Physiotherapy and the shadow of prostitution: the Society of Trained Masseuses and the massage scandals of 1894

Nicholls, DA
Cheek, J
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Journal Article
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AUT University

In 1894 the Society of Trained Masseuses (STM) formed in response to massage scandals published by the British Medical Journal (BMJ). The Society's founders acted to legitimise massage, which had become sullied by its association with prostitution. This study analyses the discourses that influenced the founders of the Society and reflects upon the social and political conditions that enabled the STM to emerge and prosper. The founders established a clear practice model for massage which effectively regulated the sensual elements of contact between therapist and patient. Massage practices were regulated through clearly defined curricula, examinations and the surveillance of the Society's members. A biomechanical model of physical rehabilitation was adopted to enable masseuses to view the body as a machine rather than as a sensual being. Medical patronage of the Society was courted enabling the Society to prosper amongst competing organisations. Using Foucault's work on power we explore the contingent nature of these events, seeing the massage scandals in context with broader questions of sexual morality, professionalisation and expertise in the late nineteenth century society. We argue that many of the technologies developed by the founders resonate with physiotherapy practice today and enable us to critically analyse the continued relevance of the profession to contemporary healthcare.

History, 19th Century , Humans , Massage , New Zealand , Physical Therapy (Specialty) , Prostitution , Societies , Physiotherapy , Discourse , Foucault , Profession
Social Science and Medicine, vol.62(9), pp.2336 - 2348
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