Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Intimate speculation: The flows and futures of private agency adoption in the United States
by Mariner, Kathryn A., Ph.D., The University of Chicago, 2015, 315; 3711295
Abstract (Summary)

The fundamental problem of adoption in the United States has long been the past. Concerns with confidentiality, secrecy, illegitimacy, the fight for access to birth records, and search-and-reunion all belie an anxiety about roots—a preoccupation with origins. Departing from this trend by examining the process of private agency adoption rather than its outcomes, Intimate Speculation reveals an equally profound concern with the future, produced through complex processes of circulation, investment, and affective engagement.

These processes congeal into what I have termed “intimate speculation:” a set of practices mobilized by adoption professionals (social workers, clinicians, educators, and attorneys), prospective adoptive parents, and expectant mothers that involves differential investment in an imagined future child. Based on ethnographic fieldwork conducted at a small non-profit private adoption agency in Chicago between 2009 and 2014, Intimate Speculation explores adoption as a powerful lens on the question of who can have a future in the United States, and who cannot. This question reverberates broadly beyond the issue of adoption, with implications for how we think about the figure of the child and the family, as well as the intersection of race, class, intimacy, and violence in the current neoliberal post-welfare moment.

The Oxford English Dictionary lists, among others, the following three definitions for the term speculation: “conjectural anticipation,” “the exercise of the faculty of sight,” and “engagement in any business enterprise or transaction of a venturesome or risky nature, but offering the chance of great or unusual gain.” The structure of the dissertation mirrors this polysemy, developing over the course of six chapters the concept of intimate speculation, which describes intertwined practices of anticipation, observation, and investment.

Part I explores the ways in which adoption both necessitates and is a form of affective and protective investment in a precarious, uncertain, and highly anticipated future. Part II examines how the adoption process engenders and requires certain forms of seeing, inspecting, visual representation, and divination. Part III investigates how financial risk is produced through the imagination of the adoptable child as a highly contingent, contested, and commodified subject.

This dissertation’s focus on the behind-the-scenes work of adoption provides insight into the practice’s fraught conditions of possibility: unequal material realities of both expectant and prospective parents, entrenched yet precarious institutional structures, multiple forms of abandonment, and entangled ideologies of kinship, race, and class. The processual nature of intimate speculation enables us to see children, parents, and the families they create not as preexisting subjects or things, but as becomings—the elements of emergent and speculative kinship.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Masco, Joseph P., Comaroff, John L.
Commitee: Carr, E. S., Chu, Julie Y.
School: The University of Chicago
Department: Anthropology
School Location: United States -- Illinois
Source: DAI-A 76/11(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Source Type: DISSERTATION
Subjects: African American Studies, American studies, Cultural anthropology, Ethnic studies
Keywords: Adoption, Futures, Inequality, Kinship, Race, Speculation
Publication Number: 3711295
ISBN: 9781321874488
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