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Footbinding In China

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In Ending Footbinding and Infibulation: A Convention Account, Mackie (1996) examines the practices of female foot binding in China, and infibulation in Africa. Specifically, the paper considers the conditions which brought these practices about, how foot binding came to an end, and why infibulation still persists. Mackie offers his 'convention account' and asserts that such practices are self-enforcing conventions which are perpetuated by interdependent expectations on the marriage market (Mackie 1996: 999). In doing so, Mackie primarily applies a rational choice paradigm in his examination, while also utilising structural functionalist and hermeneutic paradigms. Ultimately, I will posit that this synthesis of paradigms provides an effective…show more content…
According to Mackie (1996: 1001) the practice of foot binding spread from the imperial palace, transmitting down through the classes until it was nearly universally adopted. Thus, foot binding can be seen as symbolising one's status. Foot binding came to symbolise gentility, and it was only the absolute lowest of the lower class who were the exception to the convention. Such destitute individuals could not afford for female family members to be foot-bound when their manual labour was needed (Mackie 1996: 1001). However, to avoid such disgrace, many poor families preferred to “struggle along for a precarious living, bringing up their daughters with small feet” (Doolittle 1865: 201). This is in keeping with Veblen's (1934) view that foot binding is a costly display of a family's wealth (Mackie 1996: 1002). Likewise in Africa, female mutilation reportedly spread partly due to individuals wanting to emulate their higher status neighbours who had already adopted the practice (Mackie 1996: 1004). In addition to symbolising wealth, Mackie suggests that female mutilation symbolises a family's commitment to values of purity and chastity (Mackie 1996: 1000, 1008). Given the costs and risks associated with female mutilation, that a family would choose to commit to the practice shows how willing they are to ensure that males can be confident in terms of paternity. With this intention, female mutilation can be seen as symbolising a female's purity and future fidelity (Mackie 1996:
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