UBC Faculty Research and Publications

HIV prevention : making male circumcision the ‘right’ tool for the job Bell, Kirsten


In recent years, HIV/AIDS programming has been transformed by an ostensibly ‘new’ procedure: male circumcision. This article examines the rise of male circumcision as the ‘right’ HIV prevention tool. Treating this controversial topic as a ‘matter of concern’ rather than a ‘matter of fact’, I examine the reasons why male circumcision came to be seen as a partial solution to the problem of HIV transmission in the twenty-first century and to what effect. Grounded in a close reading of the primary literature, I suggest that the embrace of male circumcision in HIV prevention must be understood in relation to three factors: 1) the rise of evidence-based medicine as the dominant paradigm for conceptualizing medical knowledge, 2) the fraught politics of HIV/AIDS research and funding, which made the possibility of a biomedical intervention attractive, and 3) underlying assumptions about the nature of African ‘culture’ and ‘sexuality’. I conclude by stressing the need to expand the parameters of the debate beyond the current polarized landscape, which presents us with a problematic either/or scenario regarding the efficacy of male circumcision.

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