The Following is one of my essays in adoptive kinship, hope you guys share some opinion:

Kinship in a Western middle-class family has traditionally been defined by their biogenetic relationships and the blood-tie between relatives (Schneider 1968: 23). As Schneider pointed out the traditional definition of kinship, even though among Western societies the existence of relatives by marriage is acknowledged, made biogenetic kinship real kinship (1968:24). During the Cold War, the American government used political campaign to educate its people that adopting Asian children was a patriotic action that expanded the American sprit behind the Iron Curtain. The adoptive family was fitted into middle-class “nuclear family” by such campaign (Klein 2000:42). As a result, adoption became an increasingly acceptable option for couples that could not conceive a child naturally. With the blossoming of adoptive parents in Western countries, people recognize the kinship of these families as fictive (Carsten 2004:136).
In structuralist linguistics, Saussure (Barnard 2000:123) points out that every meaning is signified by a symbol in language, the symbol in the language is the meaning’s signifier. To practice adoptive kinship in Western middle-class families, similar to this, the traditional blood-tie kinship needs to find its signifier(s) among adopters and adoptees, so that the “fictive” kinship can be “real”.

Malinowski (1930:113) believed that the kinship followed the rules of parenthood. The child-parent relationship is essential to the family at home and abroad, the mother’s role of raising and caring her offspring, the father’s role as protector and provider, these make a family an undivided unit (Malinowski 1930:117-118). Although Malinowski emphasized the roles that different family members play, and how these roles act to bond the family, the essence of the child-parent relationship is the biological tie that parents and their children share (Malinowski 1930:119). Malinowski’s notion of parenthood reflects traditional Western conception of biogenetic kinship. Usually, anthropologists describe adoptive kinship as entailing a degree of choice of kin and believe this kind of kinship, because it lacks of blood-tie, is “fictive” (Carsten 2004:136 153).
What is a “fictive” and problematic form of kinship for Western societies, is not necessarily so for other societies. Among Oceania societies, for example Hawaii, adoption is commonly practiced. Adoptive parents treat their adopted children as their biological offspring, and adoptees believe the act of adoption is in fact an act of love and generosity (Terrell and Modell 1994:156). While there is no problem for adoption among Oceania societies, Western societies consider adoptive families is not “typical”, and large number of Westerners believe that families of this kind will experience different degree of “feeling of loss” as they are unable to conceive children naturally (Terrell and Modell 1994:156). Schneider (1968: 27) argued, although law and nature were two major bonds in Western kinship, the law-bonded relatives were the relatives that act according to pattern of behaviors. For Western middle-class families, the law-bonded relatives can easily lose their legal rights, while the blood relations cannot be terminated (Schneider 1968:24).
It is commonly believed that between blood relatives there is shared identity, natural and real cultural formulation (Schneider 1968:24-25). Adoption, however, is categorised as a fiction, a process that creates a child-parent relationship between people that are without genealogical connection in Western societies (Modell 1994: 2). The adoptive kinship is a fictive, a make-believe relationship. The lack of genetic link between adopters and adoptees is viewed as unnatural, law-bonded. Although according to Western social beliefs, the social, i.e. adoptive, parents have superior rights to the child compared with birthparents (Modell 1986:646), blood-tie is regarded as the representation of real child-parental relationship (Schneider 1968:24). Picturing child-parent relations as an onion, Schneider’s notion of Western kinship has a core blood-ties; outside the core there are layers comprising social customs, laws, and responsibilities (1968: 28). For those who do not involve in this fictive kinship, the adoptive kinship, however, despite all the legal rights and social responsibilities, is a relationship without blood-tie; the parents of the adoptive family are chosen and approved by law and specialists and the family is the one without “real connection”(Modell 1994:4 91). But there must be signifier(s) of blood-tie in Western adoptive families that make the adopted child “as-if-begotten” and the adoptive parents “as-if-genealogical” (Modell 1994:4).
At the beginning of Twentieth Century, adoption was legalized in America (Modell 1986: 648). By the time of the Cold War, family is stripped from its tie with blood and offered a function of sentiment by government (Klein 2000: 42). In the usual adoption process among Western societies, adoptive parents are usually the couples that cannot conceive a child naturally, even after frustrating trails of new reproduction technologies. They have strong wish to become “normal families” with children (Howell 2003:469). The practice of adoption offers an opportunity to amend birth certificate helps the adoptive family to create “as-if-genealogy” (Modell 1986: 649). By the time adoptive parents are approved to receive a child from the birthparents, the conventional parenthood has been divided into two parts: social and biological. Not only does the procedure of adoption distinguish social parenthood from its biological counterpart, but also it suggests a potential conflict between birthparents and adoptive parents (Modell 1986: 649). Once the adoptive parent is made legalized, the only function a birthparent has to his/her child is giving birth.
In traditional families, married couples and their children have both genetic and social bonds, and these bonds have made the parent-child relationship unbreakable (Cannell 1990: 668). Without the genealogical tie, in spite of the approval procedure they have gone through before qualifying as parents, adoptive parents face the challenge of creating and maintaining kinship that without biological connection with socially, morally and legally their own child. Schneider argued that generally Western societies believe that the child-parent relationship created by law and social responsibilities is vulnerable, and acts only according to conductions, law and customs (1968:27). Could following social conventions be the signifier to blood in adoptive kinship? If the answer were positive, then would it also mean that with biogenetical bonds, parents do not need to follow the social customs and codes of conducts? On daily practice, however, the relationship between parents and child requires the display of willingness of appropriate behaviors, which not only means parents have to show that they want the child as their own, but are also willing to keep this relationship (Cannell 1990: 669). Although Cannell’s (1990) statement about parenthood focuses more on how the kinship is “maintained” by parents, it is not a new idea. While arguing the core role of biogenetical tie in American kinship, Schneider (1968: 29) also considered law and social customs as essential elements for relatives to bond together.
The signifier of blood in Western adoptive kinship still lacks a solution. As problematic to Westerners, it is not an issue for other parts of the world where adoption is also practiced. In Malaysia, the practice of adoptive kinship can easily find its foundation. In the case of Malaysian, as Carsten (2004: 137) put it, people believe that eating the same food, or sharing a house can transfer to bodily substance and make people kin. So that even though a child that was adopted, he/she would become a real kin through living together with their adoptive family. Western societies do not share this belief. Based on Cannell (1990) and Schneider (1968), however, it is possible that in Western adoptive kinship the signifier of blood is “care and work” (Carsten 2004:145), which means instead of conceive shared substance or common blood-tie, Western adoptive parents place their love and persistent care to their adopted children as the core of kinship. Through different stages of becoming adoptive parents, the core of the adoptive kinship could be built up and the as-if-genealogical relations can have a solid foundation.

The Western notion of adoption is considered as a method to establish relationship between non-blood-related parents and children, the procedure makes the child as if one’s own and creates as-if-genealogical connection between them (Modell 1994: 2). Also, the aim of adopting a child most of the time, in Western societies, is to have a traditional family with children and parents (Howell 2003:469). It is to fulfill one’s desire of caring and loving an as-if offspring, rather than that of in Western Africa to avoid the possible negative influence that divorce or death have to child (Silk 1987:46). Western adoption procedure also emphasises creating the as-if-genealogy between adopters and adoptees; the approval process to become a qualified adoptive parent (Modell 1994:91), amending birth certificate, the division of birth and social responsibilities between different parties in adoption (Modell 1986:649) serve for the same aim: to create as-if-genealogical kinship.
The aim of Western adoption procedure is to create as-if genealogy, instead of blood, this form of genealogy will be bonded by social responsibilities, laws but in the core of it is the unconditional love and persistence care. But far before the adoptive parents can start attempting to create this genealogy, they have to go through a bumpy road to be able to get social workers, the court, etc to recognize them as qualified prospective parents (Howell 2003:468). Some of the parents consider this procedure as a long-term pregnancy (Modell 1994:203).
For parents who have their children naturally, it seems that the only thing they need to do to conceive a baby is get pregnant and give birth, then become a parent. Although there was a research in 1940s showing that to be a good parent one needs to physically take care his/her child (Duvall 1946:197), before conceive a child, birthparents do not have to answer a series of questions, filling forms. To be an adoptive parent, however, is a process of being chosen. The prospective parents have to show that they are serious about the involvement as adopters and their decision of adoption is everything but impulse (Modell 1994:97). In this case, adoptive pregnancy and labor is more than merely expecting the birth of a new life, but a process of prospective parents building up their confidence and commitment to adoptive parenthood (Modell 1994:95-96).
Despite the different tasks that adoptive pregnancy and labor have, the procedure itself is, if not more then at least equally, as harsh as the natural labor. Many of the Western couples who eventually consider adoption have tried different types of new reproduction technologies and the process of infertility sometimes makes the couple like alcoholics, they will never quit until they reach their bottom (Modell 1994: 95). When the couple finally get to the bottom line of the seemingly endless reproduction trail, if they still want a child and create a “normal family” to make themselves an opportunity to be included with their peers (Howell 2003:469). Adoption becomes the only chance. By choosing to adopt, these couples are determined to have a child of their own, and their love to the child would be as strong as their desire of creating a full family. However, going through the application procedure for adoption, will be proved as uneasy as conceiving a child naturally. For many adoptive parents, when talked about their application procedure, they will show you how unbelievable demanding the adoption agencies could be. While they were applying to be adoptive parents, many people express that it is as if they must be very young yet have a really long-term marriage with decent family incomes, which almost a condition that impossible to meet for most of them (Modell 1994:96).
When a couple can conceive a child naturally, hardly anyone question their capabilities on showing endurance and unconditional care and love to the new life. To be adoptive parents, however, is highly depended on the judgment of outsiders: social worker, independent adoption person, court, and so on (Modell 1994:98). The outsiders put prospective parents under examination and carefully test their patience on during with the procedure while asking detailed sometime even privacy questions about their lives (Modell 1994:). The whole adoptive pregnancy period, as a matter of fact, becomes similar to that of biological pregnancy: parents will have to wait with patience, while expecting the birth with joy and anxiety.
If the feeling of expectation were similar, then the challenges that adoptive pregnancy have would are largely different. While biological pregnancy has distributed the load of challenges into psychology and physic areas, adoptive pregnancy is majorly a psychological test and mentally preparing the prospective parents for their upcoming adoptive child. Considering adoption as a kinship drama, then for a very long period, the adoptive parents will be the active roles within this drama (Howell 2003: 467). The adoptive pregnancy, in this sense, might look like endless questioning of one’s capabilities of raising a child, but this process would convert the prospective parents’ identity and put their desire of having a stranger as-if-begotten into test, so that they can be sure that the parents themselves, court, social workers, birthparents and adoption agency see the seriousness and make a choice for the child (Modell 1994:100). Adoption is similar to a kinship drama (Howell 2003:467). The application procedure or adoptive pregnancy, in way is more or less like auditing during which the prospective parents will have to cooperate and jump through hoops (Modell 1994:97) so that social workers and adoption agencies can choose the right parents. And what those prospective parents have to do this not only show their willingness and capabilities, but also learning about the difficulties they might come across when their child arrives (Howell 2003:471).
Jumping hoops, auditioning and learning to be a good adoptive parent for prospective adoptive children is training, similar to the trainee period before one start a new job, when new skills and knowledge need to be learnt (Modell 1994: 101), and the new job is to be adoptive parent who will have a daily involvement with a child whom the parent(s) has no biogenetical relations with. This establishes parenthood by replacing blood with its adoptive signifier: persistence care and unconditional love (Carsten 2004:145). In this sense, the adoptive pregnancy is more than about how social workers choose the right candidates for the child; it is also helping prospective parents to establish their new identity as adoptive parents from whom the child could have a better caring home (Modell 1994: 99), from whom the child could be wanted (Cannell 1990: 672) and from whom the child can have a family. The application procedure for adoption cannot be simply equalized to biological pregnancy without having a growing infant. It is a process to train adoptive parents’ patience, challenging their endurance and seriousness on the matter of fact that they are going to offer a life-long commitment to a stranger. It is a preparation stage, although the signifier of blood in adoption is the life-time commitment of love and caring, only when adoptive parents have gone through this uneasy adoptive pregnancy can they can be recognized by court, society and themselves that they are ready to offer a stranger their love, for a life time bond, no matter what happen (Modell 1994:113).

Through adoptive pregnancy, after being asking different harsh questions and individual or group work on how to be a adoptive parent, the prospective parents are both recognized by the agencies and/or social workers and themselves as qualified to adopt a child. As prospective adoptive parents, they have shown that they are able to make a life-long commitment to use persistent care and endless love replacing the blood bond in adoptive kinship. Being adoptive parents, however, is not what Schneider (1968:27) had described being law bond relatives that their behaviors are merely a copy from parents who conceived their child naturally. While replacing blood-tie with care and love and using this signifier as core of kinship, adoptive parents, during their life time, have to face a variety of challenges on being adoptive parents. Unlike the adoption in Malay where people believe that by consuming same substance and living under the same roof can make a stranger kin (Carsten 2004:137), or in Oceania societies that adoption is an expression of love (Terrell and Modell 1986:156), or among Western African people that adoption is to protect young children from divorce and death of their parents (Silk 1987:46); adoptive parents in European-American societies are gambling that the signifier they offer to replace blood-tie will be more real and stable (Modell 1994:110).
To be told that there is a child ready to become a new member of the family while the mother is not in labor is an unusual experience (Modell 1994:114). After the adoptee arrived, the adoptive parents start facing the first task in front of them: constructing their entitlement to the child (Modell 1994:202). If the whole adoption gamble start with the arriving of the child, then the first game for the adoptive parents is gaining their feelings of entitlement to the child. Although during the adoption application procedure, they were ready and qualified as adoptive parents legally and emotionally, it does not mean that they already feel they are “entitled” for the child. The practice of adoption in Western societies separates the birthparents and social parents, which gives the adoptive parents an impression that they stand on the opposite side of the child’s biological roots (Modell 1986:649). It is certain that the adoptee, in most cases, the baby is wanted and will be taken good care of (Cannell 1990: 669). To the adoptive parents, however, the rights and responsibilities they have to the baby come with law, this is still not a real kinship compared with that comes with blood (Schneider 1968:24). As the practice of adoption deprives the children of their birthparents (Modell 1986:649), the adoptive parents commonly expressed their anxiety about the possibility that the birthparent, especially the birthmother would show up and claim the child back (Modell 1994:113). At this stage of being adoptive parents, it is more about to have the feeling that, although the expression could be not very approperate, they possess the child. Once the feeling of possession, or in Modell’s version “entitlement”(1994:202), is established, the adoptive parents start to feel like parents (Modell 1994:226), and they can start constructing adoptive kinship with love and care.
The metaphor of blood-tie in kinship represents not only the biological bond between relatives and more importantly the behavior and emotion model in kinship (Modell 1994:226). Although in places like Malaysia, the blood-tie is signified by sharing substance such as food and house in adoption, in Western societies, it is signified by adoptive parents’ commitment on life-long love and care to the child (Casrten 2004:145). After gaining the feeling of “entitlement” to the new member of the family, adoptive parents start devoting into the role of parenthood to an as-if-begotten child (Modell 1994:201), because what is important in an adoptive kinship is what that does (Carsten 2001, cited by Howell 2003:466). The parents that have blood-ties with their child, according to Duvall (1946:197), will need to take care of the child physically. Before and after the survey, the requirement for people becoming parents naturally have not changed very much. In spite of the commitment of offering love and care with the confidence of their entitlement as parents to the child, adoptive parents defend their position by their devotion of being parents (Modell 1994:210). Their devotion as the child’s real parents is more than a copy of behaviors. Adoptive parents know that identity comes from the knowing that the parent-child relationship is an inherited relation, in order to make the adoptive kinship based on care and love like a natural one, adoptive parents will identify their relation with the child to the child’s grandparents (Modell 1994:201); then adoptive parents bringing up their child with the conscious that let the child recognize the place he/she grows up is where he/she belongs (Howell 2003:472). The identification of inheritance and place of belonging helps to make the signifier of blood in adoptive kinship more solid. As there is no assumption for physical closeness in the case of adoption (Modell 1994: 204), the creation of a more solid recognition for the adoptees will benefit adoptive parents. Together with the work of constructing a relationship and a gut-feeling of certainty about their entitlement of the child (Modell 1994:205), the adoptive kinship is sealed with the life-long commitment of caring and love as core signifier of blood.
The adoptive child, on the one hand, after adoptive parents gain the feeling of entitlement and start to act on what they committed to, becomes as-if-begotten; on the other hand, during the whole adoption procedure, from application to the adoptee grow up, the adoptive parents’ knowledge about the birthparents is limited (Modell 1994:108); yet they have to bare in mind that this child they are rising is biologically not their own (Modell 1994:215). At a certain stage, adoptive parents need to decide to what degree they want the birthparents to become part of their life (Modell 1994:108) and tell their children about the adoption (Sorosky 1979, cited by Modell 1994:216). Adoptive parents would usually let adoptees decide how to make a relationship with their birthparents (Modell 1994:220), but the concern about what non-family members’ and children’s peers’ opinion on the adoption are there. To the adoptee, however, it seems in most cases the signifier of blood in adoptive kinship works well. The attitudes that adoptees have to their birthparents reflects that adoptive parents indeed construct a solid bond, as to adoptees’, their birthparents could become friends, or the evidence for where their biological root lies, but birthparents are not real parents (Modell 1994:), they simply cannot be called real parents as they have given up their rights when the adoption start (Carsten 2004:149). The practice of adoptive kinship, as stated above, signifies blood with life-long care and love (Carsten 2004:145), and through a series of processes the adoptive parents earn their confidence in their entitlement of the child, their devotion to the commitment of the child seals the adoptive kinship (Modell 1994:202 210). Being in an adoptive kinship is also a procedure of transformation, by offering adoptees place of belonging (Howell 2003:482) and identification of heritage (Modell 1994:201) adopters make adoptee their kin and transform themselves into parents (Howell 2003:482).

The practice of adoption in Western society is neither to show birthparents’ care of their own child (Terrell and Modell 1995:), nor to protect offspring from divorce and death of their parents (Silk 1987:49). The adoptive parents in Western societies aim to show that they want this child (Cannell 1990:669) and it is their plan to become a normal family (Howell 2003:469). By going through a series of seemingly endless adoption application procedures, the patience and seriousness that adoptive parents have to adoption was proved (Modell 1994:95-95). They want to go through a bumpy path for having a family (Howell 2003:468) and their determination is offering a sense of belonging and feelings of love and care to the adoptive child. But among Western societies, blood is still a strong metaphor for all the elements and actions in real kinship (Schneider 1968:24), from physical closeness to unconditional love and efforts (Modell 1994:225-225).
Modell (1994:226-227) argued that application procedure make adoptive parents serious and stick to their commitment, the amended birth certificate and a paper that birthparents signed to give their rights ‘close the deal’ and transform the child into adoptive kinship. But all these, from Schneider’s point of view, are bonds by law and the relatives bonded by laws will only carry out their actions by social customs and code of behaviors (1968:27). Yet, adoptive kinship, for both adopters and adoptees, looks real. I argue it is because in this kind of fictive kinship, the signifier to blood-tie is life-long commitment of the love and caring and the practice from application to bringing up the adoptee. Commitment and practice bond both parts of adoptive kinship together, like blood-tie between birthparents and child, the only different is that as a signifier to blood, the bond in adoptive kinship needs work to gain rather than being born naturally.

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Comment by Bowen Wei on April 25, 2011 at 4:19pm
As I have been working part-time in local adoption office, I would really like to know what's your opinion on the adoptive kinship.


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