Encounter and Adoption

Is adoption today remaking the face of the family? Is it redefining parenthood?

It is  increasingly visible today in the US. The implementation of the Adoption and Safe Families Act, combined with the decrease in welfare support, has contributed to making a larger number of children available for adoption African-American. A higher proportion of adoptions are now international and more people agree that it is better to tell children if they are adopted and not treat it as a shameful secret. Meetings between adoptees and birth parents, trips by international adoptees to see their ancestral country, and other rituals of keeping ancestry alive in the adoptive family have been widely publicized.  Legislation about opening birth records to adult adoptees has been debated in many states.  Many of these trends toward visibility are international, and in some places aspects of adoption are even more visible: for example, in England and New Zealand not only can adult adoptees access their birth records and contact parents, but birth parents and other birth relatives can legally contact those adopted away from their family.

The  new visibility of adoption extends to literature, film, and scholarship. Many memoirs, novels, and films about adoptees, birth parents, and adoptive parents have appeared published in recent years. An increasing number of historians, philosophers, political scientists, and anthropologists are examining this social institution, and  critics are discussing the way it is portrayed in fiction, drama, poetry,  film, and popular culture.  How do perspectives on adoption given by film and creative writers, which have the potential to reach many people outside the academic world, relate to more scholarly perspectives? How, for example, does Emily Prager’s memoir of returning to China with her Chinese daughter respond to  her knowledge of the institution of American-Chinese adoption, and can anthropologists learn anything from her reflections? Literary critics,  philosophers, and historians, among others, can give perspectives  to the  socioeconomic and international inequalities involved in many current adoption practices, and to  arguments about how to conceptualize adoptees’ identities, the merits of trans racial adoption, the relative importance of nature and nurture, the impact of closed and open records and the possibilities of openness at all stages of adoption, the importance of some birth mothers’ desire for privacy versus others’ desire for contact with adopted-away children,  the existence, prevalence, and causes of adoption-related trauma, and the question of when choice in adoption becomes commodification.  Invited speakers will come from China, Spain (the country with the highest percentage of international adoptees), Canada, and probably Norway, with partner institutions the Center for Childhood and the Urban World of Barcelona and the Faculty of Arts of the University of Alberta.


Convener: Marianne Novy
Email: adoptnew@pitt.edu
Web site: www.english.pitt.edu/events/adoptionandculture

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Encounter and Adoption