'It was a real good show': the ultrasound scan, fathers and the power of visual knowledge

Draper, Janet (2002). 'It was a real good show': the ultrasound scan, fathers and the power of visual knowledge. Sociology of Health & Illness, 24(6) pp. 771–795.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1111/1467-9566.00318


Drawing on an ethnographic study of the transition to contemporary British fatherhood, this paper discusses men's experiences of the ultrasound scan. Seeing the baby on the screen seemed to herald an escalation of their awareness of the baby, reinforcing its reality. Visual knowledge, as opposed to other forms of knowledge, therefore became a primary means of knowing the baby. In this paper I provide a theoretical analysis of men's empirical accounts of seeing the baby during the ultrasound scan. After a description of method, I set the context by presenting data to illustrate the significance of the ultrasound within men's pregnancy experience. The paper then sets up the theoretical foundations for an analysis of these accounts by first, examining the development of the primacy of vision within medicine and secondly, discussing the illumination of the body interior, initially by dissection but now via contemporary technologies of vision including ultrasound. The final section, draws upon further data and discusses how ultrasound can be constructed as simultaneously both a medical and a social event with the potential to generate epistemological conflicts.

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