Chromosomes and Communication: The Discourse of Genetic Counseling


Department of Anthropology, New School for Social Research, 65 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10003


Amniocentesis is one of the new reproductive technologies, and a new health profession, the genetic counselor, has been developed to communicate medical information to patients about its risks and benefits. In this article I examine the language of genetic counseling as it communicates and miscommunicates not only medical information but also structural power arrangements, social knowledge, and popular meanings about medically defined disability. The analysis—based on two years of field-work in New York City hospitals observing amniocentesis intake interviews, interviewing 30 genetic counselors, and visiting scores of pregnant patients at home—focuses on the multiple understandings that arise at the intersection of professional and popular knowledge in contemporary American life.