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Decatur, Mary-Anne Victoria (2024) Complementary and Disparate: Conceptualising Female and Male Genital Cutting in Northern Tanzania. PhD thesis. SOAS University of London. DOI:

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This thesis traces the ways in which genital cutting practices historically seen as complementary become regarded as disparate. While most Maasai women and men I met during my fieldwork in northern Tanzania described female and male genital cutting as a component of complementary rites inherent to social initiation and ethnic identity, Chagga people largely described male genital cutting as a necessary medical procedure long decoupled from its female counterpart and initiations, neither of which were still practised in their communities. Practices and perceptions of genital cutting are also actively transforming within Maasai communities, if differently and unevenly, leading some level of ambiguity to exist around whether or not any given young Maasai woman had undergone genital alteration. When genital cutting can be imagined as both present and absent, the act of (not) cutting becomes a null point and the things happening around it, such as initiation celebrations, are what impact social relationships. The instability of Maasai girls’ initiation, however, has put the perceived interdependence and complementarity of female and male initiation in a precarious position and opened a space for new imaginings of male genital cutting’s alleged necessity on biomedical and religious grounds. Out of these disjunctures and contestations alternative local imaginaries of female and male genital cutting have developed in northern Tanzania in ways that reaffirm as well as challenge social structures.

Item Type: Theses (PhD)
SOAS Departments & Centres: SOAS Research Theses
Supervisors Name: Kostas Retsikas
DOI (Digital Object Identifier):
Date Deposited: 19 Jan 2024 15:41

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