Contingent Kinship: The Flows and Futures of Adoption in the United States
(University of California Press, 2019) offers an ethnography of adoption processes in the United States through the inner workings of a private adoption agency in Chicago, IL. Through participant observation with social workers and at other sites, Dr. Kathryn A. Mariner
emphasizes adoption and its processes of family formation as uncertain or subject to possible failures along the way. Mariner focuses particularly on transracial adoption, here constituted as the adoption of Black babies by White couples. Often seen as a means of providing these children with a better life and transcending racial boundaries, Mariner shows that conditions of racial inequality and the devaluation of Black families make these kinds of adoptions possible. The process of adoption can fail to deliver a baby to an eager adoptive family through various uncertainties that can involve the expectant mother and father or the suitability of the adoptive couple for receiving a child. Social workers must manage these contingencies through various means of communication, interaction, and speculation about expectant mothers and couples seeking adoption. Mariner theorizes this process through the idea of intimate speculation, “a set of practices mobilized by adoption professionals (social workers, clinicians, educators, attorneys), prospective adoptive parents, and expectant mothers that involve differential investment in an imagined future child” (7). Orienting our gaze away from the adoptive family as the logical outcome of adoption, the book argues for understanding adoption as a future oriented process with various possible outcomes.
Kathryn A. Mariner is the Wilmot Assistant Professor of Anthropology and Visual and Cultural Studies at the University of Rochester.
Reighan Gillam is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Southern California.