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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Investigating the Hybridity of ‘Wellness’ Practices


Theoretically significant relationships between different categories of phenomena remain undetected because of the division of disciplinary labor. The research domains of particular subdisciplines are often bounded by common sense notions of societal sectors. In this paper, I discuss how sector-specific studies of a wide range of ‘wellness’ practices fail to recognize and address a phenomenon that cuts across sectors despite ample evidence of its existence: the hybridity of ‘wellness’ practices. Hybrid practices and establishments emerge as practitioners combine ideas and techniques from diverse sectors such as medicine and healing; counselling and psychotherapy; management, personal development and motivation; exercise and fitness; beauty and personal care services; and religion and spirituality.

I map out a program for investigating ‘hybridity’ and discuss the theoretical significance of such a project. Because ‘hybridity’ is not a property inherent in the practices themselves, but a relational concept that requires comparison between practices, I locate these practices by mapping out their structural positions within the complex multi-sectored institutional landscape. Two theoretical contributions follow from the findings of this investigative strategy: 1) It adjudicates the contrasts between theories that assert increasing homogeneity, de-differentiation, or institutional isomorphism against those that suggest greater fragmentation and differentiation; 2) It provides a corrective to the professionalization literature.

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