal experience and a close reading of the literature available, we wish to make it clear that we feel that chiropractic in general has been subject to much unfounded and uninformed criticism. On the other hand, it is not our intention to support or otherwise condone any claims put forth by individual chiropractors or the chiropractic profession in general. On the contrary, we the authors, not being qualified protectors of the public health, must state clearly at the outset that it is impossible for us to come to any empirically supportable conclusions concerning the long-term physiological consequences of chiropractic treatment, one way or another. We would like to add, however, that in our experience most qualified practitioners of chiropractic are honest, dedicated, and conscientious men and women, seriously concerned with the health of their patients. There are, of course, exceptions, as in any public service profession. However, due primarily to the passage of chiropractic licensing laws in most of the United States, there has been a decline in the number of untrained persons who call themselves chiropractors for the sole purpose of duping the public.

The practitioner in the clinic in this study was well trained in his profession and demonstrated great skill in its techniques. Moreover, he was a humanitarian in that he envisioned a better world if all people could "experience the benefits of spinal adjustment." The observations reported in this book are in no way intended to cast dispersions or doubts upon him or others in his profession. We have tried to be as honest and precise in our reporting as is humanly possible.

Perhaps a note concerning the authors' joint efforts in this undertaking is appropriate. This project was originally conceived and planned by us some time in advance of the actual data-gathering in the clinic. Many hours were spent in a careful search for every scrap of information concerning chiropractic and a methodology appropriate to the kinds of questions we were prepared to ask. The first person singular is used throughout the text for the following reasons: (1) the senior author, the participant observer (member participant) in the clinic, recorded in the first person the observations upon which the reconstruction of the setting is based; (2) the personal pronoun "I" serves a stylistic purpose in that it obviates the necessity of several referential pronouns. All of the material contained herein was carefully, sometimes painstakingly, reviewed by us both at the end of each day of observation.

There is an advantage to having one member of the research team remain "on the outside," in that he serves as a ready audience for the data as it is gathered and arranged for presentation. Many times, questions which should have been obvious to the participant observer had been overlooked due to his immediate and personal involvement with his subject matter. Once these omissions or inconsistencies were brought to focus, they served as general guidelines for subsequent observations and were duly recorded in the fieldnotes.

Acknowledgements ||| Table of Contents
Chirobase Home Page