“Taming Tradition”: Medicalized Female Genital Practices in Western Kenya


  • Astrid Christoffersen-Deb

    1. Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology, University of Oxford, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Harvard University
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This article considers the question of female genital practices at the hands of health workers in western Kenya. Recent articles in Medical Anthropology Quarterly have critically engaged with the biomedical arguments condemning such practices. This article studies the case of medicalized circumcision in which biomedical concerns over health risks have become incorporated in their vernacular practice. Although some suggest that medicalization may provide a harm-reduction strategy to the abandonment of the practice, research in one region challenges this suggestion. It argues that changing and conflicting ideologies of gender and sexuality have led young women to seek their own meaning through medicalized practice. Moreover, attributing this practice to financial motivations of health workers overlooks the way in which these “moral agents” must be situated within their social and cultural universe. Together, these insights challenge the view that medicine can remain neutral in the mediation of tradition.