Fellowship Lecture: Citizen, Denizen, Alien

Adoption via Lebanon: Practices of Extirpation and Their Impact on Kinship, Community, Identity, and Citizenship

Presented under the gracious auspices of The Asfari Institute for Civil Society and Citizenship at the American University of Beirut

The dominant cultural mode portrays adoption as an act of charity and beneficence. This despite the growing elaboration to the contrary by adoptees come of age as well as their mothers, families, and communities from whom they go missing. This trope also runs counter to more popular cultural conceptions of adoption. In these the implied absence of filiation is still a mark and a stain on the one so branded. Nonetheless, this stigma is often alleviated via informal kinship practices. On the contrary, those who abscond with children are painted literally as bogeymen. The disparity of viewpoints makes sense when the historical roots of modern-day adoption are reviewed. These roots derive from class-based concepts of the nuclear family and the exaltation of the individual over the community. Historically, adoption evolved from indentured servitude, the emptying of poorhouses, the eradication of the Indigenous, the population of colonies, and the procurement of cheap labor from abroad. The rise of American empire post–World War II necessitated that the mythology of adoption shift to primarily evoke family creation. Its vestigial historical and socially experimental derivations nonetheless categorize adoption as a mutable manifestation of class warfare, as well as of colonial and imperial power.

Informal and/or communal kinship practices are thus inverted and formalized under the rubric “adoption”. In this formalization and use against targeted populations, the origins of the institution carry forward as manifestations of current adoption industry practice. The practice is reinforced and becomes hegemonic. Receiving and source populations continue to reflect the class disparity that has always been at the core of this transfer of children and rupture of filiation. This transfer maps readily onto extirpative practices also based in economic and political class disparities. These include slavery, trafficking, gentrification, deportation, immigration, land occupation, apartheid, incarceration, enforced statelessness, etc. The origins of the practice and its global expansion/universalization reveal an international “cosmopolitan class”. Expanding further, this divide denotes a difference in sheer political embodiment, between polis and zoë. Via the adoption of children across borders and class strata, dominant classes empower nation-state agency in a continuation of colonial and missionary actions against subject populations. The perpetuation of the practice is based in shared class interests in globalization and the neo-liberal order. Adoption is thus added to a list of deleterious practices of dispossession, displacement, and disinheritance used against those deemed to be extraneous to the body politic.

About Daniel Drennan ElAwar

Adoptee, rematriated.
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