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Television Mothers : Korean Birthmothers Lost and Found in the Search-and-Reunion Narratives
Hosu Kim Cultural Studies <=> Critical Methodologies 2012 12: 438 originally published online 12 July 2012 DOI: 10.1177/1532708612453007 The online version of this article can be found at: http://csc.sagepub.com/content/12/5/438

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Television Mothers: Korean Birthmothers Lost and Found in the Search-and-Reunion Narratives
Hosu Kim1

Cultural Studies ↔ Critical Methodologies 12(5) 438–449 © 2012 SAGE Publications Reprints and permission: sagepub.com/journalsPermissions.nav DOI: 10.1177/1532708612453007 http://csc.sagepub.com

Abstract This article considers the emergent figure of the Korean birthmother whose children have been placed into transnational adoption by focusing on the longest-running Korean television search-and-reunion show; such shows have played an important role and served as a critical cultural and technological institution through which Korean adoptees search for and reunite with their Korean birthmothers. Incorporating discourse analysis and autoethnographic writing, based on the author’s experience as a translator for the show, this article unveils the processes through which the figure of the Korean birthmother emerges as a biogenetic, affective, and developmental maternal figure that is central to South Korea’s nationalistic narrative of its long involvement in the transnational adoption. By treating this Korean birthmother that emerges through television technologies and narratives as a virtual mother, I offer an intervention into the naturalizing and nationalizing force of adoption discourse and thereby help to map out a politics of reconciliation for the losses in numerous lives of birthmothers and adoptees. Keywords transnational adoption, birthmothers, nationalism

JULY 20, 2005, 8:30 AM
Another summer visit. Back home in Korea. I turned on the television and my mother’s favorite morning show–– Ach’im madang [Morning Forum] was about to start. Today’s Wednesday so its weekly feature, “I want to meet this person”, family search show, is on live. Everything looked the same as a year ago. The show had the same host and hostess, the studio setting and the format of the show were still the same. People with stories of separation, identifiable physical traits and any traceable information come to the podium one after another looking for their loved ones. Two Korean adoptees were included. Nothing special! I could fall asleep to unrelenting stories of separation and loss––these monotonous tones of people’s voices and expected interventions, with the host saying everything that had already been said again and again. Watching yet another reality search program, I had no clue about the role that I would soon play for the show and for the reunion of a Korean adoptee from the Netherlands, Nina de Bruijin, a. k. a. Lee, Jung Soon and her birth mother, Cho, Soon Ok.1

organization; one of the organization’s primary functions is to help Korean adoptees reunite with their Korean families. I introduced myself as a researcher working on a project about Korean birthmothers. Not a week had passed after my visit to G.O.A.L. when I received a phone call from a staff member. She asked whether I was available and interested in working on an upcoming reunion show production. I agreed. This is how I came to be a translator between a Korean adoptee, Nina de Bruijin, and her birthmother Cho, Soon Ok on the television search show. I Want to Meet This Person, the longest weekly search show, was embedded in a morning program, Ach’im madang, from 1996 to 2007. Since then, this search show has developed into a weekly, independent show that runs Friday morning with an identical format. Numerous Koreans have found their family members, including Korean nationals separated from their loved ones due to reasons, such as the Korean war, economic hardships, and transnational
1

Department of Sociology, Anthropology and Social Work, College of Staten Island, The City University of New York Corresponding Author: Hosu Kim, Department of Sociology, Anthropology, and Social Work College of Staten Island, The City University of New York 2800 Victory Blvd, Staten Island, NY 10314, USA Email: hosu.kim@csi.cuny.edu

Ach’im Madang—I Want to Meet This Person2
On my research trip to Korea in 2005, I visited G.O.A.L. (Global Overseas Adoptees’ Link), an adoptee self-advocacy

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Kim adoption. In each episode, an average of five or six people, including one or two Korean adoptees, come to a live studio and, in hope of a reunion, share their stories of loss. As of November 2011, more than 470 Korean adoptees have appeared on the show, constituting 13.4% of all participants, leading to 67 reunions.3 The appearance of Korean adoptees and their birth mothers on Korean television is a relatively recent phenomenon. For more than 30 years since transnational adoption began, more than one hundred thousand Korean-born children left their home country for homes in the United States and Europe. Those children who left their birth families and country behind were never brought to the public’s attention. The public amnesia circumscribing adoption finally broke in 1988 when the United States and Western European media accused the South Korean government of selling its most precious national resources for foreign currency (Maass, 1988; Rothschild, 1988). As part of an initial response to international criticism, the Korean media, consistent with findings from the social work literature, identified young, unmarried Korean factory women workers as birthmothers, a figure of national shame.4 The figure of the birthmother initially was portrayed as a single mother whose sexual transgression indicated her inadequacy to be a mother. Over the next two decades, this image of a young, inadequate birthmother troublingly coexisted with, if not was effaced by, another figure of the birthmother, that is the poor, selfsacrificing and devoted mother who relinquishes her baby so he or she could have a brighter future. The new, emergent figure of the birthmother arises discursively with a demographic turn in the specific cultural context surrounding adoption, and the political and socioeconomic resignification of Korean adoption, starting from the 1990s. The public scandal over Korean adoption in 1988 led to a decrease in the number of Korean babies available for foreign adoption each year; meanwhile, the number of Korean-born adoptees visiting Korea has steadily increased. A critical number of Korean-born returning adoptees want to search for their birth families, and used mass media to publicize their searches (Vickery 2004). These returning adoptees and their searches for the birthmothers are rendered as a narrative of separated families, a living legacy of the Korean War in South Korea, and thus incorporated into an already powerful genre, live television search shows. The topic of Korean adoption has been one of the most popular subjects for television shows since the1990s. At the cusp of the new millennium, the rhetoric of eradicating past vices and reconciliation has been appropriated to frame social issues originating out of a series of traumatic events in Korea’s past. The multiple traumas of Japanese colonialism, South Korea’s repressive state, and the violation of citizens’ rights all have been called forth by a newly vocal civil society, as well as by progressive, civilian presidential administrations that pushed forward a politics of

439 reconciliation that echoed similar processes taking place in other international, political contexts. As Korean adoptee scholar Tobias Hübinette (2005) argues, Korea’s 50 year history of transnational adoption, interlaced with Korea’s modern nation-building project, has been folded into this discourse of reconciliation. Treating Korean adoption and Korean adoptees as subjects of reconciliation averts attention from its ongoing practice, thus successfully folding its contemporary enactment into Korea’s past. The reconciliation with Korean adoption, now remembered as a shameful, but inevitable event, paves the way to a resignification of Korean adoptees. Under the rubric of a new, global economic imperative, that is, the neoliberal logic of capitalism, the Korean government has recognized Korean adoptees as belonging to a group of “overseas Koreans” who are potentially important in their potential role as bridges between the West and the East (Kim, 2005, p. 50). The South Korean government’s efforts to incorporate Korean adoptees into South Korean civil society culminated in a new law, allowing a dual citizenship for Korean adoptees that went into effect from 2011 onward (McDonald, 2011). Given this context in which the Korean adoption practice has undergone demographic shifts, and a political and economic resignification, Korean television search shows have served as a critical cultural institution for establishing adoption discourse as a cultural trauma. In Cultural Trauma and Collective Identity, Neil Smelser (2004) defines a cultural trauma as “A memory (that) must be made culturally relevant, that is represented as obliterating, damaging for an essential value of society (and) therefore, associated with a strong negative affect, usually, disgust, shame, or guilt” (p. 36). For cultural trauma to be affectively available, Jeffrey Alexander, in the same volume, notes the crucial role played by mass media. The sheer number of Korean children, approximately 200,000, over the past half century long involvement—the largest and the longest of its kind—in transnational adoption disturbs a normative family ideology and fractures the premise of national allegiance. Thus, the social memory of transnational adoption in South Korea evokes feelings of shame and guilt, which television search shows capture effectively as principle affects underlying the narrative. Yet, this evocative social memory follows a suspiciously uniform narrative of adoption. In How Societies Remember, Paul Connerton (1989) offers an important insight into the role of a particular narrative in the formation of a social memory. He argues, “In the name of a particular narrative commitment, an attempt is being made to integrate isolated or alien phenomena into a single unified process” (p. 26). In other words, a television search-and-reunion narrative is an utterly fabricated social memory serialized into various elements in a certain order so as to form a social memory of transnational adoption. Thus, television search shows offer a crucial site in which Korean adoption

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440 discourse is generated, reified, and overcome as a cultural trauma with a particular narrative commitment. Over the past 20 years, numerous television search shows, with their faithful commitment to the search-andreunion narrative, have brought forward Korean adoptees, as well as their Korean mothers, both erased from Korea’s official history, now presented as individual subjects of national trauma. The story of the Korean adoptees’ search for their birthmothers and their eventual reunion are seen as reconciliations, both as a personal trauma and as a collective cultural trauma. By reforging broken family ties, Korean adoptees and their Korean mothers become nationally-recognized citizens who push forward Korea’s reconciliation with its past, as well as carry out Korea’s current global agenda. This article looks particularly at the ways in which the figure of the birthmother, who has been utterly erased from Korea’s official history and adoption discourse, becomes a central, newly significant figure appropriated as an allegory for Korea through the search-and-reunion narrative which is contingent on television technology. Recognizing the temporal and technological apparatuses that express the figure of the birthmother, I introduce the term a “virtual mother,” drawing on Deleuze’s notion of a machinic assemblage; here, organic bodies of women join technological apparatuses to configure a new identity as a virtual mother (Deleuze & Guattari, 1987). The virtual mother is not granted motherhood simply from the fact that she gave birth to a child who is now an adoptee. Rather I engage the teletechnological processes involved in constructing a birthmother within the radical and fragmented temporality of a television show, so as to emphasize the performative aspects of virtual mothering. As a critical and performative methodology, I inversely apply Paul Connerton’s insight of a particular narrative commitment. By applying an inverse approach to how the search-and-reunion narrative unfolds via television spatiotemporality, I carefully disentangle the many heterogeneous elements conjoined through the configuration of virtual mothering. Then, I recast a virtual mother into three different, but interlaced tropes: biogenetic, affective, and developmental motherhood. By staging the tripartite maternal figure displaced from its own place of narrative, I interrupt and highlight how adoption as a cultural trauma instantiates the site of the maternal body, appropriating maternal affects and turning the birthmother’s sense of shame and guilt into a sense of reconciliation and pride. With awareness of my particular involvement as a translator (both on- and offstage) for the television search-and-reunion show, I combine my autoethnography with discourse analysis of three sequences which aired on July 20, August 3, and August 17, 2005.5 The following sections discuss the ways in which the particular story of Cho, Soon Ok and Nina de Bruijin unfolded and folded into a cliched media story of search

Cultural Studies ↔ Critical Methodologies 12(5) and reunion, with a focus on a virtual mother and a nationalistic discourse on the logic of adoption.

Studio A: Maternal Citizenship— Naturalized Motherhood
Nina de Bruijin returned to Korea for the first time in 2005 after being taken to the Netherlands in 1978. Though her adoption file marked her as an abandoned baby, she always wanted to try to find her Korean birth family. So she waited. Waited for 28 years. Until the time she felt ready and strong enough to handle any news. Finally, before making her trip to Korea, she contacted KSS (Korea Social Service), her Korean adoption agency. A month or two passed. She called. Then a call from Korea. They found her family in Korea, but couldn’t track them. She came to Korea and went to the adoption agency accompanied with her adoptee friend, who, at that time, was working for G.O.A.L (an adoptee self-advocacy center). There were two files—one in Dutch, the other in Korean. The Korean file indicated she had an entire family—mother, father, and five sisters. But the Dutch file said, she was an abandoned baby. A friend suggested a television search show might be her best option. So she said yes. She was interviewed and screened for her suitability to appear on the show. Another selection process for finding her family, but this time to find her family in Korea. Before she announced her search on a live television show, shooting for the preview was scheduled. Nina’s preview of the search had aired for a week before she appeared live on television. For a Korean adoptee to search his or her Korean family, Korean adoptees are instantly made into Korean subjects by reasserting their Korean names. Nina de Bruijin was not an exception. During her first appearance on this television show, Nina de Bruijin, a Korean-born Dutch adoptee, presented herself, 안녕하세요. 제 이름은 이정순입니다 (Hi, my name is Lee, Jung Soon) in her fresh, a bit too fresh to be convincing, Korean. As she translated herself back into English, also a foreign language to her, a more elaborate version of the introduction followed. Hello, my name is Nina. I was born in Seoul, on September 4th, 1978. I was born in Kang Nam Gu, Taepyung Midwife’s Clinic. I was brought to Korea Social Service on September 5, 1978, and sent to the Netherlands when I was three months old (Nina de Bruijin). This Korean adoptee performed her greetings in Korean and jumped right back to her Dutch identity––Nina de Bruijin––which, along with her adoptive family, was never mentioned during show. Throughout the show, she was referred to by her Korean name, Lee, Jungsoon.

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Kim The show’s hostess mentioned that the adoptee’s name, Jungsoon, allegedly was given by a third party, presumably a social worker at the adoption agency, who might have constructed her name by taking one syllable from the name of each biological parent.6 In other words, “Lee, Jungsoon” was an utterly fabricated identity created to find a home outside of Korea for the child; but on the show, her Korean name admits Nina de Bruijin back into Korea. This Korean name, Lee, Jungsoon, suggests that Nina de Bruijin must have a connection in Korea and thus lays the ground for suturing the broken family ties between this Korean adoptee and her Korean family, most of which had no knowledge of Nina’s birth and adoption until the show’s production. As soon as she finished announcing her search Unexpected interruption by a phone call on a live search show Informed Jungsoon, “Jungsoon-ssi,7 There is a phone call. M-o-t-h-e-r? From a mother.” A translator’s indistinct voice follows. Nina’s face captured Clueless and bewilderment A time suspended Nudged and hushed in “Um-ma”––mother, in Korean “Um-ma” mimicry A voice from the other side “그래, 정순아. 미안하다.” (“Hello, okay, Jungsoon-ah; I am sorry.”) Her name, Cho Soon Ok Her husband’s name, Lee Jung Hwan Confirmed Along with her five Korean sisters Everything mattered affirmed A round of applause Although, watching the first segment of Nina and Cho’s search and reunion the first time, I could not fathom the mysteriously coincidental timing of the phone call. I believed it was a random accident of pure luck. “Maybe Nina is extremely lucky,” I thought. Later, I learned from Nina’s birthmother that she had not called in. The show’s producers had called her. Cho, Soon Ok’s close friend, apparently having no knowledge of the adoption, had watched a preview of Ach’im madang and told Cho, Soon Ok, “There is someone called Lee, Jungsoon, looking for you and your husband.” At first, the mother replied, “I don’t know what you are talking about.” But soon, Cho, Soon Ok began to remember an unnamed baby she had left behind, a few hours after delivering her. Her head burned with shame. She was too nervous to call the television network, so her friend called for her. Then, around 9 a.m. on the day that Nina’s search aired live, a television crew called Cho, Soon Ok, and told her to wait online.

441 It was in this manner that Cho, Soon Ok became part of the search-and-reunion television narrative, which is inextricable from television technology, and thus became a virtual mother greeting her just-returned daughter over the phone. Television technology and its particular storytelling techniques cannot be disentangled from the televised figure of the birthmother, for it is television technology that searches and finds a birthmother––in this case, Cho, Soon Ok––who voluntarily or involuntarily, agrees to respond to a child’s cry on television, thereby activating her virtual mothering. In the show’s narrative, the birthmother, Cho, Soon Ok, instantly recognizes her daughter despite tens of thousands of days of separation; this acknowledgement is supposed to indicate the irrevocable tie between a mother and a daughter. Cho, Soon Ok’s call to the studio is made to appear as though it were spontaneous, thus suggesting that this alleged birthmother has been waiting all along for her daughter’s impending return. She utters her daughter’s virtual Korean name, Jungsoon, as if it were a name that she had held dear all along, and apologizes to the alleged daughter, all in the same breath, thus following the script of virtual mothering. Once the basic information from Nina’s adoption file is acknowledged, and the caller’s familial information put forth, the show forges a firm belief that they are related. The scripted acts that Cho, Soon Ok performs establish the necessary conditions for this alleged birthmother to be perceived as a credible mother. ***** Today is the day of reunion for Nina de Bruijin and her Korean mother. I am nervous about appearing as an interpreter on a national television show, although the segment will be over in less than 10 min. At 6 a.m., I arrive at KBS, the Korean national broadcasting company, and see three women sitting outside the building. One young Korean lady stands out by smoking nervously. It is rare for women to publicly smoke, and instantly I sense she must be the Dutch adoptee for whom I will be translating. I introduce myself to Nina de Bruijin and her childhood friend, Imca, who has accompanied Nina from the Netherlands to this foreign country. Nina seems to have been informed that she is going to meet her birth mother today. At 6:30 a.m., a woman, one of the show’s writers, walks out of the building and ushers us into a waiting room where the day’s participants are practicing their presentations and waiting for the show to begin. Among the participants, another Korean adoptee is from Norway. A scripter sits down with each participant in turn and helps him or her to memorize the storylines. They form a story of separation together. This scripter tells me, “You can speak English in a full voice; these days many audience members speak English in Korea. They prefer it that way.” This comment makes me

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442 more nervous. Immediately my focus shifts from Nina to my English. We enter the studio 10 min before the 8:30 a.m. show time. “Wow! The studio looks much smaller than it appears on television,” I think to myself. “Quite intimate. Hmm. Oh, these guys are the famous hosts.” Across from me sits a familiar looking actress, who often plays a grandmother in Korean films or television shows. She is wearing a glamorous hairdo and makeup. She looks very young in person. I am trying not to get too fascinated and distracted by this new, cool experience. I turn to look at Nina. She looks very nervous. Her anxiety seeps into my body and doubles my anxiety level. I learn that the ladies sitting next to us are paid audience members. Some have handkerchiefs on their laps, ready to start crying at any moment. Today, in addition to Nina, there are five people scheduled to introduce themselves, each hoping for a reunion of their own. After two participants present their stories of separation, Nina and I rise from our seats and walk to the center of the small studio, which will shortly turn into a reunion site for Nina and Cho, Soon Ok to conjoin as family. One turns into a daughter and the other into a mother whose ties are instantaneously woven through a narrative of DNA and its subsequent accounts of physical resemblance. The show’s host repeats that one can recognize one’s mother or daughter just by a glance at her face. According to the hosts, “We don’t need to go on with the DNA test. I can automatically tell they are related, but just in case. . . .” As soon as Nina and her mother hug each other and shed tears, a ritual of reunion ends. Next, a male professor of forensic science from a prestigious university informs them of the DNA test results over the phone: “I examined seventeen non-sex chromosomes, as well as five sex chromosomes. A daughter inherits everything from her mother, so I can confirm that they are mother and daughter. Congratulations!” This male stranger, an invisible figure, but the voice of authority and science, confirms the relationship between Nina and Cho, Soon Ok as that of mother and daughter. Another round of applause follows from the audience. Through the DNA-testing ritual, Nina de Bruijin is reborn as a Korean national, without a margin of error. This moment of connection, backed by scientific authority, epitomizes the patriarchal order that ultimately dictates the terms of kinship in the realm of the traditional family, maintaining the patriarch’s absence. One of the hosts nicely asks Nina, “I heard you are the one who really wanted to do the DNA test. Why did you ask for that? Can’t you just believe that you have found your (birth)mother?” In my translation, I unconsciously mimicked the host’s soothing voice, as I asked the offensive question; only later was I embarrassed by what I had done. How could anyone identify a mother of whom she had no memory, merely by looking at her? How could any woman identify a child with whom she had separated on her birth?

Cultural Studies ↔ Critical Methodologies 12(5) An inviolable bond between a mother and a daughter, corroborated by a scientific narrative of DNA, develops into a reconstruction of family in terms of “a compulsive narrative of identification,” what Eleana Kim (2005) characterizes as the process of integration of Korean adoptees into a homogeneous model of Korean citizenship. During the show, the well-known Korean actress, in the role of a commentator, asks whether the birthmother’s other five daughters also have curly hair, and Cho, Soon Ok responds affirmatively. Curly hair, a common feature shared amongst all family members is evidence of their ties, symbolizing an irrevocable identity mapped out in biological material. The Korean birthmother signifies not only the biological origin of this Korean adoptee, but also the biological hub via which Nina is connected to the rest of her family. Two weeks passed after the reunion Nina and her Korean mother, Cho Soon Ok appeared again As a follow-up scene after Nina’s reunion with her Korean mother “This is the way home” a voice follows A close-up shot of two hands (Nina and her mother’s) holding each other Walking up, stair after stair Finally arriving at Soon Ok’s apartment A place Nina has never been to nor called home “Although there is no shared language, it must be really great to be with a mother”. “It must be really good.” Disturbingly injected A piece of fruit given out to Nina In return, a tangerine given back to the mother A polite round of applause from the studio audience “Now, the whole family has come full circle with their found daughter filling her own empty spot.” The reunion concludes. Nina’s big smile fills the television screen Another round of applause On the other side of television screen Nina’s devastating level of frustration The absence of language No memories of her in Nina’s Korean family The host’s comments rather futile efforts Trying to making the experience of the reunion uncanny The visibility and motherhood of this virtual mother is precarious, contingent on an adoptee’s return and a search premised on the narrative of redemption, both for the birthmother and the nation. Cho, Soon Ok, as a site of origin and destination through the myth of home/land, suggests the conditions of the maternalized citizenship of Korean birthmothers. Cho, Soon Ok becomes visible and recognizable

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Kim as a virtual birth mother, a newly-made Korean subject constructed within the national sphere. Cho becomes a birthmother whose motherhood is legible via a compulsive narrative of an origin, a root, and a home/land, all of which may characterize, according to feminist critiques, popular tropes in the nationalistic gaze of motherhood (Cho, 2001; Hübinette, 2005; McClintock, 1993; Moon, 2005; YuvalDavis, 1997). In her incisive critique of gendered citizenship in South Korea, Moon (2005) argues that a male-headed family structure is the basic unit of the nation in official Korean nationalistic discourse. Based on the patrilineal family imaginary as the Korean nation, she characterizes the Korean nation as a familial community in which members have collective orientation (p. 54). Thus, Cho’s motherhood was presented to the audience with her husband’s name and affirmed in her allegiance to a patrilineal normative family order. This normative framework of family and kinship through a public scrutiny of her sexuality and marital status lays out the groundwork on which a Korean adoptee is reentered into Korea, not as an individual, orphaned child, the legal status for their departure, but as a member of a familial community, imagined as the nation. Another nationalistic appropriation of motherhood revolves around shared bloodlines and a sense of belongingness. Yuval-Davis (1997) argues in Gender and Nation that a national identity is constituted by blood and a sense of belongingness. Soon after Cho appears on television, positive DNA results corroborate this virtual mother’s maternal citizenship. Yet, this scientific result affirms not just an individual mother-daughter relationship between Cho and Nina; more importantly, it reinscribes Nina, who has just returned to her biological mother, as one of 200,000 Korean adoptees, who may have inviolable ties to Korea, and an irrevocable identity as a Korean, thereby explaining their ultimate journey to Korea as the motherland. The figure of the birthmother as a repository of shared blood functions as an affective pull toward the homeland. The figure of the birthmother merges into the Korean nation. According to the search-and-reunion narrative, Cho’s motherhood structures the redemptive logic of the adoptees’ lost origins, roots, and home. In his analysis of cultural representations of Korean adoptees and birthmothers, Hübinette (2005) discusses a blurred merging of the birthmother with Korea and its political implications. The slippage between mother-as-nation and nation-as-mother fosters naturalized and nationalized, maternal images of birthmothers whose losses also are recuperated through the Korean adoptees’ homecoming. In addition, I highlight the technological processes constructing this televised, birth mother figure as a critique of a compulsive, nationalistic rendition of motherhood. The figure of the birthmother is realized as a virtual mother who embodies the adoptee’s lost origins, roots, and home, all of which Nina is able to claim

443 on her reunion, as situated within the confines of the television studio and its particular temporality. Television’s particular temporality freezes and linearizes the loss of time experienced by both parties, that is, the birthmother and her child. It flattens the complexities of loss, and instead spatializes the loss to be cast onto the body of this virtual mother, as actualized in each scene. I argue that the naturalized discourse of motherhood in roots, origin, and home forecloses an analysis of the hundreds of thousands of children in need of care and public assistance who were systematically banished via transnational adoption. Instead, the discourse tends to appropriate the body of the birthmother, once again, in the service of national reconciliation, as part of Korea’s nation-building project in the global era.

Studio B: Affective Motherhood
Three min after Nina’s face appears on the television screen A Korean woman calls into the studio “Jungsoon-ah, I am sorry” her apology, disturbing rather than heart-breaking something is flat, missing her voice too dry, too calm, too unemotional shattering my eardrums disproving my expectation of birthmothers but her “I am sorry” is good enough to move forward her, “I am sorry”, displaying her own guilt, renders Cho Soon Ok, instantly a birthmother For the following two weeks after Nina’s initial appearance on the television show, Cho, Soon Ok cried in public and in private. Once unleashed, tears, belatedly, but unceasingly, took over this woman. In the meantime, she tried hard to find out where Nina was staying in Seoul, so she could arrange a meeting as soon as possible, even earlier than the scheduled television show. But the crew and producers would not give any details about Nina’s whereabouts. Nina was travelling in Korea, they said. She had to follow the television production schedule. Two weeks passed. The two women were permitted to meet only during the show’s production. As I rise from my seat and walk toward the center of the television studio What if I cry in the middle of Nina’s reunion My worrying thoughts linger Nina already at the center of studio facing toward a gate Get herself ready for the reunion Waiting for her Korean mother “Umma” a host precedes “Umma”, Nina follows Her Korean mother does not show up “a bit louder” I whisper

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444 “Umma” Nina lashes out this foreign word that she just learned its meaning But still too foreign to feel attached Once again, one more time “Umma” A woman neatly dressed in a blue striped shirt and a navy blue pair of pants Appeared from the other side door of the studio Pauses briefly to greet the audience Immediately strides across the studio She didn’t take time to look at Nina Just proceeds towards Nina Embraces her. Nina hugs her back. A few seconds of indistinct voices and sobs from Nina’s Korean mother Camera hovers over their faces as draped a melodramatic music Camera zooms in, looking for Birthmother’s sobbing face, Already covered in Nina’s shoulder Instead, Nina smiling but not crying.

Cultural Studies ↔ Critical Methodologies 12(5) emotions toward Korean adoptees, one all-too-well manifested in the following presidential speech: . . . Looking at you, I am proud of such accomplished adults, but I am also overwhelmed with an enormous sense of regret and all the pain you must have been subjected to. Some 200,000 Korean children have been adopted to the United States, Canada, and many European countries over the years. I am pained to think that we could not raise you ourselves, and had to give you away for foreign adoption. The reason for the adoption was primarily economic difficulty. But there were other reasons. Koreans traditionally have a habit-of-the-heart that placed too much importance on blood-ties. And when you don’t have that, people rarely adopt children. So, we sent you away. Imagining all the pain and psychological conflicts that you must have gone through, we are shamed. We are grateful to your adopted parents, who have loved you and raised you, but we are also filled with shame (Kim Dae Jung, a former president of Korea, emphasis added)8 In 1998, then President Dae Jung Kim invited a group of adult Korean adoptees from the United States and Western European countries to his presidential residence. Kim acknowledged the pains and losses suffered by Korean adoptees. This unprecedented official apology is indicative of the way that adoption discourse in Korea is often deeply associated with negative affects, such as shame and guilt, both of which feature as key affective qualities of the virtual birthmother described above. Aside from the symbolic qualities of home, origins, and roots that are represented in motherhood, affective qualities of motherhood also play a crucial part in the production of citizenship and the nation-state (Ahmed, 2004; Anagnost, 2000; Cho, 2001; Enloe, 2001; Hübinette, 2005; YuvalDavis, 1997). Affective qualities are no less important than “blood” in the construction of the nation-state. The rhetoric of mother-as-nation vis-à-vis nation-as-mother once again juxtaposes a mother’s shame and guilt with Korea’s emotional state in the context of the 50-year-long practice of transnational adoption, and, further, develops into a politics of reconciliation. Sara Ahmed (2004) discusses the politics of shame and reconciliation in The Cultural Politics of Emotion, arguing that shame involves a double play of “Exposure and concealment.” She writes, “. . . (S)hame exposes that which has been covered…shame covers that which is exposed (we turn away, we lower our face, we avert our gaze). . . .” (p. 104). A close reading of the affective narrative of shame in Nina’s search-and-reunion narrative in which the figure of the birthmother engages with the configuration of a virtual

A photo taken at the reunion between Cho and her daughter—A courtesy of Nina de Bruijin

Cho, Soon Ok materializes as a birthmother as her adopted daughter utters Umma. The reunion scene is a visual affirmation of the belief that this birthmother has been waiting all along for her daughter to utter “umma,” so that she can come out of the shadows and mother her longlost daughter. At the reunion, she delivers her apology, once again, “I am so sorry,” once more, murmuring. Her acts of apology, with her sobbing and tears, suggest the suffering and pain that Cho, Soon Ok, as a mother, must have lived with all these years. Furthermore, Cho’s emotional display, fraught with guilt and shame, echoes the Korean nation’s

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Kim mother grounds the maternal citizenship of the birthmother, Cho, Soon Ok in the Korean nation-state. In the process of Cho, Soon Ok’s involvement in virtual mothering, these dual qualities of shame clearly are displayed. Cho, Soon Ok, despite her flat delivery, engages the affective narrative by acknowledging her guilt, as soon as she becomes a virtual mother on the phone. The sense of shame and guilt becomes more poignantly palpable when she enters the studio for the reunion. As she walks out of secrecy and shadow, she immediately covers herself by her averting eyes and looking down, her physical mask throughout the show. The birthmother’s downcast gaze exposes that she is in shame. Her motion of hurriedly burying herself in Nina’s shoulder further suggests shame. Her series of actions, attempting to cover herself, indicates her state of being saddled down with shame. By this faithful display of shame, Cho, Soon Ok becomes a virtual mother. How is her shame then articulated into her worthiness of being a mother, thus inscribing her as a birthmother? Ahmed poignantly discusses how shame can reconstitute subjects into a social ideal, thus making the ashamed aligned with affective citizenship. Shame can reintegrate subjects in their moment of failure to live up to a social ideal. Such an argument suggests that the failure to live up to an ideal is a way of taking up that ideal and confirming its necessity; despite the negation of shame experiences, my shame confirms my love, and my commitment to such ideals in the first place (Sara Ahmed, 2004, p. 106). The exposure of her shame is a moment for the birthmother, Cho Soon Ok, to confess her failure to live up to the ideal of motherhood; simultaneously, through her shame, she affirms her aspiration and commitment to motherhood. Her motherhood, once unrecognized, is now reconstituted in terms of her exposure and display of shame. She emerges virtually as a birthmother unto this Korean adoptee. By acknowledging her failure to provide mothering, as well as her alleged pledge to mother the returned child in the future, through this narrative development, the birthmother acquires her maternalized citizenship to Korea. The shame does not apply just to Cho, Soon Ok’s maternal citizenship; it also pushes Korea’s reconciliation process with its transnational adoptees. As Ahmed points out, “Shame becomes crucial to the process of reconciliation or the healing of past wounds” (p. 101). Applying her insights on shame and reconciliation to a configuration of the virtual birth mother, I recognize parallels with Korea’s emotional position toward transnational adoption and also its movement toward reconciliation. The affective deployment of the figure of the birthmother in the search-andreunion narrative serves to lay a ground for Korea as a nation to deplore the losses involved in transnational

445 adoption, and thus to initiate the process of reconciliation. The diffraction of shame onto the bodies of women who failed their duty as mother citizens serves to treat the massive practice of transnational adoption from Korea as a personal misfortune, and thus by a televised familial reunion, Korea successfully brackets its loss and recovers from its shameful past. In other words, virtual mothering paves the way for Korea to move from shame about its abject past to a proud Korea with a bright future in the era of globalization. As the search-and-reunion narrative progresses, the affective qualities of the show transition from a sense of shame and guilt to a sense of reconciliation and pride. This narrative progression eloquently expresses Ahmed’s analysis of “The work of re-covering” shame toward reconciliation. The ways in which adoption storytelling recovers from its shameful stage is built into the discourse of motherhood in development.

Studio C: Motherhood in Development
As soon as I entered the waiting room with Nina and Imca, all of us following the female scripter, I found a dozen Korean national participants getting ready for the search show. A majority of those people were working-class and had been separated from their family members, primarily due to economic reasons, and predominantly during the 1960s and 1970s. Under Korea’s national development slogan, First, Growth; Second, Distribution, a low wage, long-hours working environment was believed to be a legitimate labor practice imposed on many working-class Koreans. Needless to say, little public assistance was available for working-class families in dire economic straits. In extreme cases, these difficult circumstances lead to a disintegration of the family. After separating from their families, many of the show’s participants grew up in orphanages. Nina, through her attentive gaze, seemed to be trying to figure out what kind of life she might have led, if she had remained in Korea. On Ach’im madang, the Korean adoptee’s search for family is placed in the landscape of general family separation, most of which have been induced by poverty, which creates a very specific context within which the adoption narrative of search and reunion is coordinated. The backdrop of economic poverty as the primary cause of separated families reduces adoption to a situation forced by absolute poverty. Thus Korea’s adoption discourse is always prefaced by the following: “Poverty leads to adoption from Korea.” The poverty which robbed Cho of her motherhood is now integral to the search-and-reunion narrative through which Cho is reterritorialized into a virtual mother. “Were you married?” “Yes”

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446 “You were economically devastated at that time, weren’t you? “At that time,. . .situation. . ., right?” “. . .The. . .situation was pretty bleak and my leg was in pain.” No comments or further questions necessary No one dared to ask whereabouts of her husband Nor why Cho left her just born baby behind when she left the midwifery clinic No one confirmed that Cho never chose adoption for her daughter Instead, her brief, a bit too skimpy, answer folds nicely into a generic circumstance She could not raise her own child due to bad health and poverty. Although, Cho, Soon Ok’s sexuality repetitively has been brought into the public’s purview and is tightly confirmed within the domain of the family imaginary, the figure of the birthfather is never brought to light. As soon as the adopted child is proven to be situated in a web of a legitimate family, the figure of the birthfather disappears into the background. The figure of the birth father is the constitutive outside to the search-and-reunion narrative, made into a present-absence so that Nina’s adoption story can fall neatly into a generic, originary narrative of absolute poverty. Thus, Cho Soon Ok is portrayed as a single mother in extreme poverty, who, at the time of the birth, was incapable of parenting a child without a husband. The absence of the birthfather along with a patriarchal belief that a father should be a primary provider, leads naturally to the narrative of poverty as a driving force. In this narrative, the figure of the birthmother is a victim of poverty, rather than an irresponsible parent who abandoned her baby. On the day of reunion A mother and a daughter relationship confirmed The adoption circumstances starts to be woven poverty and too many daughters questioned Affirmatively agreed as if she repeats after Added “그때 당시에는 좋은부모 만나서 잘 살으 라고 그래서 보낸 것. . . .” “I wished she [Nina] could find good parents and live well. That was my hope for her at that time”. No comments or further questions necessary afterwards This narrative of dire economic conditions, in coordination with Cho’s good intentions, turns Cho’s act of relinquishing the baby into a conscious, motherly choice made to enhance the baby’s future. Cho, Soon Ok becomes a virtual mother who reunites with her daughter, a newly-made Korean subject, by articulating a well-meaning intention of a good mother, its notion having been somewhat radically redefined. Therefore, this virtual mother is not just

Cultural Studies ↔ Critical Methodologies 12(5) passively located as a victim, but, rather, in the narrative of progress and development, is rendered a heroic figure whose actions demonstrate courage and sacrifice. In the logic of the show’s narrative, for a poor mother to invest her beloved child to adoption, she must have a firm belief that adoption offers better life opportunities than she herself could provide. A sense of affirmation in Cho’s assumptions follows in the form of silence. The sequence of those scenes, interwoven in the show’s narrative, suggests a shared consensus on the better future assured a child through adoption. What could explain this shared cultural belief that transnational adoption offers a better life? Many Korean diasporic cultural theorists, such as Chungmoo Choi (1998), Kyeyoung Park (1997), and Ji-Yeon Yuh (2002), point out the enduring popular cultural belief, of the “American Dream”, dating from postwar Korea to the present day among South Koreans, who regard the United States as an expressway to modernity and prosperity. Given the history of the United States’ strong foreign cultural and military presence in South Korea, as well as it being the biggest recipient of Korean babies via international adoption practice, I extend the notion of the American dream to a birthmother’s idealization of life and adoptive parents in the West. Although Cho, Soon Ok’s daughter, Lee, Jungsoon had been adopted to a country other than America, I speculate that a mother’s wish on choosing adoption dwells in her belief that her daughter will be sent to a place like America where her daughter’s modern development will be provisioned. Cho’s wishes for her daughter’s better life is confirmed by, once again, formulaic and generic conversations found in search-and-reunion narrative. “What’s your profession, Nina in the Netherlands? Asked the host. “I am still in school but almost graduating. I am writing my thesis in social science.” She brightly answered. “Like the mother wishes, your daughter turned out great.” Added by the show host. “I sort of knew that your daughter would turn out really well due to her positive attitude”. One of the TV personalities commented. Cho, Soon Ok becomes a virtual mother with the visual proof that adoption has been successful; that success is evidenced by Nina’s resilient personality and by her prospective life as a young professional, and, perhaps most importantly, by her (inevitable) return to her mother/land. Toward the end of the show, the nurturing, maternal qualities advanced by the search-and-reunion narrative transforms an emblem of shame and guilt into a figure who privileged her child’s development by relinquishing her own mothering. Through the choice of adoption, Cho, Soon Ok sacrifices her own mothering, and performs the ultimate

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Kim act of motherly love, an act grounded in the American dream, and the promises of better opportunities for her beloved baby. Despite dire circumstances, bad health and poverty, she, as a mother, made the most difficult, but ultimately rational choice for her child’s development. Her choice of adoption is proven to be successful by Nina’s return and her prospective life, thereby reinscribing Cho, Soon Ok as a responsible mother, rather than as an absent mother. She is no longer a victim of her misfortune, poverty, but a proud, successful mother. The televised reunion suggests the resolution of separations, and this developmental narrative allows the pains and losses associated with the adoption practice to be considered as sufferings and hardships that are part and parcel of development as a nation. Hence, the adoption narrative of search and reunion shifts its affective turn from a deep sense of sadness, shame, and guilt into a story of glory and success. A constant juxtaposition between Korea as a nation-state and the figure of the birthmother unfurls a story of adoption that goes like this: Due solely to poverty, Korea had to send numerous children away, but it was done with the well-meaning intent to provide Korean children with better life opportunities in more prosperous countries. As Korean adoptees return to their homeland, Korea acknowledges it’s sad, shameful role in such an event and steps forward to claim national pride via the individual adoptees’ life-transforming stories of glory and success.

447 informs the radical finitude of virtual mothering, which disrupts a tendency to assume the motherhood of a birthmother outside of the television studio and beyond television time. In other words, virtual mothering does not grant an immediate maternal relationship to the adopted person who has just met his or her Korean mother after their onetime “reunion.” Instead, as Anagnost (2000) noted in her discussion of technological mediation and production of kinship, virtual mothering disturbs the overwhelmingly biogenetic basis of the family vis-à-vis nation narrative. Disrupting the rebiologizing of the family-and-nation narrative helps to trace Korea’s history of a systemic appropriation of Korean women’s reproductive rights and the development of transnational adoption as a means to regulate the population. Tahk (1986), Chun (1989), Kane (1993) and Hubinette (2005) argue that foreign adoption from South Korea during the 1960s and the 1980s served as a means of fertility control, as part of the nation’s modern economic development program. In other words, 28 years earlier, a Korean birthmother, Cho, Soon Ok, by disowning her child, participated in the Korean government’s project of nation building and modernization. Now, under the neoliberal mandate of “global Korea”, Cho’s earlier disavowal of motherhood, is rearticulated into a mother’s sacrifice of her own mothering on behalf of the beloved child. Her reclamation of motherhood serves as a vehicle to aggrandize Global Korea by embracing Korean adoptees, who have recently been recognized as potential assets for Korea’s global project. By disintegrating the tightly woven narrative of search and reunion, this article uncovers how the affective qualities of virtual mothers are fraught with the politics of national reconciliation within a redemptive logic of loss. In order for loss to be retrieved so that it can be recovered, the loss has to be contained in a certain time and locatable in a certain place. The narrative of search and reunion arrests spatiotemporal movements to televised time-space, thereby confining losses involved in the history of transnational adoption practice from Korea onto the body of the birthmother. A reunion, between an adult adoptee and her birthmother, in which her virtual mothering is acknowledged and activated, is the show’s climax and suggests a resolution of all negative consequences related to the adoption practice. In her poignant analysis of family as a metaphor for a nation, Anne McClintock (1993) contends, “Since children ‘naturally’ progress into adults, projecting the family image on to national ‘Progress’ enabled what was often murderously violent change to be legitimatized as the progressive unfolding of natural decree” (p. 63). By casting the Korean adoptees’ search and reunion as “The progressive unfolding of natural decree,” the search-and-reunion narrative tends to normalize the 50-year-long practice of transnational adoption and, in turn, obliterates the subsequent traumatic effects of adoption for birthmothers, as well as

The Hidden Logic of Search-and-Reunion Narratives
The story of Nina de Bruijin follows a formulaic narrative of a Korean adoptee’s search and reunion with her birthmother. Troubling the narrative circumscription of the motherhood of birthmothers, this article has examined the heterogeneous elements and processes involved in the configuration of a virtual mother who is uniformly, repetitively, and compulsively actualized, in a particular storytelling technique of search and reunion. Cho, Soon Ok is articulated into a virtual birth mother who deploys selective nodal features of motherhood—motherly qualities such as naturalized ones (origin, roots, and homeland), affective qualities (failure and reclamation of ideal motherhood), and nurturing qualities related to the child’s development (disavowal and restitution of motherhood). By treating the technological mediations and processes involved in the configuration of the birthmothers’ maternal qualities as a focus of analysis, this article has offered a critique to the nationalistic rendering of motherhood in adoption discourse. From this vantage point, the birthmothers’ motherhood is neither of nature nor of nurture but of the machinic assemblage between birthmothers’ organic bodies and technological apparatuses. Furthermore, this approach

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448 adoptees; it reduces the history of transnational adoption to a shameful, but inevitable side effect of Korea’s rapid economic development. The narrative of search and reunion in the adoption discourse brings the figure of the birthmother out of the shadows; and yet, this birthmother figure is once again deployed to serve a nationalistic rendering of loss within an intricate dynamic of fantasy and exclusion in the adoption narrative. Korea’s seemingly forthright adoption discourse embeds the fantasy of an adoptee’s achievement, return, and willingness to participate in global Korea, as well as a wilful forgetting of its continuous involvement as a sender country. The sequential narrative of search and reunion relies on a succession of fantasized events: a poverty induced adoption, a Korean adoptee’s inevitable return, a successful reunion with a birth mother, and the rebuilding a family. This fantasized narrative, presented as a resolution of national losses, obscures how transnational adoption has been used as South Korea’s biopolitical measure of those children, that is; mixed race, illegitimate or with special needs, who were viewed as a social liability. In addition, the exclusion include currently involved in transnational adoption practice from Korea— that is, single mothers and their children. As a result, this redemptive logic of loss in adoption discourse consistently disengages the present by casting a shadow of the birthmother over birthmothers today who virtually exist in the margins of Korean society and adoption discourse.

Cultural Studies ↔ Critical Methodologies 12(5) and Nina wondered whether her search was the right decision for her and her families, adoptive as well as by birth. My invasive journey into this family’s past drowned me. It betrayed my initial enthusiasm. I felt like I had been caught up with the personal drama and dilemma of a stranger who found my role vital. Nina and her Korean relatives constantly needed a translator day and night to communicate with each other, a need which I found to be beyond my capacity. At the same time, leaving them also left me with a sense of guilt and uneasiness. Despite my critical stance toward the search show, I also found myself faithfully following the invisible, and yet clearly demarcated lines and actions, each and every step of which moved toward the resolution of loss and sadness involved in this family. Listening to myself again and over the television screen gives me an eerie feeling. It was me, but not me at the same time. There was nothing much that I could do differently from the role already assigned me. I wonder whether Nina and her Korean birthmother might have felt the similar way. Declaration of Conflicting Interests
A substantial portion of this article appeared in the First International Korean Adoption Studies Research Symposium, a conference that took place in Seoul, South Korea on July 31, 2007. Copyright: Hosu Kim.

Epilogue
My official role as a translator for the reunion ended as I left the television studio. Yet the real job of translating had just begun and would span from several hours to whole days of conversations that tried to fill the time lost by this family. Contrary to the congratulatory messages with which the television show ended, and despite my mother’s excitement about me appearing in her favorite morning show, the reunion that I witnessed was accompanied with more tears than laughter. The stories were divided, confusing, frustrating, and unsatisfying, after days of limited and disrupted conversations riddled with holes of memory, language, and a family’s fractured past. After the reunion, I was able to meet Nina’s sisters and her biological father, all of whom were deeply affected by Nina’s appearance in their lives. Nina’s concern about her life with her newly found Korean family did not dissipate, but became more volatile after the meeting. She kept asking questions regarding the circumstances of her adoption as if she could recapture her life—from her birth to the first hundred days of her life in Korea—by collecting and arranging such accounts into some order. But her Korean mother barely remembered anything. No one knew there had been a missing family member. At least that’s what they said. Her appearance exacerbated tensions amongst family members

Funding
The author(s) received no financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.

Notes
1. For the names of an adoptee and her birthparents, I changed names to protect anonymity. The adoptee offered a pseudonym herself. I created names for her birthparents. 2. As the show was conducted in Korean––excepting Nina’s introduction which was in English and my translations for Nina––this description is the author’s own translation. 3. The website information about the adoptees and their reunion dated from 1999. For the first three years of the show, the information was not included. http://www.kbs.co.kr/1tv/sisa/ missed/last accessed on November 10, 2011. 4. What Are We Doing—Korean Adoptees, [우리는 지금—해 외입양아] is Korea’s one of the first TV documentaries on Korean adoptees living in the United States and Europe. It was released in September 1989 and repetitively shown at the 50th anniversary of Korea’s international adoption in 2008. The director/producer for this documentary is Kho, Chang Suk (aired in September 1989, Munhwa Broadcasting Corporation, Seoul, Korea). 5. I translated for Nina (2005) on two programs, which aired on August 3 and 17, 2005. The first segment on July 20 had a different translator.

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Kim
6. A Korean name usually consists of two syllables, so Jungsoon is supposedly a combination of her Korean father’s Jung and her Korean mother’s Soon. 7. Suffix for adult, similar to Ma’am for women and Sir for men. 8. Translated from Korean into English in Kim DaeJung (1999), President Kim Dae Jung’s Speech: October 23, 1998 at the Blue House.

449
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References
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Bio
Hosu Kim is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at the College of Staten Island, the City University of New York in New York City. She is working on a book manuscript Virtual Mothering: Korean Birthmothers’ Loss in Transnational Adoption. Also a performance artist, Kim participated in Still Present Pasts: Korean Americans and ‘The Forgotten War’, a multi-media art exhibit based on oral histories of Korean War survivors, exhibited in major US and South Korean cities from 2005 to 2011.

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Erratum

Cultural Studies ↔ Critical Methodologies 12(5) 468 © 2012 SAGE Publications Reprints and permission: sagepub.com/journalsPermissions.nav DOI: 10.1177/1532708612459690 http://csc.sagepub.com

Sydnor, S. (2012). Cultural Anthropology of the Penn State Tragedy. Cultural Studies <=> Critical Methodologies, 12 (4), 333-341. In the article above, on page 335, the copyright permission information under two cartoons was published incorrectly. The correct copyright permission is: 1) Note. ROB ROGERS © 2011 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Reprinted by permission of Universal Uclick for UFS. All rights reserved. And 2) Note. From “Fishing With Darwin,” by Barry Boggs, Jr. Retrieved from http://www.fishingwithdarwin.com/ comic/penn-state/. Copyright © 2011 by Barry Boggs, Jr. Reprinted with permission. The publisher SAGE deeply regrets the error.

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