We cannot verify your location
Browse Book and Journal Content on Project MUSE

Magnetic Appeal

MRI and the Myth of Transparency

Kelly A. Joyce

Publication Year: 2008

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.

Published by: Cornell University Press


pdf iconDownload PDF (430.4 KB)
pp. 1-2

Title Page, Copyright

pdf iconDownload PDF (324.0 KB)
pp. 3-6


pdf iconDownload PDF (53.4 KB)
pp. vii-8

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (112.3 KB)
pp. ix-x

I thank the physicians, technologists, and scientists who discussed their professional training, work practices, and perspectives on medicine with me. Without their participation this book would not exist. I also thank the data specialists who helped me along the way....

read more

1. MRI as Cultural Icon

pdf iconDownload PDF (1.0 MB)
pp. 1-23

In this dialogue, MRI, a technology used to create anatomical pictures, is deemed a crucial component of medical practice. It is what the doctor “starts with” and is presented as the main technology used in diagnostic work. Other intriguing aspects of this dialogue are the assumptions that...

read more

2. Painting by Numbers: The Development of Magnetic Resonance Imaging and the Visual Turn in Medicine

pdf iconDownload PDF (730.5 KB)
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...

read more

3. Seeing Is Believing: The Transformation of MRI Examinations into Authoritative Knowledge

pdf iconDownload PDF (184.7 KB)
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...

read more

4. The Image Factory: Work Practices in MRI Units

pdf iconDownload PDF (186.4 KB)
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....

read more

5. The Political Economy of Magnetic Resonance Imaging

pdf iconDownload PDF (410.0 KB)
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....

read more

6. A Sacred Technology?: Theorizing Visual Knowledge in the Twenty-first Century

pdf iconDownload PDF (169.4 KB)
pp. 149-165

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...

read more

Appendix. Research Methodology

pdf iconDownload PDF (117.5 KB)
pp. 167-172

My analysis of MRI draws on in-depth research that includes interviews with four scientists recognized as developers of the technology, content analysis of popular culture narratives, fieldwork at three imaging sites and five MRI-related conferences, interviews...


pdf iconDownload PDF (151.4 KB)
pp. 173-192


pdf iconDownload PDF (79.4 KB)
pp. 193-198

E-ISBN-13: 9780801460517
Print-ISBN-13: 9780801444890

Page Count: 208
Publication Year: 2008

Edition: 1