INCLUSIVE, EXCLUSIVE, AND
What Adoption Can Tell Us about Kinship Today
Our birth children, our “biological” offspring, rarely question their
security. Adopted kids don’t have that luxury; the promise has
already been broken, at least once.
— JUDY ASHKENAZ, “INDIANS” (1995: 148)
The adopters in this study varied widely in how closely they adhered to dominant cultural “kinscripts” regarding what family is supposed to be (see Stack and Burton, 1993). The approaches adoptive parents took to issues of their children’s origins, sense of belonging, socialization, and learning styles or perceived capacities reflected class, ethno-racial, and gender configurations as well as the parents’ own upbringing and willingness to engage or change such received patterns. Class, gender, and race all provided the framework in which kinship of some sort developed.
Substantiation is what I call the process through which people enter and are embraced in a web of sharing, obligation, reciprocal claiming, and emotional and material support that is considered the most sustaining kind of kinship or family. It is a process of naming, asserting connection, and pooling material and non-material resources that, depending on its intensity, can carve out what Richard Lee terms a “safety net” for participants, the closest degree of kinship, regardless of state definitions of “family” (see Lee, 1992).
Kinship may be enduring or contingent, inclusive or exclusive. In this study, we have seen that class, gender, and race articulations in a particular social formation frame the conduct of substantiation. The term substantiation focuses attention on the fact that there is no connection among people who consider themselves to be kin that is not built or believed. Shared genetic ma-