Document Type


Date of Degree

Spring 2013

Access Restrictions


Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In


First Advisor

Prussing, Erica S

First Committee Member

Depew, David

Second Committee Member

Dominguez, Virginia R

Third Committee Member

Graham, Laura

Fourth Committee Member

Ledgerwood, Judy

Fifth Committee Member

Lewin, Ellen


This dissertation is an ethnography of biomedical imaging technologies in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. It is based on two years of fieldwork and archival research, and structured around two themes, clarity and quality, which articulate the aspirations and uncertainties that presently surround imaging technologies. Though I consider a variety of imaging technologies in this dissertation, including x-ray and mammography, I focus on obstetrical and non-obstetrical ultrasound, which was not available until 1989 and has since proliferated, particularly in the private sphere. My analysis engages scholarship on biomedical imaging from feminist medical anthropology and science and technology studies, but explores issues that are minimized in these studies, such as how imaging technologies circulate within unequal flows of resources and expertise, and how local repertoires for visualization configure imaging practices.

Imaging technologies enter deep histories of health-related development in postcolonial Cambodia, and in a health system recently dismantled by conflict and chged by scarce resources, technologies are both valued and suspect as tools to improve the quality of care. Ultrasound training and donation programs are novel combinations of business and charity that involve doctors, corporations, and governments, and illustrate how humanitarian and postsocialist entrepreneurial logics configure the circulation and use of ultrasound machines in Phnom Penh.

My analysis of obstetrical ultrasound imaging shows how aesthetic values of color and clarity are important to how pregnant women and their families relate to ultrasound images, and relate to the fetus through images. In a pluralistic medical scene oriented towards therapeutics, diagnostic imaging holds the possibility of "seeing clearly" into body interiors. The notion of a transparent body serves as a precondition for biomedical imaging here as in other contexts, but uncertainty and trust are specifically weighted in conditions where quality and ethics are suspect, and where illness may be a sign of karma's unfolding. Tracing ultrasound imaging outside of clinical contexts illuminates how imaging is open to intervention by lay and other-than-biomedical actors, such as Buddhist healers and ancestors. My analysis of the uncertainties associated with imaging technologies in Phnom Penh de-centers the epistemic focus, explicit or not, of imaging studies to date.


x, 328 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 307-328).


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Copyright © 2013 Jenna Meredith Grant

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