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Kinship With Strangers: Adoption And Interpretations Of Kinship In American Culture
by Judith Schachter Modell
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Adoption challenges our understanding of the core symbols of kinship in American culture--birth, biology, and blood. Through the lens of anthropological theory, Judith Modell examines these symbols and the way they affect people who experience the "fictive" kinship of adoption. Her findings are timely and profoundly moving and contribute valuable insights to the current debate about removing the veil of secrecy from adoption records and procedures.
Modell draws on interviews with birthparents, adoptive parents, and adoptees, some of whom are involved in reforming the adoption process. That reform--the opening of records, the acknowledgment of a biological and a legal parent, the blending of families that are related only through a child--spotlights the very meanings of mother and father, "blood," and identity in this country. Thus her book complements other recent anthropological literature that argues for a radical rethinking of the way we define, and use, those concepts.
Certain rhetorical motifs emerge in the language used by members of the adoption triad: "surrender" is the critical motif for birthparents, "telling" for adoptees, "love at first sight" for adopting parents, and "reunion" for the search process. Throughout, we hear the words of those involved in adoption, and we come to understand the ambiguities regarding love and responsibility, nurture and competence, well-being and wealth--concepts that underlie the "transaction in parenthood" in American culture. Modell's findings should have important ramifications for policy, practice, and individual participation in the adoption experience.
About the Author
Judith S. Modell is Associate Professor of Anthropology at Carnegie Mellon University and author of Ruth Benedict: Patterns of a Life (1983).
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