Feminist Review

, Volume 93, Issue 1, pp 64–80 | Cite as

the placental body in 4D: everyday practices of non-diagnostic sonography

  • Julie Palmer


Feminist scholars have long argued that the pregnant body is erased – both literally and discursively – from mainstream foetal representations. Janemaree Maher argues that the placenta, as point of distinction and connection between pregnant women and foetuses, has the radical potential to refigure understandings of pregnant embodiment and subjectivity, and offer ‘a way to begin thinking through the impasse of pregnant representation’. Drawing on Maher's notion of the ‘placental body’, this article will examine the place of the placenta in the practice of non-diagnostic 4D ultrasound scanning. The analysis seeks to connect Maher's theoretical perspective, and the rich feminist literature around foetal imaging, with observational data from my study of 4D scans. I will argue that the capacity of 3- and 4D sonography to image the placenta and umbilical cord in a way that is newly intelligible to lay viewers might present an opportunity for thinking differently about the interconnections – material and social – between pregnant women and foetuses and to relocate women as the subjects of their pregnancies.


pregnancy placenta sonography non-diagnostic ultrasound keepsake scans 



My thanks to the women and their families who allowed me to observe their scans and to the sonographers who took part in the study. My gratitude also to Ann Kaloski for her support. This article is based on my doctoral research undertaken at the Centre for Women's Studies, University of York and funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC).


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© Feminist Review 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Julie Palmer

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