College of Liberal Arts & Social Sciences Theses and Dissertations

Graduation Date


Document Type


Department/Program Conferring Degree

Liberal Studies


history of medicine, philosophy, gender studies, Michel Foucault, Friedrich Nietzsche


Routine neonatal circumcision is at the present time a procedure on the decline in the United States. This is largely due to the lack of medical justification for the surgery, as medical organizations today do not recommend the procedure. Despite the statements of medical boards, the subject of male circumcision is frequently discussed in the media, and portrayed as an ongoing and controversial debate. This thesis analyzes this discourse to attempt an understanding of what this discourse can show us about our culture and our understanding of the sexual nature of the human body. A review of the history of male circumcision is given. The theories of Michel Foucault are used to help understand a loss of knowledge concerning human sexuality that occurred in the 19th century, and how this loss of knowledge enabled a practice of male circumcision which, though appearing scientific in the discourse, resulted instead from moral concerns. Male circumcision as a routine practice gained traction at a time when medicine was gaining authority over the body at the expense of religious authority, but often utilizing moral, unscientific concerns to increase the authority of medicine. Finally, the philosophies of Nietzsche and Freud are used to cast suspicion on current understanding of the practice of male circumcision, questioning the assumption that male circumcision is easily understood by conscious thought, and attempting a deeper and more relevant understanding of the cultural implications of the practice of male circumcision.