Pain as a counterpoint to culture: toward an analysis of pain associated with infibulation among Somali immigrants in Norway

Med Anthropol Q. 2002 Sep;16(3):312-40. doi: 10.1525/maq.2002.16.3.312.


This article focuses on how some Somali women experience and reflect on the pain of infibulation as a lived bodily experience within shifting social and cultural frameworks. Women interviewed for this study describe such pain as intolerable, as an experience that has made them question the cultural values in which the operation is embedded. Whereas this view has gone largely unvoiced in their natal communities, the Norwegian exile situation in which the present study's informants live has brought about dramatic changes. In Norway, where female circumcision is both condemned and illegal, most of the women have come to reconsider the practice--not merely as a theoretical topic or as a "cultural tradition" to be maintained or abolished but, rather, as part of their embodied and lived experience.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Circumcision, Female / adverse effects
  • Circumcision, Female / ethnology*
  • Culture*
  • Emigration and Immigration
  • Female
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice*
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Middle Aged
  • Norway
  • Pain / ethnology*
  • Pain / etiology
  • Pain / psychology
  • Social Values / ethnology
  • Somalia / ethnology
  • Surveys and Questionnaires