I have a question which concerns a quite recent controversy about ethnocentrism, that has been raised by the the French ethno-psychiatrist Tobie Nathan. In fact, I am looking for the writings in which he says that we cannot condemn (morally and politically) practices of sexual mutilation in certain countries of the South, because this kind of assessment would be a new and hidden form of ethnocentrism. I know that his position has been criticized by other French anthropologists, but I don't know who and where. That's why I would like to find these texts too, at least the most significant ones, and have a global view on this debate.

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Comment by MAI Saptenno on September 25, 2010 at 1:29pm
Hello. I'm not whether it's connected, but there’s been an ongoing debate about FGC in Indonesia among others led by Fatayat, the women’s wing of Nahdlatul Ulama, one of the biggest and moderate Islamic organizations in Indonesia. What’s interesting for Indonesian anthropologists and legal practitioners is how members of the organization interpret FGC as mubah, meaning that it’s allowed but not recommended, but in reality when they went to the grassroots communities, they have prohibited it for health reason. Apparently, many Indonesian communities continue to practice FGC mostly for religious reason. There have been efforts made by the activists to open dialogs with their top clerics who relied mostly on the Qur’an and Hadith. One of the articles addressing FGC in Indonesia can be found in a book edited by a legal anthropologist, Sulistyowati Irianto (2006), Women and the Law (my translation). Jakarta: Yayasan Obor. Thank you.
Comment by Alice C. Linsley on September 14, 2010 at 11:38am
The term "sexual mutiliation" for female circumcision suggests that Tobie Nathan may be right. Not every female circumcised is sexually mutilated. To understand what He is saying you might look at Anthropologist Janice Boddy's fascinating essay on Pharaonic circumcision appeared in American Ethnologist. The essay was titled "Womb as Oasis: The symbolic context of Pharaonic circumcision in rural Northern Sudan" (Nov. 1982, Vol.9, pgs. 682-698). Here Boddy sets forth her research on Pharaonic circumcision among the Sudanese.

The context in which we to understand the binary distinction of male and female circumcision is that of the Upper Nile and Sudan, representing an extremely old worldview. Read more here:


Comment by Emil Dauncey on September 13, 2010 at 9:46pm
I highly recommend 'Women, Culture and Development' edited by Martha Nussbaum and John Glover, especially the contribution by Benhabib for a solid and reflexive debate of some of the issues surrounding the practice and intervention.
Comment by Máire Ní Mhórdha on October 2, 2009 at 6:04pm
Nicolas, I'm currently on fieldwork in Senegal, I'm looking at an NGO program which targets FGC in rural communities where it is practiced. Your question is of great interest to me, as it’s one I constantly pose to myself… and it’s the reason I am studying how this particular NGO works, as its approach is definitely one of non-condemnation of the practice, but basically attempts to educate the practicing populations about the harmful effects of FGC (female genital cutting) and then encourages to decide for themselves to abandon it. This is the theory, at least.
I must add to Alice’s comment, that the term 'mutilation' is an interesting choice in itself and certainly does imply an intent to harm which certainly is not the case in my experience. The NGO that I am working with, Tostan, bases its entire approach on a human rights education program implemented by Senegalese facilitators who are of the ethnic group of the people they work with and certainly never refer to the practice as 'sexual mutilation'.
Coincidentally I just attended a talk here in Dakar last night at the Institut Francais by Christine Bellas-Cabane, a French doctor and anthropologist who has worked with practicing communities in Mali. I refer you to her book: http://amades.revues.org/index679.html
You could also look at some stuff by Richard Schweder, who has written about the so-called ethnocentrism of much oppostion to FGC.
If you are interested in discussing more at some point please PM me, I’d like to keep contributing to this thread but also am not always regularly connected to the internet.
Comment by Nicolas on September 18, 2009 at 3:40pm
Thanks for these fruitful comments.
Best regards
Comment by Alice C. Linsley on September 15, 2009 at 12:52am
Using the term sexual "mutilation" doesn't clear the air for an objective look at this phenomena that is so deeply rooted in the binary worldview and religious practices of African tribes. You might be interested in this: http://jandyongenesis.blogspot.com/2009/03/circumcision-and-binary-distinctions.html
Comment by Keith Hart on September 12, 2009 at 10:13pm
Aboubacar Barry launched a critique of Nathan in another context and Nathan replied. There is also this piece in bad English by the Circabolition campaigner, Michel Herve.


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