1st Edition

Circumcision, Public Health, Genital Autonomy and Cultural Rights

Edited By Matthew Johnson, Megan O'Branski Copyright 2014

    Circumcision is one of the oldest and most common surgical processes, being practised, for a range of medical, social and religious reasons, on up to 30% of males worldwide. It is currently being promoted by a range of health bodies as a means of tackling HIV in developing countries. Yet, there is significant concern about sexual, physiological and psychological effects and complications and its prophylactic effectiveness. In examining a case in which a failed circumcision was performed for religious reasons, the Regional Court in Cologne decided that the practice contravened the bodily autonomy of minors and was subject to the same legislation used to classify female genital cutting as assault. This, understandably, aroused serious concerns among various religious communities who practise circumcision. At the same time as religious groups seek to protect circumcision from comparisons with female genital cutting, there is a trend, particularly in post-colonial thought in the US, to revise negative understandings of female genital cutting by making cautious, positive comparisons with circumcision.

    This collection considers the apparent contradictions and complications of the contemporary status and deployment of the many forms of genital cutting, raising a serious, wide-reaching question: what scope should society have to impose physically invasive rites on people?

    This book was originally published as a special issue of Global Discourse.

    Introduction: Circumcision, public health, genital autonomy and cultural rights Matthew Johnson and Megan O’Branski

    1. Infant male circumcision in the public square: applying the public reason of John Rawls Robert Van Howe

    2. A Reply to Robert Van Howe Susan Mendus

    3. A Reply to Robert Van Howe: how reasonable is intactivism? Martyn Griffin

    4. Promoting genital autonomy by exploring commonalities between male, female, intersex, and cosmetic female genital cutting J. Steven Svoboda

    5. A Reply to J. Steven Svoboda: discourses on sexual pleasure after genital modifications: the fallacy of genital determinism Sara Johnsdotter

    6. Critiquing circumcision: in search of a new paradigm for conceptualizing genital modification Zachary T. Androus

    7. A Reply to Zachary T. Androus Jennifer Coffman

    8. New Lives for Old: modernity, biomedicine, traditional culture and HIV prevention in Lesotho Nicola L. Bulled

    9. A Reply to Nicola L. Bulled Louise Vincent

    10. The production of sexual mutilation among Muslim women in Cairo Maria Frederika Malmström

    11. A Reply to Maria Frederika Malmström Debra L. DeLaet


    Symposium on German Court ruling on circumcision

    12. Thinking about infant male circumcision after the Cologne court decision Geoffrey Brahm Levey

    13. Circumcision: what should parents and states do? An essay Ayelet Banai

    14. Legislation on male infant circumcision in Europe: a call to avoid paternalism and to promote evidence-based, patient-centred care Maria Kristiansen and Aziz Sheikh

    15. The goose and the gander: the genital wars Richard A. Shweder


    Review symposium on The New Politics of Male Circumcision: HIV/AIDS, Health Law and Social Justice by Marie Fox and Michael Thomson

    14. Reviews and Response Sydney Calkin, Richard Mullender, Sander L. Gilman, Marie Fox and Michael Thomson


    Matthew Johnson is a Lecturer and British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow in Politics, Philosophy and Religion at the University of Lancaster, UK. He is interested in the evaluation of culture and the effect of forms of intervention on wellbeing. He has authored Evaluating Culture and edited The Legacy of Marxism.

    Megan O’Branski is a PhD student in Politics at Newcastle University, UK.