Women's Studies Professor Publishes Book on Adoption

It was during a conference in Barcelona on the topic of international adoption that Laura Briggs felt compelled to work to expand the dialogue on the topic in the United States.

Briggs, who had already begun researching the issue of adoptions, said critical parts of the global discussion were missing from the United States dialogue on the topic.

It was during the conference that she opted to collect the work of scholars of adoption from Latin America, Western Europe, Eastern Europe and Canada with Diana Marre, a fellow researcher who lives in Spain and organized the conference.

After more than one year of work, the culmination is "International Adoption: Global Inequalities and the Circulation of Children," which was published by New York University Press and is set to be released next month.

 "This was a conversation that was coming from so many different places and so many different directions," said Briggs, who heads The University of Arizona's gender and women's studies department and has studied interracial and international adoption and adoption culture for several years.

Briggs is a co-author on the book with Marre, a senior researcher in social anthropology at the Instituto de Infancia y Mundo Urbano in Barcelona. Together, the researchers collected and edited stories written by scholars from around the world.

The stories are about child placement policies, fears in sending countries about the abuse of children adopted abroad, adoptions of related children, gays and lesbians who want to adopt and also issues of identity and how reproduction is defined.

"I was excited to get these stories in front of a U.S. audience," Briggs continued. "Particularly, what the conversation is in other countries because, here, we basically have two – and only two – conversations about adoption." One, she said, involves a "sweet and sentimentalized" version of adoption in which adoptees are "saved;" the other is about child trafficking.

But transnational adoption is not always as dichotomous as a "wrenching loss" on one end and a new beginning on the other.

A New York University Press release explains that transnational adoption in the last 20 years "has exploded in scope and significance, growing up along increasingly globalized economic relations and the development and improvement of reproductive technologies."
The book explores the complex and complicated system, delving into issues of socioeconomics, inequities and the history of race embedded in the issue of adoption.

"Transnational adoption," the release continues, "has been marked by the geographies of unequal power, as children move from poorer countries and families to wealthier ones, yet little work has been done to synthesize its complex and sometimes contradictory effects."

For the book, Briggs and Marre collected stories of adoption from scholars in various countries – the United States, Brazil, Norway, France, Spain, Russia and Lithuania among them.

The more than one dozen articles, Briggs said, reveals that there is a complex mixture of poverty, race, power, opportunity and love in transnational adoption.

Adoptees are likely to be children of color with families that may have few choices or limited ability to fight the loss of their children if they want them, whether immigrants in places like Spain or the United States, Briggs said.

One facet of adoption not often disussed that the book notes is that the United States is also a "sending country" in transnational adoption, with Europeans adopting African-American children in particular to "save" them from the problem of racism in the United States.

Another troubling fact, Briggs said, is that birth families are often placed at arm's length in the adoption process. The book also explores non-traditional aspects, including adult adoptees and contact adoptees have had with birth families.

"My hope is that adoptive parents and all of us affected by international adoption will have a more complex sense of the system in which we are participating," Briggs said. "I hope we can restore, both for the parents who adopt and for the children themselves, something richer than a story about ‘this horrible place you left.'"

Briggs believes that conversation, like the stories revealed in the book, must involve a discussion about not only sadness and loss, but joy, new beginnings and love.

"I think this produces a more livable narrative for adopted children and their families," Briggs added. "I think when we regard birth families as either all bad or try to make them invisible, then we advocate for a system that is closed and shut down to birth families."