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The Public Life of the Fetal Sonogram

Technology, Consumption, and the Politics of Reproduction

Janelle S. Taylor

Publication Year: 2008

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.

Published by: Rutgers University Press


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pp. vii

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pp. ix-xi

Books share with sonograms the tendency to foster an illusion of independence, where the reality is one of profound reliance on the kindness, help, and active nurturance provided by others. Many people whose presence may not be readily visible in its pages have helped this project reach fruition, and I would like to thank them. ...

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Chapter 1: Introduction

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pp. 1-25

... 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 in Harper’s magazine that featured a large black-and-white sonogram image of a fetus, over the phrase: IS SOMETHING INSIDE TELLING YOU TO BUY A VOLVO? ...

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Chapter 2: Sonographers and the Making of the Public Fetus

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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 ...

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Chapter 3: Obstetrical Ultrasound between Medical Practice and Public Culture

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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 ...

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Chapter 4: Love Machine: The Theory of Ultrasound Bonding

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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: ...

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Chapter 5: Prenatal Diagnosis, Pregnancy, and Consumption

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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 ...

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Chapter 6: Entertaining Fetuses: Keepsake Ultrasound and Crisis Pregnancy Centers

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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 ...

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Chapter 7: Afterword

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pp. 169-173

I have kept the copy of Harper’s magazine 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 ...


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pp. 175-179


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pp. 181-196


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pp. 197-205

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About the Author

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pp. 221-222

JANELLE S.TAYLOR is associate professor of anthropology at the Universityof Washington. She co-edited the 2004 collection Consuming Motherhood(Rutgers University Press), and has written on other topics including “sur-rogate decision makers” in end-of-life care, and “cultural competence” in...

E-ISBN-13: 9780813545608
E-ISBN-10: 0813545609
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813543635
Print-ISBN-10: 0813543630

Page Count: 222
Illustrations: 15 photographs
Publication Year: 2008