Magnetic Appeal

Magnetic Appeal: MRI and the Myth of Transparency

Copyright Date: 2008
Edition: 1
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 208
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  • Book Info
    Magnetic Appeal
    Book Description:

    Magnetic Resonance Imaging, not so long ago a diagnostic tool of last resort, has become pervasive in the landscape of consumer medicine; images of the forbidding tubes, with their promises of revelation, surround us in commercials and on billboards. Magnetic Appeal offers an in-depth exploration of the science and culture of MRI, examining its development and emergence as an imaging technology, its popular appeal and acceptance, and its current use in health care.

    Understood as modern and uncontroversial by health care professionals and in public discourse, the importance of MRI-or its supposed infallibility-has rarely been questioned. In Magnetic Appeal, Kelly A. Joyce shows how MRI technology grew out of serendipitous circumstances and was adopted for reasons having little to do with patient safety or evidence of efficacy. Drawing on interviews with physicians and MRI technologists, as well as ethnographic research conducted at imaging sites and radiology conferences, Joyce demonstrates that current beliefs about MRI draw on cultural ideas about sight and technology and are reinforced by health care policies and insurance reimbursement practices. Moreover, her unsettling analysis of physicians' and technologists' work practices lets readers consider that MRI scans do not reveal the truth about the body as is popularly believed, nor do they always lead to better outcomes for patients. Although clearly a valuable medical technique, MRI technology cannot necessarily deliver the health outcomes ascribed to it.

    Magnetic Appeal also addresses broader questions about the importance of medical imaging technologies in American culture and medicine. These technologies, which include ultrasound, X-ray, and MRI, are part of a larger trend in which visual representations have become central to American health, identity, and social relations.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-6051-7
    Subjects: Health Sciences

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. 1 MRI as Cultural Icon
    (pp. 1-23)

    In the June 10, 2004, episode of the popular soap opera General Hospital, a conversation between Emily and Nikolas about Nikolas’s head injury reflects a common view of magnetic resonance imaging technology, also known as MRI or MR:¹

    Nikolas: The doctor said I should start with an MRI.

    Emily: Okay.

    Nikolas: He said that that will determine if there’s any damage to any specific area of my brain, but I—you know, I—I got to tell you, Emily, I—I don’t know if I am ready to deal with the reality that the person I used to be is...

  5. 2 Painting by Numbers: The Development of Magnetic Resonance Imaging and the Visual Turn in Medicine
    (pp. 24-46)

    Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) occupies an important symbolic space in contemporary science and popular culture. In 2003, Drs. Paul Lauterbur and Peter Mansfield were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine for developing MRI technology, an event symbolizing the importance of this imaging technique to the broader scientific community. Yet while MRI is viewed as the gold standard in imaging diagnostics by policy makers and medical practitioners, it has assumed celebrity status in mass media. It is nearly impossible to read newspapers and magazines or watch television dramas such as Law and Order and ER without coming across a...

  6. 3 Seeing Is Believing: The Transformation of MRI Examinations into Authoritative Knowledge
    (pp. 47-76)

    “Bodies: The Exhibition,” a traveling museum exhibit, displays room after room of body parts in display cases and preserved full bodies in poses set throughout the exhibition halls. When one enters the exhibit, written on the wall are the words, “The study of human anatomy has always operated on a basic principle—to see is to know.” The “educational” premise is that visitors will learn about health and disease by seeing the muscles, nervous system, organs, and bones of dissected bodies. In the final exhibition room, displays of physical bodies give way to displays on medical treatments for illnesses, which...

  7. 4 The Image Factory: Work Practices in MRI Units
    (pp. 77-108)

    Commodities. Factories. Assembly lines. We do not usually associate these words with the production of MRI exams. Examinations are instead typically described as pictures, tests, or information, and radiologists and technologists are understood as health care professionals. Such labels encourage us to think that MRI examinations exist outside of the realm of production and capital. They do not. Salaries, cost, and working conditions—although seldom discussed in the public realm—are integral to the production of the image as knowledge, and these workplace issues contribute to the social shaping of medical technologies.

    Technologists and radiologists do not occupy a simple,...

  8. 5 The Political Economy of Magnetic Resonance Imaging
    (pp. 109-148)

    Magnetic resonance imaging, like all medical procedures, is a commodity that operates within political and economic systems of exchange. It represents multiple industries that generate income for the owners and producers of machines, parts, and accessories. Continuing to work with the concepts of commodities and mass production, this chapter maps the flow of capital in MRI manufacturing and service industries. Five factors—advertising, fee-for-service reimbursements, government investment and policies, medical standards of evaluation, and fear of litigation—operate in conjunction with cultural beliefs that link the image to transparency to co-produce the exchange of money in the visual medical marketplace.¹...

  9. 6 A Sacred Technology? Theorizing Visual Knowledge in the Twenty-first Century
    (pp. 149-166)

    Magnetic resonance imaging is a cultural icon. It evokes a sense of wonder among patients and medical professionals. Both the technology itself and the scans it produces serve as totems, or sacred objects (Durkheim 1995 [1913]). By offering the promise of definitive knowledge and health, these totems represent hopes and dreams. For physicians, MRI scans provide direction and a sense of assurance when exploring treatment options. As one neurologist I interviewed commented, “There are clearly cases right now that without MR, I would be shooting in the dark. MR provides me with the light to decide what path of a...

  10. Appendix: Research Methodology
    (pp. 167-172)
  11. References
    (pp. 173-192)
  12. Index
    (pp. 193-198)