Anthropologists in the Field: Cases in Participant Observation

By Lynne Hume; Jane Mulcock | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 6
Dissent and Consent
Negotiating the Adoption Triangle

Jonathan Telfer

This chapter considers various dimensions of undertaking ethnographic research within the conflictual, politicized, and feminized field of adoption in South Australia during 1994 and 1995. While my study clearly characterizes the domain of adoption as a site of contestation, this fact, minimally reported in the relevant literature, only became apparent to me as I attempted to move among the various interest groups within my field. I quickly came to recognize how voluntary and state-sponsored organizations constituted around adoption occupy not only different but also antipathetic positions (Bourdieu & Wacquant 1992) on the rights of adoptees, adoptive parents, and relinquishing parents. The feminized nature of the field presented further dilemmas for a male researcher, as did my status as an adoptive parent. While the latter aspect of my identity proved to be pivotal in winning the trust of key agents in some adoption organizations and informal networks, it also meant that access to other arenas was denied. The intricate combination of several factors—the field itself, my gender, my position as an adoptive parent, and my personal style—yielded a rich variety of ethnographic opportunities, constraints, obligations, and predicaments.


Fieldwork on Adoption

My initial interest in undertaking anthropological research on adoption was fueled by personal as well as scholarly concerns. As the adoptive father of two Korean-born children, I found that a myriad of questions arose for me before, during, and after the adoptions. These questions concerned identity, senses of affiliation and kinship, and varieties of relatedness and relationship experienced by those whose lives have been deeply

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