Ellen Gruenbaum, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: University of Philadelphia Press, 2001. 242 pages.
Female circumcision is a highly contested “tradition” practiced in many parts of the world, particularly Africa. International human rights campaigns refer to the practice as “female genital mutilation” (FGM) and seek to eliminate it; its practitioners tend to defend it even after it has been declared illegal. Within this charged environment, Ellen Gruenbaum has undertaken the difficult task of examining the controversy from a more culturally sensitive perspective based on her years of fieldwork in Sudan. In many respects, her attempt to present the issue’s multiple sides is successful. Using ethnographic description, she explores the range of factors giving this practice its importance, from socioeconomic to aesthetic, while also suggesting why and how there are more appropriate means to alter, reduce, and eradicate the practice.