Dysmorphology and the spectacle of the clinic

Sociol Health Illn. 2005 Jul;27(5):551-74. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9566.2005.00456.x.


Dysmorphology is the medical study of abnormal forms in the human and is concerned with the identification and classification of a variety of congenital malformations. Such diagnostic work rests on the inspection of images of affected individuals. Based on physical appearance individuals are classified in terms of a wide range of conditions, often with 'exotic' nomenclatures. This paper will describe the features of clinical dysmorphology and the process of classification. It derives from an ethnographic study of clinical consultations and meetings among medical geneticists in UK hospitals. We suggest that contemporary dysmorphology can be understood in terms of long-standing forms of medical knowledge, medical representations and medical discourse. Notwithstanding the new forms of technology provided by genetic science, 'the clinic' still asserts its symbolic and functional power: the 'gaze' of the clinician and the clinician's warrant of personal knowledge exert their influence. The adjudication of dysmorphology is a contemporary exemplar of the spectacular.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anthropology, Cultural
  • Child
  • Clinical Competence*
  • Congenital Abnormalities / classification*
  • Congenital Abnormalities / genetics
  • Congenital Abnormalities / physiopathology*
  • Education, Medical, Graduate
  • Female
  • Genetics, Medical*
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Interprofessional Relations*
  • Male
  • Phenotype
  • Photography
  • Referral and Consultation*
  • Terminology as Topic
  • United Kingdom