The Adoptee as Citizen, Denizen, Alien:
 Redefining Adoption as Formalized Extirpation

This paper served as the basis for a translated article that appeared in the Legal Agenda newsletter [link:], and was presented at a conference that was set up to discuss the ongoing crisis of child trafficking in Greater Syria. Below is a link to download the PDF file.


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 incursions against subject populations. The perpetuation of the practice is based in shared class interests in globalization and the neo-liberal order. In this way, adoption is added to a list of deleterious practices of dispossession, displacement, and disinheritance employed against those deemed to be extraneous to the body politic.

The PDF document can be found at the following link:

You can use a Facebook or Google ID to download it.

About Daniel Drennan ElAwar

Adoptee, rematriated.
This entry was posted in Adoption activism and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to The Adoptee as Citizen, Denizen, Alien:
 Redefining Adoption as Formalized Extirpation

  1. Mike j says:

    Class warfare is one hermeneutical key that unlocks why adoption is used by the wealthy and political classes. Surrogacy, IVF and looming DNA based reproductive technologies could also be explained by similar analysis. As an adoptee with an interest in evolutionary psychology, reproductive strategies could also explain why there is an element of cooperation from source groups. For example, I understand the majority of relinquishing mothers in the USA are currently from middle and upper classes. Strategies such as, “cuckolding” (laying eggs in the nest of another species), “hybridisation” (species/group interbreeding to broaden gene pool and increase mutation), and “infanticide” (killing a newborn to increase survivability of an existing offspring) could explain same, and indeed lower, class cooperation with adoption as an efficient means of reproduction and gene survivability. Social fitness (access to education and wealth) becomes a proxy for biological fitness.

    • I have, from time to time, been intrigued by evolutionary biology in terms of adoption, in the sense of giving in to a former idealization of “nature over nurture”; trying to establish links where no obvious ones exist. I’ve since seen how it is used primarily as a means of establishing neo-liberal “Lord of the Flies” social Darwinism as a genetic norm of sorts. You could almost call it “scientific Calvinism”, in the sense that it accepts the status quo as a given, with favor leaning toward those of means.

      Forgetting my gene pool for a second, my faith and my political leanings tell me that a) we have free will; b) that this will demands that we adhere to our human-nature norm as “primates of reason”, and act in globally mutually beneficial ways; c) that “intra-class cooperation” is an oxymoron of despairing proportions; and d) there is nothing within the cultural and material history of adoption that points to a non-awareness of the attempted destruction of the “nether classes” which, I will point out, are ever the ones providing children to their oppressors.

    • Mike Janssen says:

      Recent major and credible research has tilted the nature/nurture argument back in favour of genes and epigenetics (the interface of nurture and nature?). Arguably, the entire human “project” of civilisation has been undertaken in the absence of a scientific understanding of our nature. Religion substituted its beliefs in the vacuum of that absence (and so faith was indispensable, though a class warfare analysis might agree with Marx). Religion relies on the belief of free will and its surrender to the tennets of that faith. That is political, not spiritual. Adoption (as child trafficking) is a political act of power that employs beliefs. Adoption (as child surrender) – the same. In the US adoption steals from all classes, though it “benefits” the wealthy.
      But the underlying, deep (and even dark) genetic impulses deserve illumination.

    • When you say “major and credible research” I would say that it was “major and credible research” that gave us eugenics, racism, genetics-based class difference, and all the other ignoble underpinnings of adoption as well as every other dispossession they sustained and continue to sustain today. I removed myself from DNA discussions because “major and credible research” revealed the use of so-called science to justify land occupation and genocide.

      “Scientific understanding” does not exist in a vacuum, and to think of it as some kind of noble, objective remove is not just a folly, but is the dangerous aspect of it I alluded to before. When you say “religion” you should probably clarify that, because your definition of it as a universal is untenable. “Adoption (as child trafficking) is a political act of power that employs beliefs” I agree with; Gramsci calls this hegemony of a dominant class, and Anglo-Saxon capitalism, Calvinism, and science all work toward the same end: justifying that dominance and its mythologies.

      I can point to any number of liberation theologies, Christian, Islamic, and Indigenous, that counter this and resist this in no minor way. Where is “resistance science”? Who funds, sustains, and predefines outcomes of science if not governments, huge corporations, and vested interests? Elsewhere I’ve discussed the social sciences and their role in maintaining adoption; now it’s time to point a finger at the other sciences as well. When science decolonizes itself, I’ll be willing to listen, not before.

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