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Anthropology and Circumcision

Eric K. Silverman
Annual Review of Anthropology
Vol. 33 (2004), pp. 419-445
Published by: Annual Reviews
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/25064860
Page Count: 27
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Anthropology and Circumcision
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Abstract

This chapter reviews the anthropology of male and female circumcision over the past century. After surveying classic sociocultural and psychodynamic interpretations of male circumcision, I shift to the biblical and Jewish rite, focusing on gender symbolism and counter-hegemonic practice within European-Christian society. The chapter then reviews the relationship between male circumcision in sub-Saharan Africa and reduced rates of HIV. Next, I address female circumcision, focusing again on symbolism but especially on highly impassioned debates over cultural relativism and human rights, medical complications, criticism and imperialism, and female agency versus brute patriarchy. What are the moral, political, and scientific obligations of anthropology to a cultural practice that is increasingly vilified in Western popular culture and jurisprudence? Should anthropology advocate eradication, contextualize Western opposition, or critique one's own bodily practices? Finally, I critically analyze the growing movement to ban the medical and ritual circumcision of infant boys in the West.

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