Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
The Public Life of the Fetal Sonogram

The Public Life of the Fetal Sonogram: Technology, Consumption, and the Politics of Reproduction

Copyright Date: 2008
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 222
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    The Public Life of the Fetal Sonogram
    Book Description:

    In The Public Life of the Fetal Sonogram, medical anthropologist Janelle S. Taylor analyzes the full sociocultural context of ultrasound technology and imagery. Drawing upon ethnographic research both within and beyond the medical setting, Taylor shows how ultrasound has entered into public consumer culture in the United States. The book documents and critically analyzes societal uses for ultrasound such as nondiagnostic "keepsake" ultrasound businesses that foster a new consumer market for these blurry, monochromatic images of eagerly awaited babies, and anti-abortion clinics that use ultrasound in an attempt to make women bond with the fetuses they carry, inciting a pro-life state of mind.

    This book offers much-needed critical awareness of the less easily recognized ways in which ultrasound technology is profoundly social and political in the United States today.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-4560-8
    Subjects: Anthropology, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-25)

    This book has its origins in a personal encounter with a public fetus.

    I was a young woman and aspiring anthropologist in my mid-twenties, concerned with reproductive rights but still far from having children myself and quite unfamiliar with reproductive medicine when, in 1991, I came across an advertisement inHarper’smagazine that featured a large black-and-white sonogram image of a fetus, over the phrase: is something inside telling you to buy a volvo?

    What am I to make ofthis, I thought: afetusis trying to sell me acar?!

    On the most superficial level, of course, the...

  5. 2 Sonographers and the Making of the Public Fetus
    (pp. 26-51)

    In this chapter, I situate the ultrasound fetal images that make their way into public culture in relation to the emergence of sonography as a new “women’s” medical-technical profession, and show how they bear the traces of the social and cultural context of their making.¹ First, I trace the emergence of the particular cultural form of the “routine” obstetrical ultrasound examination as we know it, which allows ultrasound to play the peculiar role that it does in contemporary U.S. society, in both the practices and the politics of reproduction (Taylor 1992, 1998, 2000), For reasons that will become clear, I...

  6. 3 Obstetrical Ultrasound between Medical Practice and Public Culture
    (pp. 52-76)

    In early December 1994, Paul Hill was sentenced to life in prison on federal charges stemming from his July 1994 murders of Dr. John Britton and Mr. John Barrett outside a Pensacola, Florida, abortion clinic. In response to his sentencing, Hill declared that in order to understand his motivations, the judge need only watch an ultrasound of an abortion being performed (West 1994). Few incidents could illustrate more starkly the paradoxical relationship between the medical uses of obstetrical ultrasound and the meanings it has acquired in the broader culture than this invocation of ultrasound technology to “justify” the murder of...

  7. 4 Love Machine: The Theory of Ultrasound Bonding
    (pp. 77-115)

    When I met Pamela J., a thirty-eight-year-old child-care provider, she was pregnant with her fourth child and had come to the ultrasound clinic for a routine exam. Afterward, she reflected on her experience of pregnancy and how it differed from that of women in her mother’s generation:

    Well, now we have all these new technologies…. I don’t know what infant mortality was back then, I don’t think there was so much emphasis on monitoring the baby—but now, you find out the health of the baby, you find out the sex, and that bonds you to the baby. When I...

  8. 5 Prenatal Diagnosis, Pregnancy, and Consumption
    (pp. 116-143)

    In previous chapters, we have reviewed many of the ways in which the emergence of ultrasound technology in the United States has been shaped by processes of commodification and consumption—for the simple reason that the social order of which this technology has become part is one that is organized along consumer-capitalist lines. I am, of course, far from the first to point this out. In the context of ongoing conflicts over abortion, the routinization of prenatal diagnostic technologies has aroused concern from many quarters that embryos and fetuses are being reduced to the status of commodities. Feminists have voiced...

  9. 6 Entertaining Fetuses: Keepsake Ultrasound and Crisis Pregnancy Centers
    (pp. 144-168)

    One need not dig far to find confirmation of just how tightly interwoven ultrasound, pregnancy, and consumption are in U.S. society today. With the advent of new 3D and 4D ultrasound devices capable of generating more visually appealing and “realistic” images, businesses have sprung up that market ultrasound scanning directly to the public, offering women the opportunity to view and acquire fetal ultrasound images on their own initiative and at their own expense, outside the purview of medical authority.

    Quite independent of the special interest that I take in ultrasound, I have several times chanced to come across glossy color...

  10. 7 Afterword
    (pp. 169-174)

    I have kept the copy ofHarper’smagazine containing the Volvo advertisement that initially drew me to this topic; it has yellowed a bit over the years. Looking at it now, it occurs to me that the ultrasound device that produced the sonogram featured in there must have been consigned long ago to the junkyard or the storage closet, or sold on the secondhand equipment market, replaced by a newer generation of equipment, itself soon replaced in turn. By the time you read these words, yet other new devices will have been developed, with new features and capabilities holding out...

  11. NOTES
    (pp. 175-180)
    (pp. 181-196)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 197-206)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 207-208)