A friend of mine recently sent me this cartoon after hearing me talk about some work that I’ve been doing looking at the history of physical therapies in New Zealand in the 19th century (in short – there was none).
It got me thinking about the lack of really good critical historical work in physiotherapy; the kind of thing that goes beyond just the linear narrative of one event following another and, instead, tells you something about the conditions that made the present possible.
There are some really stunning historical works in health and medicine, particularly around how we have come to understand the body and health care (see a very selective sample of references below), but it seems few of them are ever read by physiotherapists when they think about the problems now facing the profession.
This is a real shame, because a lot could be gleaned by reading Sarah Nettleton’s study of the way dentists ‘invented’ the mouth as a problem to be managed; how David Armstrong critiqued the idea of posture and attitude; or how Caroline Daley described the history of leisure and pleasure. Unfortunately texts like these rarely get a mention.
I’ve been working on a book for some time now that uses critical history as the basis of an analysis of physiotherapy, and I have been astonished at how ‘local’ physiotherapy history is. Few authors go beyond the familiar territory of practice innovations or changes to the organisation of the profession. Where is the critical thinking? Where is the interrogation of the ideas that we seemingly take for granted?
Fortunately there have been some exceptionally good histories written by physiotherapists in recent years, and these need wider distribution (see below for a very partial and selective list). If physiotherapists are not going to be doomed to repeat the lessons of yesteryear, we would be well served by a closer engagement with critical histories of the present, within and without the limited boundaries of the profession.
References (highly selective)
Armstrong, D. (2002). A new history of identity. London: Palgrave Macmillan.
Dixon, L. (2003). Handmaiden to professional: Physiotherapy’s history of the present: discourse analysis of the rules of professional conduct of the CSP 1895-2002. Thesis.
Heap, R. (1995a). Physiotherapy’s quest for professional status in ontario, 1950-80. Canadian Bulletin of Medical History/Bulletin Canadien D’histoire De La Médecine, 12(1), 69-89.
Heap, R. (1995b). Training women for a new “women’s profession”: Physiotherapy education at the university of Toronto, 1917-40. History of Education Quarterly, 35(2), 135. doi:10.2307/369630.
Kell, C., & Owen, G. (2008). Physiotherapy as a profession: Where are we now? International Journal of Therapy and Rehabilitation, 15(4), 158-167.
Linker, B. (2005). The business of ethics: Gender, medicine, and the professional codification of the american physiotherapy association, 1918-1935. Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences, 60(3), 320-354.
Morus, I. R. (2006). Bodily disciplines and disciplined bodies: Instruments, skills and victorian electrotherapeutics. Social History of Medicine, 19(2), 241-259. doi:10.1093/shm/hkl037.
Morus, I. R. (2007). The two cultures of electricity: Between entertainment and edification in victorian science. Science & Education, 16(6), 593-602.
Nettleton, S. (1992). Power, pain and dentistry. Buckingham: Open University Press.
Ottosson, A. (2010). The first historical movements of kinesiology: Scientification in the borderline between physical culture and medicine around 1850. International Journal of the History of Sport, 27(11), 1892-1919. doi:10.1080/09523367.2010.491618.
Ottosson, A. (2011). The manipulated history of manipulations of spines and joints? Rethinking orthopaedic medicine through the 19th century discourse of european mechanical medicine. Medicine Studies, 3(2), 83-116. doi:10.1007/s12376-011-0067-3.
Owen, G. (2014). Becoming a practice profession: A genealogy of physiotherapy’s moving/touching practice. Thesis.
Wikström-Grotell, C., Broberg, C., Ahonen, S., & Eriksson, K. (2013). From Ling to the academic era – an analysis of the history of ideas in PT from a nordic perspective. European Journal of Physiotherapy, 15(4), 168-180. doi:10.3109/21679169.2013.833985.