Broken Links, Enduring Ties: American Adoption across Race, Class, and Nation

Broken Links, Enduring Ties: American Adoption across Race, Class, and Nation

Broken Links, Enduring Ties: American Adoption across Race, Class, and Nation

Broken Links, Enduring Ties: American Adoption across Race, Class, and Nation


Family-making in America is in a state of flux-the ways people compose their families is changing, including those who choose to adopt. Broken Links, Enduring Ties is a groundbreaking comparative investigation of transnational and interracial adoptions in America. Linda Seligmann uncovers the impact of these adoptions over the last twenty years on the ideologies and cultural assumptions that Americans hold about families and how they are constituted. Seligmann explores whether or not new kinds of families and communities are emerging as a result of these adoptions, providing a compelling narrative on how adoptive families thrive and struggle to create lasting ties.

Seligmann observed and interviewed numerous adoptive parents and children, non-adoptive families, religious figures, teachers and administrators, and adoption brokers. The book uncovers that adoption-once wholly stigmatized-is now often embraced either as a romanticized mission of rescue or, conversely, as simply one among multiple ways to make a family.


Adoption is an ancient practice that has received renewed attention as the ability to create ties between parents and children has become more detached from biological descent. In the United States, surrogate, gay, and single parenthood, facilitated by new reproductive technologies, is no longer rare. Family- making has burst out of a rickety frame that assumed the need for blood ties and heterosexuality. In the case of adoption, these reproductive practices have provoked searching questions and experiments that are most visibly striking when the adoptions are transracial, transnational, or both.

In the following pages, I inquire into the kinds of families and communities that are emerging as a result of these adoptions. My interest in writing about transracial and transnational adoption in the United States was sparked by my own experiences with adoption. In 2000, I became the Euroamerican mother of a daughter, whom my husband and I adopted from China. As was true of so many other transracial and transnational adoptive families, we became the focus of a range of sentiments—affection, celebration, naked curiosity, ignorance, and a dose now and then of discrimination. My training and perspective as an anthropologist fueled my desire to better understand my experiences. I began to pursue more deeply and systematically questions about family-making through transnational and transracial adoption in the United States. It rapidly became clear to me that all adoptions were not alike; that issues of class, race, place, and gender led adopting and adoptive parents along different paths of family-making; and that the practices and narratives that emerged among them were inflected by how power circulated in society.

Anthropologists are well aware that people build their lives using cultural models. These models are conceptual, but they take material form as they are . . .

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