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Week 18

Theme Four: Medicine, science, and the family

Week 18

What the eye doesn’t see: ultrasound, monitoring, and the ‘unborn’

Since the emergence of the X-ray, medical technologies have gradually blurred the sharp distinctions between the interior and the exterior, the visible and the invisible aspects of the human body. Now, the intimate details of reproduction are apparently ‘visible’, the gravid uterus – like many other structures of the body -- rendered ‘transparent’ by complicated machinery and algorithms. What effect has this had on our understandings of ourselves, and on our decisions about when a fetus becomes a person?


Seminar topic: The politics of ‘personhood’ and ‘parenthood’

When does a woman become a mother, responsible socially and legally for the wellbeing of her child? Do men become fathers at the some time and in the same way? Who qualifies as a person in our culture, and what effect have technologies of visualization had on our perceptions of ‘personhood’?


Required Reading:

Read at least TWO from the list below:

  • Laury Oaks, ‘Smoke-Filled Wombs and Fragile Fetuses: The Social Politics of Fetal Representation’, Signs, Vol. 26, No. 1 (Autumn, 2000), pp. 63-108. JSTOR/Project <:죬ţ>MUSE
  • Rosalind Pollack Petchesky, "Foetal Images: the Power of Visual Culture in the Politics of Reproduction," in Michele Stanworth (ed), Reproductive Technologies: Gender, Motherhood and Medicine (Minneapolis: U of Minnesota Press, 1987) OR VIA JSTOR: Rosalind Pollack Petchesky, "Foetal Images: the Power of Visual Culture in the Politics of Reproduction,", Feminist Studies, Vol. 13, No. 2 (Summer, 1987), pp. 263-292
  • Margarete Sandelowski, ‘Separate, but Less Unequal: Fetal Ultrasonography and the Transformation of Expectant Mother/Fatherhood’, Gender and Society, Vol. 8, No. 2 (Jun., 1994). JSTOR
  • Janelle S. Taylor, ‘Of Sonograms and Baby Prams: Prenatal Diagnosis, Pregnancy, and Consumption’, Feminist Studies, Vol. 26, No. 2, Women and Health (Summer, 2000), pp. 391-418. JSTOR


Background and Further Reading:

Monica J. Casper, ‘At the Margins of Humanity: Fetal Positions in Science and Medicine’, Science, Technology, & Human Values, Vol. 19, No. 3 (Summer, 1994), pp. 307-323

Cynthia R. Daniels, ‘Between Fathers and Fetuses: The Social Construction of Male Reproduction and the Politics of Fetal Harm’, Signs, Vol. 22, No. 3 (Spring, 1997), pp. 579-616

Joe Dumit, Picturing Personhood: Brain Scans and Biomedical Identity (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2004), "Chapter 5: Traveling Images, Popularizing Brains". Read this to compare and contrast the social/pop cultural impacts of brain imaging and fetal imaging.

M. Jean Heriot ‘Fetal Rights versus the Female Body: Contested Domains’ Medical Anthropology Quarterly, New Series, Vol. 10, No. 2, (Jun., 1996), pp. 176-194.

Beth A. Conklin, Lynn M. Morgan, ‘Babies, Bodies, and the Production of Personhood in North America and a Native Amazonian Society,’ Ethos, Vol. 24, No. 4 (Dec., 1996), pp. 657-694.

Jose van Dijck, The Transparent Body: A Cultural Analysis of Medical Imagining (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2005) ‘Chapter 6: The Ultrasound and the visible fetus’.

Gillian Harris, Linda Connor, Andrew Bisits and Nick Higginbotham ‘"Seeing the Baby": Pleasures and Dilemmas of Ultrasound Technologies for Primiparous Australian Women’, Medical Anthropology Quarterly, New Series, Vol. 18, No. 1 (Mar., 2004), pp. 23-47.

Bettyann Holtzman Kevles Naked to the bone: Medical Imaging in the Twentieth Century (New Brunswick NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1997) ‘Chapter 10: Looking Through Women’.

Lesley Larkin, ‘Authentic Mothers, Authentic Daughters and Sons: Ultrasound Imaging and the Construction of Fetal Sex and Gender’, Canadian Review of American Studies, Vol. 36, Number 3, 2006, pp. 273-291.

Susan Markens, C. H. Browner, Nancy Press ‘Feeding the Fetus: On Interrogating the Notion of Maternal-Fetal Conflict’ Feminist Studies, Vol. 23, No. 2 (Summer, 1997), pp. 351-372.

Lisa M. Mitchell, Baby's First Picture: Ultrasound and the Politics of Fetal Subjects (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2001.

Lisa M. Mitchell and Eugenia Georges, ‘Cross-Cultural Cyborgs: Greek and Canadian Women's Discourses on Fetal Ultrasound’, Feminist Studies, Vol. 23, No. 2, (Summer, 1997), pp. 373-401. JSTOR

Susan Merrill Squier. Babies in Bottles: Twentieth-Century Visions of Reproductive Technology. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1994.

Janelle S. Taylor, ‘Image of Contradiction: Obstetrical Ultrasound in American Culture’, in Sarah Franklin and Helena Ragone, eds, Reproducing Reproduction: Kinship, Power and Technological Innovation (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1998).