Despite the proliferation of the notion of ‘Harmful Cultural Practices’ as a categorical term in activist and policy circles, used for phenomena ranging from ‘female genital mutilation’ to forced marriages and polygamy, it is seldom applied in research reports and academic literature. Our forthcoming volume (Longman & Bradley, Ashgate, 2015) is among the first to addresses this gap and the questions it raises. Taking postcolonial critique and anthropological relativism into account, we argue that rather than rejecting the notion altogether, it provides a useful starting point for theorizing harm and violence against women, but only if it is taken as a tool for a much wider critique. We also propose a comparative research frame of two theoretical-analytical approaches that can be usefully applied to the study of HCPs, the Intersectional Approach and the Attitude Continuum. In this panel we invite papers to engage with our proposed research frame, drawing on either theoretical reflection and/or grounded in sociological and ethnographic research from throughout the world.
Possible questions to be addressed include: Is HCP a viable and useful category of comparative analysis and theorisation of gender discriminatory and violent practices across cultural contexts, and if so, what does it cover? What can anthropology and sociology contribute to policies on HCPs, or should the notion as such from an anthropological perspective be rejected? Can “western” beauty practices be analysed or understood as HCPs, and/or are cross-cultural comparisons possible? How do HCP’s evolve, transform and disappear through globalization and migration, and how do they relate to processes of culturalisation, religionisation and secularisation? And finally, through which theoretical lenses on gender, equality, freedom, embodiment, subjectivity, agency and power can HCPs be understood and assessed?