Orphan Sunday: Narratives of Salvation in Transnational Adoption


  • Sandra Patton-Imani

    1. Sandra Patton-Imani is Associate Professor of American Studies in the Department for the Study of Culture and Society at Drake University. An adoptee herself, she has spent much of her life analyzing and researching the social practice of adoption. She is the author of BirthMarks: Transracial Adoption in Contemporary America (New York University Press, 2000). She is currently editing a documentary, Red Light, Green Light: Family Values, Family Pride, with Melanie Patton-Imani, and writing a book titled Sophie Has Five Mothers: Lesbians, Family, and Law, both of which are based on qualitative research with a multiracial group of lesbian-headed families.
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Abstract:  The article is a critical analysis of public narratives about transnational adoption that equate adoption with the salvation of “orphans.” The stories I weave together from in-depth interviews, social science and humanities research, law and policy, and public dialogues make visible the scaffolding of power that shapes families’ lives. I tell a specific story about Korean American adoption that speaks to the power inequalities shaping the transnational transfer of children from developing countries all over the world. These stories reframe the circumstances of adoptees’ births and relinquishments as issues of social inequality rather than as individual choice.