Making sense of image-making in ultrasound practices
Along with their diagnostic purposes, fetal images produced through ultrasound have attained a central place in our visual culture. Their iconic power continues to create dissent and debate, not least because of the bioethical issues they raise. Already the first practitioner applying ultrasound in obstetrics (Ian Donald from the 1950s in Glasgow) advocated for using it not just for therapeutic purposes, but also to give pregnant women visual testimonies of the life of their fetuses with the aim of discouraging decisions to interrupt a pregnancy. This deployment would later become mandatory in some Western countries, and it remains so to this day (e.g. in the US). But both the anti-abortion positions using ultrasound scans as photographs in this way, and the feminist critiques arguing they are in fact photographic manipulations of reality, take it for granted that ultrasound machines provide more or less transparent visual access to the fetus. The first part of this talk will thus address fetal visualization: the relationship between technologies that make it possible to ‘see’ the inside of a body (of the pregnant self) and the perceived constitution of another human being (the fetus). By exploring how this new model of image-making impacts the way pregnant people undergo screenings, and deploying a post-phenomenological and enactivist framework, it will then be shown that bioethical issues arising from ultrasound technologies are tied up with the kind of images they produce.
is a postdoctoral fellow at the Department of Philosophy “Piero Martinetti”, State University of Milan, where she works on the project Imagin(in)g: In Utero Imagination and Visualization, part of the research line The Agency of the Image. She holds a Ph.D. in Phenomenology from San Raffaele University (Milan), during which she did research stays in the US (George Washington University) and the UK (University of Exeter). She worked as a postdoctoral fellow at the Women’s and Gender Studies Department, University of Haifa and held a visiting position at Penn State University (Fall 2022). Her main research interests lie in the fields of aesthetics, phenomenology, STS, and feminist philosophy. She has published in scientific peer-reviewed international journals like Chiasmi International, Cinéma & Cie, Frontiers in Pain Research, and Puncta. Journal of Critical Phenomenology.
Katja Cicigoj (Katja [dot] Cicigoj [at] aau [dot] at)