|dc.description.abstract||Throughout human existence people have used herbs and other medicinal substances to protect themselves against illness and treat their ailments. Gathering wild herbs has, however, been replaced today by the many products on the shelves of health stores and pharmacies in developed countries with health systems similar to New Zealand. Previous studies of supplements and their use have largely focused on how many people use them, or subsumed supplement use within wider studies of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). Supplement use, however, has characteristics that make it different from CAM therapies more broadly. Yet there have been only a few investigations where supplement users have been asked directly about their practices, and those that have been done have tended to be under-theorised and so lack depth.
This study used a constructionist approach, within which supplements and their users were examined from both humanist and post-humanist perspectives. I used semi-structured interviews to generate data with 36 participants who were regular users of supplements. The interviews were supplemented by observations of the displays of products that participants brought to my attention in the home and retail settings where the interviews took place. A critical theoretical analysis was undertaken, framed by Deleuze and Guattari’s concept of the rhizomatic assemblage of multiple, interconnected actants which are always in a process of change. Within this wider framework, aspects of the data were examined using other theoretical concepts including deconstruction, the agency of matter, and Foucault’s ideas of power and caring for the self.
The study revealed that popular assumptions about supplements as being natural, holistic and risk free can be deconstructed to show a wide variety of nuances and competing interpretations. Material things are significant in supplement use; not only the products themselves but the non-human communication technologies that allow individuals and companies the means to research, promote, sell or buy supplements when and where they choose across the globe. Using the experience and new knowledge acquired through these non-human things, supplement users become confident in their ability to resist over-scrutiny of their practices by the orthodox health system and this confidence becomes woven in to how they present themselves and their life story.||