The Study

A symbolic interactionist understanding of the individual and society informs the analysis I present in this book. This perspective is particularly appropriate to the questions I address, as my intent is a subjectivist understanding of the experiences of lay people who use alternative health care. Symbolic interactionism was useful in this research, since what distinguishes it from structuralist approaches is its focus on the micro level of society, its concern with the subjective experiences of individuals in interaction, and its emphasis on individuals' own understandings of reality as a basis for their actions (Blumer 1969). In giving meaning to symbols, the individual is able to interpret the actions of others, conceive his or her own course of action, and anticipate future actions. As individuals interact with each other, meanings become shared, thus allowing people to communicate with each other through the use of significant symbols, such as language, gestures, and appearance. Meaning is not inherent in symbols; rather, it is a negotiated and social product, therefore symbols can hold a multiplicity of meanings. Symbolic interactionism's subjectivist orientation permits the researcher to gain insight into the processes by which individuals both create, and modify, meaning (Blumer 1969; Maines 1981).

Moreover, a qualitative research design was the natural choice for this research, as it ensures that the focus remains on the individual, emphasizing "the value of the person's own story" (Becker i996:vi). Such a focus allowed me to form an interpretive understanding of the motives and meanings behind individuals' participation in alternative approaches to health and healing (Becker 1966). Specifically, I used unstructured interviews as a primary means of data gathering (McCraken 1988).1 I also collected data through participant observation and review of a variety of printed materials. In total, twenty-one people participated in this research. Sufficient interviews were conducted such that themes and patterns in the data were confirmed by informant after informant (Glaser and Strauss 1967).2 I recruited informants using purposeful sampling, employing snowball and convenience techniques (Babbie 1986P In addition to approaching individuals independently, I placed flyers describing the study in the Wellness Centre,4 a local holistic health care facility frequented by some of the people who took part in this research; a naturopath's office; and a local natural food store. As part of my field notes, I kept track of how I made contact with each informant, enabling me to note any patterns in the data which were a result of friendship or other networks (see Figure 0.1).

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