Cultures of Transnational Adoption

Cultures of Transnational Adoption

Book Pages: 248 Illustrations: 2 b&w photos Published: June 2005

Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, Cultural Studies, Gender and Sexuality

During the 1990s, the number of children adopted from poorer countries to the more affluent West grew exponentially. Close to 140,000 transnational adoptions occurred in the United States alone. While in an earlier era, adoption across borders was assumed to be straightforward—a child traveled to a new country and stayed there—by the late twentieth century, adoptees were expected to acquaint themselves with the countries of their birth and explore their multiple identities. Listservs, Web sites, and organizations creating international communities of adoptive parents and adoptees proliferated. With contributors including several adoptive parents, this unique collection looks at how transnational adoption creates and transforms cultures.

The cultural experiences considered in this volume raise important questions about race and nation; about kinship, biology, and belonging; and about the politics of the sending and receiving nations. Several essayists explore the images and narratives related to transnational adoption. Others examine the recent preoccupation with “roots” and “birth cultures.” They describe a trip during which a group of Chilean adoptees and their Swedish parents traveled “home” to Chile, the “culture camps” attended by thousands of young-adult Korean adoptees whom South Korea is now eager to reclaim as “overseas Koreans,” and adopted children from China and their North American parents grappling with the question of what “Chinese” or “Chinese American” identity might mean. Essays on Korean birth mothers, Chinese parents who adopt children within China, and the circulation of children in Brazilian families reveal the complexities surrounding adoption within the so-called sending countries. Together, the contributors trace the new geographies of kinship and belonging created by transnational adoption.

Contributors. Lisa Cartwright, Claudia Fonseca, Elizabeth Alice Honig, Kay Johnson, Laurel Kendall, Eleana Kim, Toby Alice Volkman, Barbara Yngvesson


“[A] well-designed volume of essays. Cultures of Transnational Adoption does the important work of interrogating the permeable boundaries between personal and national identity as defined by kinship. . . . In compelling ways, the essays in Cultures of Transnational Adoption unsettle comfortable notions of home and homeland, speak to postmodernist notions of shifting identities, and demonstrate the power of adoption to reshape cultural and national landscapes of kinship.” — Carol J. Singley, Women's Studies Quarterly

“[P]rovides an important perspective on what it means to travel to a distant country and adopt a child of a different ethnicity and, often, a different race. . . . [D]eserve[s] places on the academic bookshelf as well as the bedside table.” — Susan Poisson-Dollar, Multicultural Review

“[T]his is and will continue to be an important collection for adoption scholars and practitioners, adoptive families and adopted persons. It should also find a home on the shelves of researchers and educators with interests in kinship, political economy, transnational identity, and cultural narrative.”
— Sara Dorow, Journal of Comparative Family Studies

“All the contributors pay close attention to political and economic forces that frame the contradictions and struggles entailed by transnational adoption. Although they do not fall into the trap of romantic ‘rescue’ narratives, they are sympathetic to good faith efforts of families to make sense of a world for which few road maps are available. They discuss a key, and often understudied, ingredient that contributes to indigenous structuring of differing kinds of relationships: sentiments. Many of the authors are adoptive parents themselves but they do not resort to extreme relativism. Their rich and long experiences as field researchers allow them to keep in sight the positioning and perspectives underlying the ethics and practices of all the actors and institutions involved in these journeys.” — Linda J. Seligmann, American Anthropologist

“Historians would do well to follow where Volkman and her colleagues have pointed.” — Karen Balcom, Journal of American Ethnic History

“The book consists of Volkman’s own interesting and timely introduction and eight additional well-written, imaginative and thought-provoking essays based by- and- large upon anthropological ethnographic research and animated by recent cultural studies perspectives. . . . The elegant theorizing and, in particular, the use of innovative concepts, such as that of ‘disidentification’ and an ‘intuited self’ in the interpretation of their data, make this collection of essays compelling reading.” — Barbara Ballis Lal, Ethnic and Racial Studies

“The questions raised in Cultures of Transnational Adoption offer insights into an under- reported aspect of globalization that is the increasing movement of children involved in inter country adoptions.” — Marilyn Poole, Journal of Intercultural Studies

“This rich collection of essays brings the study of kinship into the realm of international politics, economics, media studies, and literature. It is ethnographically informed and while not attempting to be comprehensive in terms of geography, illustrates the benefits of taking a broadly anthropological, cultural approach to the rapidly changing world of child-circulation and international adoption.” — Fiona Bowie, Anthropological Quarterly

"In this excellent collection of essays on adoption, Toby Volkman has brought together perspectives . . . from the pens of eight gifted authors. . . Each of the writers provide excellent reference lists that will encourage readers to further explore the growing literature on adoption." — Phillip Capper, Adoption Australia

In its rich, transactional construal of the adoption experience, the present volume raises awareness of the increasing inadequacy of notions of plural identities, and the need to concede the existence of multiple levels of identification, calling for a timely rethinking of the nature–nurture equation on the ‘global planet. ‘” — Adriana Neagu, Journal of American Studies

“This outstanding collection—a rich mix of analyses and first person accounts—offers insights into an under-reported aspect of globalization: the ever-increasing circulation of children around the globe through transnational adoption. The kinship relations created through such processes have taken a distinctly postmodern turn as adoptive families nurture rather than sever their new children’s cultural connections to birth countries. All of this is greatly facilitated by the Internet, video technologies, and the creation of social worlds that underwrite these new forms of cultural making.” — Faye Ginsburg, New York University

“This valuable collection offers an ethnographically rich, theoretically sophisticated, and engagingly written set of contributions to the interdisciplinary literature on transnational adoption.” — Pauline Turner Strong, University of Texas, Austin


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Toby Alice Volkman is Deputy Provost at New School University. She is the author of Feasts of Honor: Ritual and Change in the Toraja Highlands.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments ix

Introduction: New Geographies of Kinship / Toby Alice Volkman 1

Part I. Displacements, Roots, Identities

Going “Home”: Adoption, Loss of Bearings, and the Mythology of Roots / Barbara Yngvesson 25

Wedding Citizenship and Culture: Korean Adoptees and the Global Family of Korea / Eleana Kim

Embodying Chinese Culture: Transnational Adoption in North America / Toby Alice Volkman 81

Part II. Counterparts

Chaobao: The Plight of Chinese Adoptive Parents in the Era of the One-Child Policy / Kay Johnson 117

Patterns of Shared Parenthood among the Brazilian Poor / Claudia Fonseca 142

Birth Mothers and Imaginary Lives / Laurel Kendall 162

Part III. Representations

Images of “Waiting Children”: Spectatorship and Pity in the Representation of the Global Social Orphan in the 1990s / Lisa Cartwright 185

Phanton Lives, Narratives of Possibility / Elizabeth Alice Honig 213

Contributors 223

Index 225

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-3589-4 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-3576-4
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