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Refiguring Kinship in the Space of Adoption

From: Anthropological Quarterly
Volume 80, Number 2, Spring 2007
pp. 561-579 | 10.1353/anq.2007.0036


International conventions and domestic adoption laws in Euro-American nations regulate the construction of adoptive families through a series of legal fictions. The most significant of these is the principle of the legal clean break, which cancels a child's ties to pre-adoptive kin and incorporates him or her into the adoptive family (and adoptive nation) "as if" s/he were the family's (the nation's) "own." Drawing on research with transnationally adopted adults and their families in Sweden and the United States, and on memoirs and films produced by adopted adults who have reunited with (officially nonexistent) kin, I focus on the productivity of this space of erasure, where biology is both cancelled and discovered anew as a site of surface (dis)connection, and continuity is produced over time in a series of returns. This work has implications for our understanding of what Foucault (1997) describes as "the biological-type caesura" in the production of "what appears to be a biological domain" in the adoptive nations to which adoptive children are sent and those to which they return. At the same time it suggests some of the ways that familiar cultural forms (the nation, the family, the Swedish, and so forth) are reconfigured by the presence of a child (and later an adult) whose quality as "almost the same, but not quite" confounds any sense of what a biological family (or native land) might naturally be.

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