Foucault News

News and resources on French thinker Michel Foucault (1926-1984)

Shaw, J. The Birth of the Clinic and the Advent of Reproduction: Pregnancy, Pathology and the Medical Gaze in Modernity, Body and Society, Volume 18, Issue 2, June 2012, Pages 110-138

In conjunction with the growing feminist literature on pregnancy and visualization, this paper uses Foucault’s The Birth of the Clinic to demonstrate how the effort to make the interior of the pregnant body visible in medical discourse was a crucial part of the development of the modern medical gaze. In doing so I develop two concurrent arguments. First, I argue that the pathological corpse of the Clinic can conceptually serve as a double for the pregnant body as it emerged in modern medicine in the 20th century. At the same time I use the insights of the Clinic to illustrate changes in pregnancy from early modernity to the 20th century. In early modernity, the pregnant body was understood in terms of generation, as a tree that bears fruit; by the 19th century, the pregnant body was a machine that reproduced the species. This transition can be seen in the overlap of pathology and pregnancy in early modernity, an overlap that continued throughout the 19th century and is inadvertently reinforced through the practice of ultrasound.

Author keywords
disease; fetus; Foucault; medicalization; pregnancy; visual culture; women’s bodies

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