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Keywords:

  • transnational adoption;
  • adoption cultures;
  • intimate citizenship;
  • auto-ethnography;
  • kinship;
  • adoptive parents;
  • intercountry adoption

ABSTRACT

The concept of ‘intimate citizenship’ stresses the right of people to choose how they organize their personal lives and claim identities. Support and interest groups are seen as playing an important role in the pursuit of recognition for these intimate choices, by elaborating visible and positive cultures that invade broader public spheres. Most studies on intimate citizenship take into consideration the exclusions these groups encounter when negotiating their differences with society at large. However, much less attention is paid to the ways in which these groups internalize the surrounding ideologies, identity categories and hierarchies that pervade society and constrain their recognition as full citizens. In contrast, this paper aims to emphasize the reproduction of otherness within alternative spheres of life, and to reveal the ambiguities and complexities involved in their dialectic relationship with society at large.

To address this issue, the paper focuses on the role that ‘adoption cultures’ of Flemish adoptive parents with children from Ethiopia play in the pursuit of being recognized as ‘proper’ families and full citizens. The ethnographic research among adoptive parents and adoption professionals shows a defensive discourse and action that aims at empowering against potential problems, as well as a tendency to other the adoptive child by pathologizing its non-normativity. By showing the strong embeddedness of adoptive families' practices of familial and cultural construction in larger cultural frames of selfing and othering, characterized by biologism and nativism, one begins to understand the limits of their capacity to realize full citizenship.