Adoption and the Culture
of Genetic Determinism
BARBARA KATZ ROTHMAN
Adoption, like everything else, takes its meaning from the world around it: adoption means different things in different times. As what it is that we expect of mothers, of fathers, and of children changes over time and across place—and most assuredly, these meanings and expectations do change both historically and cross-culturally—so too does the meaning of adoption change. I am going to explore what adoption means in an era in which genetics has become more than a science and functions as an ideology, a belief system, and way of understanding life itself.
I do not think it is really possible to characterize the age you are living through. But if I did, I would agree that we are living in the information age, that information is a defining concept for millennium Americans. In so many arenas of our lives, we feel we “need” information. We define responsible behavior as “informed” behavior; we value knowing what we are doing, what we are getting into, making decisions, and by so doing controlling ourselves, our lives, and our destinies.
One way of thinking about the value of information is that the values of the market, of good consumer behavior, are increasingly influential, part of more and more aspects of our lives. Being informed, making careful decisions, thinking through the consequences—that is how we are supposed to shop. You should not buy a car because something about it just appeals to you. You should get all the information you can—on that model, that make of car, and even, radio ads now tell me, the history of the particular used car I am looking at.
Is it making you uncomfortable to have a discussion of used car buying at the start of a book on adoption? It is making me crazy. It is totally inappropriate. And yet, it is the model that we have to draw on, the idea of responsible behavior that we know, and it does influence adoption.