Blood Magic: The Anthropology of Menstruation

Blood Magic Cover

First published by the University of California Press in 1988, this volume redefined the anthropological study of menstrual customs. Examining cultures as diverse as long-house dwellers in North Borneo, Welsh housewives, African farmers, and postindustrial American workers, it challenged the previously widespread image of a universal “menstrual taboo” as well as the common assumption of universal female subordination that underlay it. Offering feminist perspectives on comparative gender politics and symbolism, the book has interested students and scholars in anthropology, women’s studies, religion, and comparative health systems. Originally listed as a “Notable” book in Choice, it later won the first Most Enduring Edited Collection Prize, awarded by the Council for the Anthropology of Reproduction (a unit of the American Anthropological Association). The book continues to be taught regularly around the world.

BM-CAR Award

Selected reviews of Blood Magic:

“The first major collection on anthropological interpretations of menstruation. . . The editors contribute a lengthy, useful introduction to this biological phenomenon and the interpretations given to it by different peoples; moreover, they provide discussions for each section . . . A well-edited and useful contribution to the continually growing literature on the cultural constructions of gender.”
-L. Beck, 
Choice, “Outstanding Title!
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Blood Magic [is] the first book on the anthropology of menstruation to be published by a major university press.”
-Becky Vorpagel, Journal of American Folklore

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“[A] major innovation is the deliberate and consistent focus on women’s views and their participation in social responses to bodily processes.”
-Terence Hays, Journal of the History of Sexuality

“Reclaiming the female body, retrieving it piece by piece from the grip of patriarchal culture and medical practice, has been a central feminist goal for each of the last two decades. Menstruation . . . is now front and center on the feminist agenda as a topic that needs to be rethought . . . Blood Magic . . . [is] among a larger set of books that are seeking simultaneously to dismantle the traditional formulations and to replace them with a woman-centered set of understandings . . .[the book]. . . not only clear[s] and point[s] the way for a new woman-centered scholarship on menstruation but demonstrate[s] its significance to the feminist agenda.”
-Anna Meigs, Signs

“Menstrual taboos have long been a favorite subject of ethnographic inquiry, but in the past their study has suffered from both an ethnocentric and male-centered bias. Burdened by their own set of ‘menstrual taboos,’ ethnographers have too often assumed they knew what those of another culture meant. Blood Magic, a collection of essays by nine fieldworkers in anthropology and related disciplines, marks a welcome departure from earlier studies in a number of ways. It derives its perspective from women’s studies in recognizing the need to focus on women’s experiences as well as those of men, and in recognizing the importance of female fieldworkers to do this. This is the first book-length collection of essays to grow out of recent cultural anthropological research on menstruation. Never before has the study of menstruation been so well informed by a combination of fieldwork and theoretical approaches to the study of gender and the symbolism of the body. This is the first book-length collection of essays to grow out of recent cultural anthropological research on menstruation. Never before has the study of menstruation been so well informed by a combination of fieldwork and theoretical approaches to the study of gender and the symbolism of the body. . . This is a well-constructed and well-researched collection, grounded in received anthropological theory, yet looking far beyond it.”
-Jennifer Livesay, Folklore Forum

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Blood Magic on the University of California Press website