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Contingency, Context, and Change: Negotiating Female Genital Cutting in The Gambia and Senegal

Ylva Hernlund and Bettina Shell-Duncan
Africa Today
Vol. 53, No. 4, Female Genital Cutting (Summer, 2007), pp. 43-57
Published by: Indiana University Press
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/4187809
Page Count: 15
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Contingency, Context, and Change: Negotiating Female Genital Cutting in The Gambia and Senegal
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Abstract

Though the literature aimed at deepening our understanding of the practice of female genital cutting (FGC) is vast and growing, the issue of behavior change remains poorly understood. In this paper, we argue that, both within and beyond the context of formal intervention, the decision of whether, when, and how to perform FGC results from a constant process of negotiation about how to position oneself in light of shifting social relationships, contexts, and experiences, representing what Caroline H. Bledsoe calls contingencies-proximate social experiences and actors-that affect decisionmaking. Using qualitative data from an ongoing largescale study of FGC in The Gambia and Senegal, we idenitify contingencies revealed through interviews and focus-group discussions. We find that proximate experiences and persons influence, in ongoing and sometimes conflicting ways, how individuals construct their "opinions" about the practice of FGC. Consequently, we argue that the decisionmaking process is more fluid than two diametrically opposed camps of supporters and opponents, and that dichotomizing those who retain or reject the practice oversimplifies the complexity of contemplation and decisionmaking. We propose that, to obtain an improved understanding of the dynamics of decisionmaking with respect to FGC, it will be essential to integrate the concept of contingency into theoretical models of behavior change.

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