Artifact Politics – X-ray

An x-ray machine is a piece of equipment that uses electromagnetic radiation to produce images unlike those seen by visible light. The images produced by an x-ray can penetrate the external layers of an object (or a person) and produce a digital image of its contents.

Let’s consider x-ray as a medical technology, as this is a vital use of this technology. A patient with a suspected broken bone will be given an x-ray of the area in question, for example an arm. The x-ray machine is positioned in a way that the arm is between it and the x-ray detector. The differing density of the body’s tissue from the bones allows for the contrast of dark and light on an x-ray. The white images, or bones, are more susceptible to absorption of radiation and thus brighter. The image produced provides one’s doctor with an exact image of the break in question[1]. This prevents further trauma to a patient. A doctor repairing a break surgically will have advance knowledge of the situation with their patient. This saves the doctor tremendous amounts of time while also saving the patient unnecessary medical procedures and scarring.

This technology is interesting because in itself it is not a political object. The x-ray machine does not care about the subject’s race or religion. It does not even care if the subject is human. It can just as easily evaluate pets and handbags.

All political dimensions of this technology are induced by man. First, the cost of this technology is extremely high. The smallest most portable machine begin at six hundred dollar per month and to outright own an x-ray machine with the capacity to provide for a hospital starts around 70,000 dollars and climbs[2]. Not to mention the salaries of the specialized x-ray technicians necessary to operate the machine and the price to have a doctor read the image. Thus, affordability is in question. Anytime this is so, access to such a technology is almost definitely limited. Anytime a technology with the ability to provide much needed assistance to the less fortunate is restricted based on price there are politics involved. It starts with authoritarian injustice. Many believe that all people are equal and their lives are of equal importance. Except when one cannot afford such a procedure and another can.

This is one of only many reasons that technologies like the x-ray machine progress. They have become smaller and cheaper to allow for greater use. Medical Non-Profit Organizations raise funds that provide smaller clinics and developing countries such machines. This type of progress allows such authoritarianism surrounding this technology to slowly dissipate. However this is not the only way such a technology can progress.

At airports around the world x-rays have progressed in the opposite direction as they are now used to scan the carryon bags of boarding passengers at airports. This technology is helpful in preventing violent crimes like those occurring on September 11, 2001 in New York City from repeating. They prevent many potentially violent or harmful object from traveling in hopes of protecting the lives of those on the plane and those below. However, this comes with an invasion of personal belongings by a government agency, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). The authoritarian nature of this invasion is balanced against the people’s democratic rights, but overall, the authoritarian nature of the technology prevails.

[1] National Institute of Biomedical Engineering and Bioengineering

[2] Absolute Medical Equipment

4 thoughts on “Artifact Politics – X-ray”

  1. Although I have never thought about it in this way, I agree with your idea that the x-ray machine itself acts fairly democratically (without any bias for what is being put through it). The authoritarian idea of some people not being able to afford to use an x-ray machine is sadly true and still present in the medical field for all types of treatments and machines.


  2. Interesting perspective on how the availability of an item can have as many political consequences as its actual purpose. I like as well how you tied in the use of x-ray machines for national security, specifically airports.


  3. I also find the comments made about x-rays in airports intriguing. It is interesting how such a horrible event like 9/11 happened for people to take an action such as using x-rays as security. This is another controversy that will continue for quite some time on whether or not that it an invasion or property or an acceptable protocol. I love how you tied this in and really got the reader thinking!!


  4. Intresting article and the x-Ray really is a technology that does not care what race or religion you are. I also agree that there was a certain level of inequality for a time when people less fortunate couldn’t not afford such a technology. However, now becoming more accessible to more people. Great post!


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