Contradictions in power, sexuality, and consent: An institutional ethnography of male neonatal circumcision

Date of Completion

January 2009


Anthropology, Cultural|Sociology, Organizational|Health Sciences, Health Care Management




In this dissertation I examine the routinization of prophylactic neonatal male circumcision in hospital settings in New England. Using the methodological framework of Dorothy E. Smith's (1987) Institutional Ethnography, I study the ways in which institutionalized policies and processes regarding this procedure intersect in the lives of expecting parents and parents, as well as with those in the medical community. ^ I focus specifically on medical professionals and parents who interact both directly and indirectly in order to challenge or maintain a uniquely American tradition of male neonatal circumcision. In order to understand the attitudes and opinions of these different groups of people, including anti-circumcision activists, I have used a multi-method approach that combines an analysis of questionnaires, interviews, and ethnographic fieldwork in two hospital settings. During my research, I investigate the ways in which authority is maintained and resisted within hospital settings regarding male circumcision, and how the informed consent process is actually negotiated between parents and medical professionals. This dissertation contributes to sociological literature on organizational processes involving discourse, institutional authority, and the informed consent practices as they are experienced and regularly negotiated by healthcare providers and parents. ^