Transnational Adoption and Constructions of Identity and Belonging: A Qualitative Study of Australian Parents of Children Adopted from Overseas

Indigo Willing (2010). Transnational Adoption and Constructions of Identity and Belonging: A Qualitative Study of Australian Parents of Children Adopted from Overseas PhD Thesis, School of Social Science, The University of Queensland.

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Author Indigo Willing
Thesis Title Transnational Adoption and Constructions of Identity and Belonging: A Qualitative Study of Australian Parents of Children Adopted from Overseas
School, Centre or Institute School of Social Science
Institution The University of Queensland
Publication date 2010-05
Thesis type PhD Thesis
Total pages 253
Total black and white pages 253
Subjects 16 Studies in Human Society
Abstract/Summary Transnational adoption generates ample controversy both within and outside the adoption community. In recent times transnational adoption made international headlines following a wave of ‘celebrity adopters’ and calls to airlift children for overseas adoption from the economically disadvantaged nation of Haiti in the aftermath of the devastating earthquake on 12th January 2010. Some see the practice as being about ‘rescuing’ orphaned children, while others argue that it is parent-centred, intrinsically racist and represents a form of Western colonialism. Igniting such fears is the fact that transnational adoptions both in the past and at present, typically involve Non-White children from mostly Non-Western developing nations and adoptive parents of predominantly White, Western backgrounds. 
 This thesis is based on research conducted from 2005 to 2010 among 35 transnationally adoptive parents who reside in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia. The key question explored is: What impact does transnational adoption have on the lives of adoptive parents and their own sense of identity and belonging? In answering this question I consider the ways these parents legitimise, define and explain the role of being ‘suitable’ carers of children adopted from overseas, with a particular focus on the racial, cultural and ethnic dimensions involved. This includes how they imagine, reconstruct and integrate aspects of adoptees’ birth heritage into their family lives. 
 The distinct feature of this thesis is that most existing adoption research in both Australia and overseas is overwhelmingly focused on the lives of adoptees and many of these studies are often conducted by researchers who themselves are White adoptive parents. This study represents an interesting contrast as it focuses on transnationally adoptive parents, written from the perspective of someone adopted from Vietnam into a White Australian family. 
 The theoretical framework chosen to guide my research draws upon sociological studies on the family, on migration including cosmopolitanism and transnationalism, and issues of diversity such as critical race theory and studies of ethnicity. Such scholarship is well suited to explain the challenges adoptive parents face in building families who do not share blood ties or the same racial, cultural, ethnic and national backgrounds. The methodological approach is inductive, reflexive and employs multiple methods to generate qualitative data. This thesis is organised around three main stages across the participants’ life course: before, during and after they have adopted. The findings were that most parents grew up in predominantly White environments, with many identifying as patriotic Australians in childhood before developing more cosmopolitan dispositions in adulthood. Most chose to adopt after struggling with issues of infertility but also claim to have been influenced by their interest in other cultures. However, in the process of adopting, the participants display frustration with the government’s adoption assessment process, which they viewed as highly bureaucratic and expecting an unfair level of cultural knowledge concerning adoptees’ birth heritage.
 Despite these frustrations, all the participants were observed to attempt to integrate various ‘culture keeping’ and symbolic ethnic practices into their lives in the lead up to adopting as well as after their adopted children joined them. A number also develop transnational ties to adoptees’ countries of origin, such as sending financial remittances to surviving birth relatives and making return trips there. These combined activities and processes are observed to have a transformative effect on transnationally adoptive parents’ constructions of identity resulting in a shift from many identifying as being ‘just’ Australians to co-identifying with the ethnicity of their children or even describing themselves as ‘world citizens’. 
 At the same time, most participants did not appear to have a significant level of understanding how issues of ‘racial’ and cultural privilege shape and complicate their lives as Whites raising Non-White children in predominantly White environments. This includes lacking robust strategies to challenge forms of racism that can undermine their own status as ‘real’ parents and their adopted children identities. As such, I conclude that further attention needs to be given to exposing and challenging how issues of race shape the lives of White transnationally adoptive parents and their ongoing efforts to be ‘suitable’ carers of Non-White overseas born children.
Keyword transnational adoption
adoption studies

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Created: Wed, 08 Sep 2010, 21:51:25 EST by Ms Indigo Willing on behalf of Library - Information Access Service