Listening as life: sounding fetal personhood in South Africa

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In many parts of Africa, antenatal care is primarily an auditory affair. Midwives evaluate the health of the fetus in utero by listening into the womb with an ear carefully attuned to the sound of heartbeats–of the pregnant person and the fetus(es). These midwives are aided by inexpensive and portable technologies–the fetal stethoscope being the most common–that amplify resonance. With a focus on South Africa, this article examines listening devices themselves as well as the conceptual questions those devices raise. In particular, it explores two main areas of inquiry: first, the deployment of sound in the development of of fetal personhood, and, second, the particular kinds of sonic relation that are established through listening in environments of antenatal care. A close examination of antenatality in African contexts invites a reconsideration of conventional notions of sound–especially those having to do with transduction, vibration, and resonance.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)155-174
Number of pages20
JournalSound Studies
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Arts and Humanities
  • Cultural Studies
  • Communication


  • Sound
  • analogism
  • fetal personhood
  • fetal stethoscope
  • transduction


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