Foetal Space in Real Time: On Ultrasound, Phenomenology and Cultural Rhetoric


The development of four-dimensional ultrasound pre-natal scans carries with it an intriguing range of philosophical questions. While ultrasound in pregnancy is a medical test for detecting foetal abnormalities, it has also become a social ritual in Western culture. The scan has become embedded within a discourse of the parent’s ante-relationships with their future child as much as it is a screening function. Within such a scene, the advance of technology – the move, for example, the increasing addition of dimensions to pre-natal imaging, from 2D to 3D and 4D – is inextricably merged with the spatial rhetoric of the foetus. Drawing on both Heidegger’s insights into the relationship between the human and technology, and debates within feminist cultural theory, this paper explores how these spatial and temporal rhetorics of the foetal ultrasound relate to the philosophical motifs around self, knowledge, gender and the technical image. It charts these relationships through an analysis of two classic images of the foetal self, before considering how the fourth dimension of ultrasound – that of real-time image streaming of a foetal scan – enhances, develops and critiques these motifs.

Keywords: Heidegger, Technology, Feminist Philosophy, Ultrasound, Visual Culture

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