The Familial Stranger: The U.S. Adoptive Kinship and The Question of Race

Kim, Soh Yeun. The Familial Stranger: The U.S. Adoptive Kinship and The Question of Race. 2020. University of Washington, PhD dissertation.

“The Familial Stranger: The U.S. Adoptive Kinship and The Question of Race” explores how race informs the U.S. adoptive kinship formation. By placing race at the center of its inquiry, the dissertation traces what role race has played in the cultural and legal inscription of children as the orphan/adoptee in the U.S. adoption history. In particular, it questions how race conditions the cultural imaginary and the legal institutionalization of the U.S. adoptive kinship in which race intersects with (non-)biological ties, ethnicity, gender, class, and national belonging. Combining the literary, historical, and cultural studies approach, this dissertation expands the temporal frame to think the genealogy of racialization of the U.S. adoptive kinship. The narrative of U.S. adoption that creates and defines the adoptability of children in need racializes the adoptee by framing their deficiency and difference as concurrently the possibility of modification and fulfillment and the irremovable mark of otherness. Interrogating the way that the racial otherness of the adoptee has been historically constructed from the late nineteen century to the present, this work contends that despite its philosophy to create the “as-if-begotten” family, U.S. adoption has been producing adoptees as the “familial strangers” with the promising potentials to be like ‘us’ but also with the indelible flaws coming from their biological and social origin, while also demonstrating how the adoptee’s transgressive presence and border-crossing disrupt and redefine the boundary of kinship, race, and culture.

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