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Double Issue: 9.1-9.2: Fall 2010 / Spring 2011
Guest Edited by Rebecca Jordan-Young
Critical Conceptions: Technology, Justice, and the Global Reproductive Market

Adopting Technologies: Producing Race in Trans-racial Adoption

Claudia Castañeda

Claudia Castañeda participated in "Global Dimensions of ART," a panel discussion at The Scholar & Feminist Conference 2009, "The Politics of Reproduction: New Technologies of Life," held on February 28 at Barnard College in New York City.

Listen to a podcast of "Global Dimensions of ART."

In the discourse of reproductive technologies, both within and outside the academy, adoption is the poor relation. This is partly due to the privileging of nature or the natural over the social: of blood, genes and flesh—or rather certain blood genes and flesh—over what in contrast becomes the "merely" social bond of nurture. In the curious world of Assisted Reproductive Technologies (ART), this very same privileging ushers in a valuing of the high-tech over the low-tech: ART over turkey baster, (dubiously effective) reproductive technologies over adoption or—gasp!—childlessness. Taking these unequal investments together with Zoe Sofia's suggestion that "every technology is a reproductive technology,"[1] I will look at trans-racial adoption as a question of reproductive technology. That is: what is reproduced, specifically with regard to race, if we consider adoption as a technology, and how is this accomplished?

To ask the question in this way is not just a conceit, not just a way of jazzing up adoption by linking it to technology. Instead, I use the concept of technology to emphasize the reproductive power of adoption alongside that of other reproductive technologies. To think of adoption as a technology of race is to identify the process of racialization that takes place through adoption, understood as a specific—and often material or materializing—set of practices. It is to understand adoption not simply as "reflecting" existing forms of racial categorization and attribution, but as one among many other sites in the U.S. that "makes" race in particular ways. This approach does not address the biological truth of race—it has none—but the ways in which race and its categories are given semiotic and material existence in adoption discourse.

As many others writing on adoption have carefully noted, to analyze the ways adoption practices make race (and other categories of embodied difference) is not to place responsibility on adoptive parents for the nexus of social pressures they must negotiate. They do not inaugurate these processes, and though they may well participate in—or resist—them in various ways, they do not do so more or less than others who occupy similar positions of privilege. Furthermore, there is no question that the local and global conditions of inequality that make Korean, Chinese, Latin American, Eastern European, and other children "available" for trans-national adoption in the United States are neither created nor solved by the practice of adoption. And while there are many important issues that come, in a sense, "before" the question of race in trans-national adoption—many of which the articles in this special issue eloquently address—this question remains significant, not least because it forms part of the wider spectrum of reproductive "choices" and their imbrication in questions of relatedness, from blood to genes, and from kinship ties to citizenship and the nation.

To begin with, trans-racial adoption in the U.S. has become almost coterminous with trans-national adoption since the 1990s, when predominantly white, middle-class, heterosexual couples began to adopt children from other parts of the world in record numbers. Many different factors drive the "choice" to adopt trans-nationally, including the age and health of available children in the U.S. and abroad, and the global economic position of the "sending" countries as well as their (sometimes shifting) adoption polices. So too, given the dominant U.S. hierarchy of race, the relative absence of white children in the U.S. adoption pool, together with the preponderance of black children, has played a role in the turn to trans-national adoption. The trans-national adoption market has historically offered relatively few white children (though this has changed more recently as Eastern European countries have opened their doors to trans-national adoption), but many non-black—Asian and Latino—children. To speak of trans-racial adoption in the U.S. is therefore to speak primarily of trans-racial and trans-national adoption, and of white families who adopt Korean, Chinese, Latin American, and Eastern European (who may be "racially" white, or Asian, as in the case of Kazakhstan) children.

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