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positions: east asia cultures critique, Volume 8, Number 2, Fall 2000, pp. 389-421 (Article) Published by Duke University Press
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Scenes of Misrecognition: Maternal Citizenship in the Age of Transnational Adoption Ann Anagnost
The Internet postings of some U.S. parents adopting infants from China make compelling reading. They illustrate how cyberspace has become a medium for the formation of new kinds of subjectivity and social “space” and how these intersect with the history of family sentimentality, while reﬂecting the conditions of postmodernity in which very small children are caught up in transnational ﬂows of human capital. Moreover, insofar as China adoption makes possible the formation of interracial families, these Internet discussions have become an important site from which to consider constructions of identity as they are being transformed at the turn of the century. Not all adoptive parents participate in Internet communications, and even for those who do, the Internet is only one site in which parental concerns and desires are articulated. Indeed, one compelling question is: What forms of expression does the Internet make possible that may be inexpressible by any other means? In this sense, Internet communications allegorize
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the process of globalization itself in which transnational adoption becomes a feasible means to form families and speaks to the larger issue of new formations of desire. This is perhaps all the more reason to recognize that parents who participate in Internet discussions may thereby well get pulled into articulating thoughts they may not otherwise express. This essay must therefore limit itself to excavating these discussions as a speciﬁc discursive frame on transnational parenting, rather than presuming to represent the sentiments of adoptive parents more generally. Yet the necessity of such an acknowledgment leads us irrevocably to the question of subjectivity itself, as a historically contingent process irreducibly imbricated with the materiality of communication and how this may be transforming in the age of “web-based modes of knowing.”1 I have organized this essay around a set of issues that tended to recur in discussion lists over a period of about two years. One of the most compelling of these is the importance of constructing a cultural identity for the Asian adoptee, an issue that absorbs parents both on and off the web. The politics of race identity in contemporary U.S. society is what ultimately drives this area of parental concern. But what is particularly interesting is how the discourse of multiculturalism sets up the paradox of absorbing “difference” into the intimate space of the familial while also reinscribing it. At the same time, this absorbing project of constituting cultural difference seems at times to spill out into the domain of pleasure. How are we to read this pleasure? This essay is perhaps only partially successful in exploring this question and its linkages to globalization. But, at the same time, it compels yet another level of analysis that speaks to the practice of white, middle-class parenting more generally in exploring how race and class must always be constructed for the child, even when they go unmarked. In constructing a race identity for a child who may not be racially identiﬁed with the parent, this process is made much more explicit. The object is not to critique adoptive parents but to have their more explicit practice aid us in thinking about issues of race and class more broadly.2 The efforts of adoptive parents to construct a Chinese cultural identity for their child anticipates the problems of identity that emerge when the child begins to question her or his difference. However, the danger lies in constructing a culture that is purely celebratory and devoid of history. There
is inevitably connected to other material practices of cultural construction that circulate transnationally and have real effects in global economies of embodied value. Celebratory representations of cultural difference.3 This process is rife with possibilities. society historically. I consider how parenting has become a newly intensiﬁed domain for the production of middle-class subjectivity for the adult. even when it is relegated to the private conﬁnes of the family. Rather. The construction of culture. but it also presents the danger of reproducing it anew. my intent is to critique the larger cultural frame in which their practices of culture construction are embedded. But its very success in doing so has given rise to conservative appropriations that give the surface effect of embracing diversity as a way of “containing” difference. then we need to consider how current adoption practices do not merely ﬁt into what is historically given. my intent. some of which may be politically progressive in exploring the problem of identity and difference. which are often detached from immigrant histories in the United States. is not to critique these parents themselves. In exploring how culture appears to displace history in the construction of an identity for China adoptees. They are merely doing what they feel is essential to the happiness of their children: attempting to embody the ideal of the good parent. a role they may indeed be more acutely conscious of as adoptive parents. again. but in themselves produce race in a new form. multiculturalism as an institutionalized representational regime permits the smooth suturing of cultural difference into the national culture in a domestication of difference emptied of history. How is it that parents imbue this privatized domain of practice as a locus for determining their social value as “good parents” and for the production of an intensiﬁed aura of sentiment surrounding family life? My interest is with a realm of affective labor still culturally identiﬁed with “the . but this dehistoricization also maintains the separations that constitute racialized boundaries in U.Anagnost Scenes of Misrecognition 391 can be no doubt that the discourse of multiculturalism has enabled a progressive politics of antiracism that has empowered new kinds of subjects seeking racial equity in a society historically reluctant to grant this right to some of its citizens.S. Alongside the issue of race. If constructions of race and culture are contingent processes that are historically open-ended. All too often. may not only pose problems for adopted children in developing an understanding of their racialization.
The relegation of an active citizenship within the bounds of the family effects a fragmentation of the political in ways that seem analogous to how multiculturalism (in its aestheticized form) maintains separations among ghettoized communities by obscuring immigrant histories in the United States.6 Looking critically at multiculturalism and the intimate public sphere in a domain of practice where they appear to intersect also draws our attention to another point at which they meet. has become increasingly marked as a measure of value. and citizenship in ways that beg an analysis of its speciﬁc formations in the context of late-twentieth-century capitalism.” I seek to explore the speciﬁcity of how this structure of feeling articulates with the sociohistorical and economic transformations taking place in the larger social world. for white middle-class subjects. however.positions 8:2 Fall 2000 392 maternal. to pursue this connection in a way that speaks to the historicity of the family and its emotional life. or criticizing them for loving “too much. which.5 Far from suggesting that middle-class parents in the late-twentiethcentury United States simply love their children more than parents in other places or times. so that cultural difference appears uninﬂected by issues of class and racialized boundaries. self-worth.” lying within the deep interiority of family life but also often externalized as a practice of display. cultural politics. This is why making this labor an object of scholarly attention is such a sensitive issue for many parents. the practices of adoptive mothers can speak to those of middle-class mothering more generally. This intersection suggests that white. a manifestation of what Donzelot has referred to as the “familialization of the family” in the history of Euroamerican modernities and what Lauren Berlant refers to as a more recent formation of the “intimate public sphere” in contemporary U. In charting the affective labors of adoptive mothers. not incidentally. I wish. I would argue that the position of parent. I ﬁnd myself in a terrain that seems entirely familiar to me in my own practice as a mother. fuel the desire for adoption as a necessary “completion” for becoming a fully realized subject in American life. The intent here is to look at the speciﬁc formations of the desire for children. middle-class parenting is as much about constituting .S. The importance of this affective labor perhaps becomes more urgent the more the link to the child appears to be tenuous and needing support.4 But in their being more highly charged.
8 While it is often noted that China adoption allows the possibility for infertile couples. multiculturalism as a representational regime. some of the impetus of Asian adoption has moved into Southeast Asia. my object is to explore this fragmentation of the political in a speciﬁc site where all these issues come together: the history of the family. given the Chinese traditional preference for sons and the pressure of state sanctions on over-quota births. While ofﬁcial data on the abandonment and adoption of children in China is difﬁcult to ﬁnd. and communities formed by the Internet. Parents and prospective parents of Asian adoptees have built up close communities via support organizations. Adoption from the People’s Republic of China ﬁrst became available somewhat ﬁtfully in the early 1990s and has grown dramatically in recent years. primarily Vietnam and Cambodia. my intent is not to disenable adoption. Another background issue that must be addressed at the outset is how China’s population policy has made children (especially girls) available for international adoption. Before going further. reaching an annual rate of more than 4. Rather. are victims of infanticide) because.000 a year. they are unwanted.Anagnost Scenes of Misrecognition 393 class membership as it is about race. and summer culture camps for their children. and the community formed around Korean adoption is often appealed to by this new cohort of parents as a resource for successfully parenting the Asian adoptee. I should provide a bit of background on the practice of China adoption. and single parents to form families. supported by a few good recent . It has also become a media phenomenon with cover stories in national newspapers and magazines. More recently. A common assumption in the United States is that baby girls are abandoned (or worse. gay and lesbian couples.7 In making this critique. Internet lists. a number of agencies have been established in the United States to help with the paperwork and to organize groups of parents who travel to China to receive their children. Because Chinese bureaucrats prefer not to deal with individual parents. a signiﬁcant number of parents are heterosexual couples who already have biological children as well as children adopted from the United States and other countries. Adoption from Korea has a much longer history. there exists plenty of anecdotal evidence. which I believe is unquestionably positive in the vast majority of cases for both parents and children. China is by no means the only country of origin for Asian adoptees.
Not all adoptive parents. such as Families with Children from China. where it is for the most part unobtainable) is a desire for one child of each sex in order to be “complete.positions 8:2 Fall 2000 394 studies. if so. the scope of this essay is limited to following discussions of adoptive parents on the Internet and the issues that arise during the period that starts with referral (when an infant is assigned to waiting parents) and the months immediately following the child’s arrival in her or his new home.9 The role of the Chinese state must be emphasized in the creation of a global system of “stratiﬁed reproduction” in which the bodies of children embody a value that is caught up in transnational circuits of exchange. that baby girls are valued and do ﬁnd adoptive homes in China. summer culture camps. This essay addresses issues that arise in the speciﬁc context of electronic communications. however. possibly in response to domestic and foreign criticism of its “sale” of babies internationally. which has branch organizations all over the United States. Chineselanguage classes. many of the baby girls in welfare homes would not have trouble ﬁnding an adoptive home domestically were it not for the state’s own policies that view adoption as a way of circumventing the state’s stringent limits on reproduction. the newly deﬁned ideal for most Chinese families (even for those in cities. Moreover. this is clearly a beneﬁcial outcome of transnational adoption. More recently China’s restrictions on domestic adoption have begun to loosen. this fact needs to be interpreted in the context of the stringency of China’s birth policy and the state’s economic reforms. are equally active in Internet discussions. which have set up compelling reasons for ensuring the birth of at least one son in order for the rural household to reproduce itself. and informal parent networks. and there are other sites that may ﬁgure with equal or greater importance in the life of their families.10 As a ﬁnal background note of a more methodological nature.” In fact. a context that . One needs to be extremely skeptical of arguments that cite gender-ratio imbalance as evidence of widespread female infanticide or that suggest a traditional preference for sons as the cause of “unwanted girls. However.” While it is undeniable that most of the babies available for adoption in China are girls. although this is often done in ways that escape ofﬁcial notice. this role of the state must also be set into the context of global discourses of population control and its role in economic development as an imperative for modernization.
” The contraction of the political into the familial as the only proper horizon for political possibility makes more collective forms of political activism seem extreme. Perhaps because international adoption transgresses what Lisa Lowe calls “the historically produced spatial discipline and geographical separations” that position immigrant groups in U. still stings as a form of misrecognition. it attracts comment that.S. The gendered aspect of the discussions begs for a more focused examination of maternal subjectivity or maternal “citizenship”—how one deﬁnes oneself as a good parent. Berlant suggests.S. life as to threaten to exhaust cultural struggles over the “national symbolic” in its fragmentation of the political. The phrase “scenes of misrecognition” frames for me the difﬁculties that adoptive parents face in their struggle for recognition as parents.Anagnost Scenes of Misrecognition 395 reﬂects other modes of community formed around China adoption without being necessarily identical with them.11 Adoptive parents often ﬁnd themselves suddenly exposed. is the direct effect of a conservative cultural politics that. and disruptive. How can the child ﬁgure so relentlessly in U. The misrecognition described above could be seen as a speciﬁc example of the traumas of citizenship that have become so pervasive in U. middle-class heterosexuality to ﬁnd themselves repositioned in relation to a difference that is not readily assimilable. removed from their previously unmarked position of white. a struggle that is intensiﬁed for the parent of a child identiﬁed as racially other. The experience of racism opens the possibility of pushing the politics of parenting beyond the family.S. political rhetoric as emblematizing the current state of emergency. even if meant well. insists on “making the political personal. putting ever-greater pressure on the family and the role of parents? . suggesting that the child is not really “theirs. with women greatly predominating. Most of the parents in this study are heterosexual couples who are active participants in Internet discussions. even as public support for the needs of children is rapidly eroding. society. the relation of the parent to the child becomes something that must continually be explained.” almost as if the child’s uncertain citizenship colored that of the parent. in an ironic reversal of feminist strategy. This outcome. nonnormative. as the basis of a broader politics of antiracism that goes beyond merely asserting one’s entitlement to be a parent. normative.
except for moments (often of crisis) when information or sharing may be sought again. until the inbox overﬂows and the subject unsubscribes. The Internet’s easy access appears to transgress the division between public and private. If ethnography as a site of knowledge production has in its postcolonial refashioning reconﬁgured itself around the representation of voice as the ground of its truth. in the long months of waiting between referral and travel to China. Active participation is sometimes initiated by the disclaimer that one has been following the discussions for some time prior to entering them. Indeed. no longer in need of the constant circulation of signs to undergird his or her position as subject. Participants enter from a position of soliciting information. but it carries with it important questions for social science methodology. The Internet offers a rich resource for ethnography in the sheer volume of its content and its geographical spread. For the ethnographer it requires no effort at all to get the subject to speak. participation tapers off. but as they proceed through the adoption process. The ﬁgure of the self-disclosing subject who reveals her or his inner truth has a history that goes back to Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s desire to reveal all (toute dire). as their attention becomes more taken up with actual parenting. Finally.12 The e-mail lists that ﬁgure in this study constitute a speciﬁc ethnographic site or locale for a community linked electronically rather than in terms of geographic proximity. the speciﬁcity of the Internet as a technology of subject production may lie in its capacity for mutual incitement to occupy speciﬁc subject positions. Yet the very volubility of the subject must also be raised as a problem. they can then begin to turn more toward sharing information with others.13 For a large number of parents. then this inﬁnitely self-disclosing subject represents for the ethnographer a hallucinatory surplus of voice. Participation often begins with a period of silent observation during which the speech protocols of the list are installed. to reveal the intimate contours of an interiorized domestic terrain.positions 8:2 Fall 2000 396 Cyberethnography The formation of a cybercommunity around the issue of China adoption exempliﬁes the power of the Internet to produce new forms of sociality and community. the lists act as a prosthetic support in the transition to parenthood. achieving its scientiﬁc completion in Freudian .
S. traditionally the space of family life. we would have to look more broadly at the Internet in terms of its proliferation of e-mail lists that address audiences constituted around identities that deﬁne themselves in reference to “traumas of citizenship”—those who feel that their full participation in the rights of social membership is in question. What are the appropriate protocols for the ethnographer in his or her use of Internet communities as ethnographic objects for purposes unintended by those who are its open participants?15 Or does the Internet itself incite the public elaboration of what we think of as the interiority of the subject? Is the externalizing display of the modern self inﬂamed by the intimate distance of the web? Does cyberspace elicit the articulation of a subject. Adam Gopnik has recently suggested that e-mail (in contrast to the videophone) has succeeded brilliantly because “what we actually want from our exchanges is the minimum human contact commensurate with the need to connect with other people. . originating in or directed toward .”17 To pursue this question. further segment the political in its solicitation of speciﬁc identities while also conﬁning the political within private life. It seems to me that the Internet is a striking instantiation of “the intimate public sphere. N. in actuality. Katherine Hayles describes the reconﬁguration of public/private in the wake of the information age in which the “home.”14 Besides addressing my own unease in entering this space. an articulation that is speciﬁc to its own distinctiveness as a medium?16 This last question opens the issue of the subject as something always already divided. . But is this division intensiﬁed by the Internet? In probing the question of the boundary between orality and writing that the Internet poses.” which appears to promise universal access to participation in democratic debate but that may. is penetrated” by wavelengths of all kinds as one in which possessive individualism gives way to questions of access in which entry “is constituted as access to data rather than a change in physical location.Anagnost Scenes of Misrecognition 397 psychoanalysis and its mass mediation in Jerry Springer. this “intimate public sphere of the U. The Internet has become an intimate confessional that has signiﬁcant consequences for the production of subjectivity in contemporary culture. present tense renders citizenship as a condition of social membership produced by personal acts and values. I point this out to raise the question of how we are to approach the Internet as an object of cultural critique. especially . As Berlant notes.
” Indeed.S. such as illegal aliens or persons of nationalities with historically restricted quotas (of which Chinese is one). money has to change hands. The issue of immigration evokes an implicit comparison registered in the relative mobility and immobility of differently marked bodies that allow U. There is also a recognition. citizens to cross national borders to bring their children home. born from the necessity of dealing with the Immigration and Naturalization Service. the growing practice of the family web page represents perhaps the latest wave in the technologies of “middle-class familial theatricality in late capitalism” (alongside family photography and the camcorder)—a theme I discuss below in relation to the maternal archive. often taking the form of stories of salvage and redemption. toward public life. Yet the lists often exhibit an urgency to evade explicit confrontation with these problematic realities in favor of other kinds of narratives. which contain the political effects of adoption within the domain of private heroic acts.19 Rhetorics of Disavowal The anxiety that the child might be a commodity is aroused by the incontrovertible fact that as the child moves from one site of nurture to another.” rather than “outward. A question that interests me particularly is how the reiterability of the exchanges appears to yield a certain performative excess in the production of the adoptive parent as a subject position unique to itself—one that opens contradictory political possibilities in which the construction of the child’s difference may be aestheticized and contained within the realm of private life or can become articulated with a more collective project of antiracism. that adoption is a form of immigration and that this might potentially align the child alongside lesser-valued bodies.18 Topics in the adoption lists range from practical advice on procedural details to the sharing of emotions and ways of coping with societal noncomprehension of the wish to adopt internationally. agencies are established. “baby ﬂights” . Possible openings for the latter emerge in the lists as expressions of a certain unease that the movement of the child across national borders transforms it into a commodity bought and sold as a form of embodied value.positions 8:2 Fall 2000 398 the family sphere.
Many adoptive parents bring back positive reports of their adoption journey in China. One response suggested that adopting a child was not the same as purchasing a dress off the rack and should not be spoken of in terms of a money equivalent. Yet there remains an uncertainty that ﬁgures complexly in the structure of the salvage narrative. the ﬁgure of the commodity is quickly displaced by a rhetoric of the gift. comparing the quality of service and the costs.” But there are also a signiﬁcant number of parents whose accounts of their experiences in China are fraught with ambivalence about what they perceive as a totalitarian state in which infants. Although prospective parents often use the Internet for referrals from other parents. an exchange of love that cannot be bought. in which the child is seen as endangered by its abandonment and its institutionalization in a Chinese orphan home. The saving of the child is portrayed as a heroic act.”20 The theme of salvage pervades many adoption narratives. expressing a “love affair” with China and with “the Chinese people. As the identity of the birth parents is quite often unknown. one should insist on getting what one pays for. these at times verge on the euphoric. here identiﬁed as China as a nation or the Chinese people as a whole. long after the original writer had retreated into silence. In these discussions. This identiﬁcation of China as a benefactor puts the adoptive parent in a somewhat ambivalent relationship to the Chinese state. The danger appears most explicitly in discussions of how to deal with insensitive people who ask how much the parent “paid” for the child.Anagnost Scenes of Misrecognition 399 chartered. in one case a parent new to the list who had not yet learned its speech protocols made the unfortunate mistake of suggesting that in shopping for an agency. are “surplused. But the language of the gift implies a personal relationship with a donor. The ﬁgure of the market transaction also arises in discussions concerning the relative merits of adoption agencies. indeed. but one resulting in a full mutuality of affect. This immediately incited a “ﬂame war” that cast a shadow on the list for weeks. One mother informed a friend that the sale of babies is illegal but that the “cost” of adoption is approximately the same as the price of a birth by cesarean section. and tour packages assembled. especially little girls. the . This awareness often takes the form of a refusal and resigniﬁcation of the meaning of monetary exchanges. thereby aligning adoption with high-tech biological reproduction as a comparable means to have a child.
at the origin. suggesting a powerful desire on the part of the birth parents to keep her. already been done. Some parents attempt to maintain this bond by sending letters and pictures of their growing child back to the orphan home. remains. calming the anxiety that the transfer of the child to one’s care might have incurred an affective loss to another—the damage has.21 Hence the anxiety about adopting an older child (beyond eighteen to twenty-four months old) produces a tremendous volume of discussion on the Internet. in a sense. Yet the severing of the child from its birth parents is a violence already enacted by the impersonal power of the state. accounting for the dour environment of nurture in terms of economic hardship. But it is also a reassurance that affect was there. agencies and parents have been quick to defend Chinese caretakers.” a diagnostic category that deﬁnes a lack in the child’s emotional responsiveness to others—a potential sign of the absence of nurturing contact in the early months of life.22 Indeed. which portrayed the practice of a kind of triage for infant survival in a Shanghai orphan home. Adoptive parents often feel a need to envision and to memorialize the loss of an affective bond they would like to believe had been there. there is a desire on the part of the parent to project onto the caretaker affective feelings for the child that must also be memorialized in the adoption narrative and maternal archive. One mother wrote of how emotionally wrenched she felt when she discovered that her child had been abandoned at ﬁve months. The uncertainty about early nurture. The act of mourning is a compensatory act that is completed by memorializing the bond that was broken so that the infant can transfer its love elsewhere.positions 8:2 Fall 2000 400 adoptive parents are deprived of any direct link to the child’s “origin. The quality of nurture in the orphan home is in itself an extremely sensitive issue. The imaginary relationship to the birth parents ﬁnds its point of connection in the shared anguish of thwarted reproductive desire. manifested in intensive surveillance of the child’s condition when it is received and of its subsequent physical and . Parents express related concerns about “reactive attachment disorder. that the child will be capable of delivering fully on its promise of love.” This loss of origin must be compensated for by a series of displacements. however. In the wake of the British documentary The Dying Room. Some adoptive parents vividly evoke in themselves the emotional cost to the birth parents of having to give up their child.
is also a comfort. Yet there is an awareness that “donations” made to the orphan home are often required to ensure the smooth outcome of the adoption process and that funds may not always be earmarked for the care of remaining children. as is the fear with domestic open adoptions. There is no danger that the birth parents will reclaim a child with whom one has already bonded.24 But if this lost connection is a comfort. such as boxes of used infant clothing. fast. This accounts for why some parents have moved the frontier of Asia adoption to less well-trodden locales. One mother was informed by an orphanage ofﬁcial that her child would not have survived another three months in the orphan home. for the moment. Listing the reasons why they have chosen China as their preferred adoption location. oft noted. Parents will sometimes read the signs of their child’s development as afﬁrmations that adopting the child has saved its life. will this subvert its ability to cohere as an identity that can be sutured smoothly into its new site of nurture? Will . One mother who adopted when China adoption was just beginning shared with me the emotional distress she felt when she was led to a crib with three infants and was asked to choose. parents often include the factors that make this route relatively sure. But another reason. One parent helpfully provided access to growth and development curves of Chinese children taken from a Chinese source so that American physicians might read the child’s height and weight gain in a way appropriate to the child’s origin. while mourned. such as Cambodia.Anagnost Scenes of Misrecognition 401 mental development. and inexpensive (when compared with domestic adoption or other international venues). Concern is also expressed for how the fees for adoption collected by ofﬁcials are expended. where the procedures are. For once the child is truly severed from its origin. accompanied by English translations of the Chinese text and charts plotting height and weight gain. less “monetarized.” The lost connection to the birth parent.23 Much discussion takes place about how one can sponsor a child for fosterage in China or what one can send to the welfare home. it also produces a great anxiety. The theme of salvage also arouses its own anxieties. The results of the child’s medical exam prior to adoption are sometimes scanned into home web sites. however. is that it is ﬁnal. attempting to quiet the anxiety that the transfer of funds is not a sale but a way of improving the lives of children left behind. which express themselves in feelings of guilt about the children left behind.
One might indeed argue that the very idea of an enriched site of nurture already marks the child as middle class. is the source of unease. because we can never be sure that the child will grow into what we wish it to be. so that consumption becomes the means to stage middle-class domesticity as an enriched site of nurture. it testiﬁes to the powerful forces that position the middle-class parent as such. . These practices are not unlike those that enhance the adorability or “littleness” of the child. Perhaps we might want to consider whether commodiﬁcation is necessarily a dead end. The entrée of any child onto the domestic scene is announced by a ﬂurry of consumer choice-making. but still . even when unmarked. A recognition of the terms of exchange that govern the mobility of differently valued bodies across national borders allows us to link adoption to other forms of immigration that ﬁgure importantly in how the child comes to be marked as racially other. exempliﬁed by the checklists that deﬁne the properly prepared parent-consumer. of course.26 But consuming practices sometimes exceed this project in a jubilant ﬂurry of shopping in which the parent-consumer becomes cathected to the ethnically marked commodity. . . . Consuming Passions If the ﬁgure of the smart consumer makes its appearance on these pages. with which I am all . upon reaching adolescence. instead of rituals of decommodiﬁcation. hence the appeal of commodities that promise to enhance the early development of the child. If it is one way of appropriating a sign or object.positions 8:2 Fall 2000 402 the child. does this exhaust its possibilities?25 Of course. the specter was confronted head on? The disavowal at the heart of the fetish. The child always holds forth the possibility of indeterminacy in the contingency of social reproduction. Perhaps the difﬁculty of confronting the reality of these “ghostly doubles” of the child constitutes the greater problem. . I am interested in how these practices of consumption construct race and class for the child. question its own status as an object that can be bought and sold? Will the economic structures that govern this transfer of embodied value effect its own return of the repressed? What would happen if. “I know . the object here is a child—not just an object but a subject with its own possibilities of agency—and this.” reveals that there is already an awareness of these things.
The panda as a Chinese national totem (dating from the Mao era and resurrected as the mascot for the 1991 Asian games in Beijing to dispel the lingering shadow of state terror). While the search for the ethnically marked commodity might focus on the national origin of the child (such as the search for Empress Barbie. It is important to note here that much of this reporting is selfironizing and that some parents voice their objections to what they feel is an excessive focus on consumption. has now become the tutelary spirit of adorable little pandasuited girls. For a while—in a gesture of self-irony—participants ﬂagged such activity as “panda sightings” in the e-mail lists. Two panda appliqués on a knit top were eloquently described in one such sighting. and yet this imperative is constantly transgressed in contemporary culture. the desire for the child becomes displaced onto objects that signify the child’s “difference. or anything with pandas on it). The notion of the fetish in relation to the child appears particularly transgressive because of its historical articulations with both psychosexual pathology and market exchange in capitalist culture. I ﬁnd it impossible to speak of the constant cultural incitements to set up the child as an object of desire and the complex relationships of this desire to commodiﬁcation without using a theory of the fetish—not as the marker of an individual pathology but as part of a cultural landscape we all inhabit.Anagnost Scenes of Misrecognition 403 too familiar. what is interesting is how the anxiety of difference is pleasurably rechanneled into the labor of hunting and gathering. The child is an entity that is set up as needing protection from the contaminations of both sexuality (libidinal investment) and money (commodiﬁcation). Another panda sighting fortuitously made just prior to Halloween identiﬁed a “panda ﬂeece material” that was eagerly seized on for costumes. . Therefore the fetish seems a necessary tool for understanding how the child (or the child’s ethnicity) becomes a dense locus of desire and value. Nevertheless. the appeal sometimes proves to be irresistible. in the long months of waiting. One cannot help but remark on the volume of discussion about the shopping that occurs even prior to the adoption trip and how. fortunecookie wallpaper borders. One parent sheepishly admits that she never thought she would fall for the lure but found herself pulled in despite her best intentions.” This activity is in a sense an aspect of an imaginary relationship to the child that is already being built on the fragile ground of a tiny photograph sent from a distant orphanage.
The doll. she clicks on a ﬁle labeled “Asia. Insofar as it holds the promise of completing a recursive circuit of identity. in its suspended state of infant dependency.positions 8:2 Fall 2000 404 A much more serious search. often founders with the child’s own object choice. An African American woman sitting at a desk says something to the effect of “This ought to calm you down.28 On the list the reaction to the ad was immediate.” The camera turns to a computer screen. In a nation that produces over 50 percent of the world’s toys (often utilizing child labor). China. The relation of commodity to child can take yet another form in the eagerness with which capitalism colonizes the realm of familial affect to sell its products.” almost always falls short. The woman says. One mother reported her pleasure in holding the doll like a real baby. she still preferred her Pooh bear. becomes a double displacement of the phallus (the doll replaces the child) as the sublime object of maternal desire (true not just of adoptive mothers). “the origin. which proves so difﬁcult (and therefore all the more pleasurable). a way to hold on to the infant-object in all its littleness. dolls with Asian features are difﬁcult if not impossible to ﬁnd. But there is also a sense that the doll represents a “stilled” life. One father wrote that China . Cut to the Compaq logo and a slogan about Compaq changing your life. “Say hello to your new daughter!” The couple turn to each other and smile. A recent television ad for Compaq computers demonstrates this quite clearly. A young. Some of the parents who appear most avid in their pursuit of this inanimate double for their child do recognize that the doll is not only for their child but for themselves. This search. One mother reported that even though her daughter identiﬁed her Asian-featured doll with her own name. One woman wrote of her surprise at her failure to ﬁnd anything but dolls with European features during her travels in China. takes place for dolls with “Asian” features (what was described in one instance as a “doll role model”) as supplement for what the parents cannot give: a surface that can mirror back to the child her or his own likeness as a sign of difference.27 The search for these dolls is international. obviously nervous couple are waiting in what appears to be an adoption agency ofﬁce. the doll in fact becomes a supplement for what the mother feels to be lacking in herself.” and the screen image reveals a newborn held up to the camera. which the parent anxiously fears cannot be completed otherwise. however.
which sets up the subjective relationship between parent and child. transformed into object-love.—Freud. entailing the feminine detail of costumery . in which children are arrayed in the stilled tableau of the photograph as the miniature participants in a wedding ceremony. in practices such as the Thom Thumb Wedding. the Compaq ad appropriates contemporary anxieties about the lost or endangered child to refocus desire onto the commodity. The Mirror of the Child Parental love.29 One could also read this computer ad as a vivid illustration of the timespace compression of a post-Fordist regime of “just-in-time” reproduction that brings together the factors of production across vast geographic differences of unequal development. Yet this reading is overshadowed by an apparent victory in the struggle for recognition in mainstream consumer representations. Time-space compression and its linkage to cybertechnology are reﬂected in the biologizing tropes of prospective parents who liken the long wait through the various stages of the adoption process to the gestational biological time of pregnancy itself. One mother wrote that receiving the photograph was like watching her child being born on the fax machine. is nothing but the parents’ narcissism born again. which is so moving and at bottom so childish. Like Advo’s incorporation of the pictures of missing children into their advertisements that come by post (“Have you seen me?”) or Volvo’s use of ultrasound fetal images ads (“Something deep inside is telling you to buy a Volvo!”). which. “On Narcissism: An Introduction” In her essay “The Imaginary Body” Susan Stewart describes the recursive circuit of desire. Much of the labor in staging the photograph is in the domain of maternal display. unmistakably reveals its former nature. recognition taking the form of pulling the viewer into the rush of affect this scene is engineered to produce. a process that culminates in the fax transmission of the agency photograph of their child’s face. For him the ad represented a sense of being recognized by the wider culture as a parent with an emotional investment in the child that could be identiﬁed by the general public as legitimate.Anagnost Scenes of Misrecognition 405 adoption had ﬁnally made the mainstream.
in a pocket.30 At the time of referral. always “beautiful. they may even have it scanned into the web to share with the cybercommunity. a technology that is contemporaneous with the intensiﬁcation of family life in its modern form.” in which the dialectic of identity and difference is already at work.32 Yet here the project is expanded by the addition of the successful negotiation of ethnicity as one of the duties of the responsible parent.” inviting a love of looking that knows no limit. One mother wrote that she could already imagine her child’s ethnicity. The photograph represents the mirroring of the adult’s own moment of origin. and the child’s background (insofar as it is known). a small photograph is sent. Stewart’s essay suggests the importance of family photography as a technology capable of completing the subjective identiﬁcation between parent and child.positions 8:2 Fall 2000 406 and a maternal praxis of archiving the sentimental life of the family. it represents the mimesis of a desired adult identity that presumably sets the child on a pathway toward normative heterosexual identity. For the child. Where does this pleasure come from? We see the workings of the imaginary dimensions of subjectivity in which the parent projects herself or himself into the ego-ideal of the “educative parent” who must replicate her or his class subjectivity in the child through modern regimes of child nurture. The photo possesses this power as a token that bears the promise of exchange for the original. the location of the orphanage. enabling frequent gazes at a tiny face. along with the child’s Chinese name. The photoinfant thus pictured and named begins to coalesce as a being whose subjectivity is already “under construction. But its primary signiﬁcance is in its functioning as a token for the child itself. an added bonus on which parental worthiness can be evaluated and appraised. The parents may share this photo with others. an object with which an unbreakable bond can be forged. when a child matching the requirements and adoption status of the parents has been located. But we may also wish to consider how this pleasure relates to . The tiny face is read as issuing a demand for love that promises to its prospective mother the plenitude of a love fully reciprocated. with all the pleasure and alarm aroused by the child’s potential (or failure) to replicate a self or to become a point of new beginning. Mothers describe how the small photo is carried on their bodies.31 But this parental duty is once again exceeded in a discharge of pleasure.
The parent insisted on being given “her” baby and accepting no substitute. Retaining the child’s Chinese name promises the eruption of “difference” in the child’s positioning in language and therefore complicates the smooth suturing of the child into the symbolic order. But for her a substitute can never be merely an abstract equivalent of the infant she has already bonded with. The mother went into a panic when she failed to recognize the infant she was given and was informed that the baby originally referred to her was not “as good” as the one offered.Anagnost Scenes of Misrecognition 407 the aestheticization of a cultural difference that appears unconnected to the history of racialized stratiﬁcation in U. They did not want the difﬁcult pronunciation of her name to become a target of ridicule for other children. suggesting that the mother will not “know” her own child.35 Some parents seek English equivalents of the “original” meaning of the child’s name (such as Jade) and seem blissfully unaware of the orientalist history of this practice. or by retaining the Chinese name as a middle name.S. This difﬁculty is often negotiated by giving the child a more familiar (“English”) name alongside its Chinese name. The Problem of Naming The child’s name raises the problem of how the child is to be positioned in the realm of the symbolic. Is there not a curious split here in which “culture” or “ethnicity” signiﬁes an aestheticized difference.34 One father wrote that they had changed their daughter’s Chinese name to another of similar meaning that was more easily pronounced by an English speaker. the shadow of the commodity once again lurks over the child and is refused.36 Some parents search for combinations of Chinese . displacing race and class. The substitutability of the infant constitutes a violation of the bond between mother and child. The Chinese name presents the problem of phonemic difference and an anxiety about the unpronounceability of the child’s proper name—the supreme marker of identity in a society heavily invested in the cult of the individual. which register as more unbridgeable frames of difference? The strength of the imaginary relationship with the face in the photo was demonstrated in one instance when a substitution was made at the moment of the transfer of the child.33 In such moments. society.
using unusual spellings (Chinese pinyin) to retain the trace of a difference that can be domesticated (as in Zhuli. half of that burden but also in the process announcing the presence of a “difference” in the construction of their own identities. in which the proper name alone fails to identify the speaker but is followed by “mother of . It is an anxiety that seems to recognize the violence of renaming as the erasure of a difference that will eventually reassert itself with a vengeance when the child begins to raise the question of his or her origin. One parent expressed appreciation for the connection between place name and the child’s proper name as supplement for her lack of “roots. This enunciation of a difference in parental subjectivity is also evident in the common use of teknonymy on the Internet as one’s sign-off. the name becomes the means to invest the child with a unique identity and a name that is “truly proper. Judi. or Mali). Yet this act of renomination also presents the possibility of reshaping the parent’s identity to merge with that of the child. In this sense.37 In one case. with a regularly occurring series of single-character given names that were reused as soon as that nominal place had been vacated by adoption. .positions 8:2 Fall 2000 408 characters that bear a phonemic resemblance to an English name. from initiating the paperwork to “gotcha day” to homecoming. and its difference. . The reiteration of names threatens to heighten the likeness of the child to a product of mechanical reproduction.” while at the same time ethnicizing the child with a marker of cultural heritage that should not be erased in the act of renomination. instead.”38 But the regular replication of given names threatens the unique identity of the child as having an irreplaceable value by suggesting that it is. This particular practice of surnaming the child by geographical place is a comfort to some parents who feel that it strengthens the tie of the child to its point of origin. surrendering themselves to the violence of renaming—to bear. a parent questioned the unique signiﬁcation of the proper name when she discovered that all the children adopted from an orphanage in Mao’an bore the surname Mao. its ties to its place of origin. then. ” as well as all the signiﬁcant dates of the adoption process. The problem of naming marks a site of anxiety about anchoring the child’s identity. an inﬁnitely substitutable sign (token) of value in relations of exchange that traverse national boundaries. as it were. Heidi. as when parents adopt their child’s surname as their own middle name. . Wanda.
As a parent fully implicated in the labor of sentimentalizing objects that represent a child already “lost and gone” at the various stages of his or her natural progression of growth and development. sexuality. What catastrophic denouement does such activity forestall? Can we see here an anxiety to secure an ethnicity for the child akin to the project of securing a gender. readily retrievable in a form “already made up” for him or her.40 The archiving practice of the adoptive mother is overlaid . a desire that the artist displaces by framing the ejecta of the nursery with the fetishizing practices of the art exhibit. I use ethnography to provide an ironic distance from a practice I myself am intimately familiar with. she creates an ironic distance from which to understand her own desire to hold on to her child as he passes from infant dependency to a separate identity. In her construction of this public document of the intimate interdependency of mother and infant (and its inevitable end with the child’s entry into language). The archiving practices of adoptive parents similarly express the play of desire in relation to the child. to focus on the performative aspects of archiving in the production of identities (for both parents and children). How does the sentimentalization of certain objects (most obviously the family photograph) constitute a realm of affect that we associate with the familial? Here the archive is constructed proleptically in anticipation of a subject who will need a record of a past and a point of origin. and race conﬁgure the coordinates of our modern identity?39 As Judith Williamson has noted in her essay on family photography. Kelly displaces her fetishization of the child onto the work of art. which alongside nationality. the narrative constructed in the family photo album is often a coercive one (something she discovered when she came across a trove of outtakes from her own family photo album). Soiled diapers and pieces of her son’s “blankie” are displayed in clear plastic boxes ﬁxed to the wall as objects bathed in light and demanding the concentrated attention of the viewer. rather.Anagnost Scenes of Misrecognition 409 The Maternal Archive Mary Kelly’s art installation Post-Partum Document draws our attention to the fetishizing desire of the mother toward the traces of her child’s passage through infancy. and in so doing. I do so not just to stave off the danger of a “maternal perversity” that remains ﬁxated on the child long after he or she is gone but.
photos of the child’s introduction to his or her new home and kin. his or her physical transformation. who wait in tourist hotel rooms with a new outﬁt brought from home to complete an act of “cross-dressing” that implicitly signiﬁes the transfer of the child from one site of nurture to another. If the two things that prove most mysterious to the child in capitalist culture are his or her origin (the mystery of sexual reproduction) and money (the mystery of value as something that can circulate in abstraction). must be extracted from its place of origin and reinserted into a new desiring economy. a chaotic possibility the mother attempts to contain in the construction of a memory book. like the child.” its transit to the United States is fraught with anxiety because of the rules regulating the passage of Chinese currency outside national borders.44 Chinese money becomes a metaphoric displacement for the child. Desired because “it is pretty.41 Here again anxiety is channeled into pleasure—the aesthetic absorption in compiling a narrative for the child as a subject under construction. from her split-crotch pants (in lieu of diapers) to the red nail polish on her toes. The obsession with preservation is in some cases particularly devoted to the clothing the child wore in its transfer from orphanage to her adoptive parents. This “museological mania” of the mother is expressed in the search for “archive-quality” materials to assemble the child’s adoption narrative into an object for display. One mother described in great detail the clothing her daughter wore. and quilted boxes with plastic see-through bags to hold clothing—veers once again into the domain of a commodity fetishism that displaces onto the commodity the labor of keeping difference neatly contained. The money. This fetishization of Chinese money removes it from the circuit of economic value (which must not be allowed such promiscuous contact with the child) so that it can become resigniﬁed as affective value. Chinese money comes to .positions 8:2 Fall 2000 410 with an anxious anticipation of the child’s search for its own origin. and chartings of the child’s growth and development. which in one case was ﬁrst submerged in de-acidifying chemicals and then laminated in plastic. Another item sometimes mentioned is Chinese paper money.43 The fascination with materials—such as acid-free paper. a narrative of the adoption trip. de-acidifying chemicals. here the two are linked.42 The archive exhibits the documents provided by the orphanage.
New objects incorporated into this sphere must be assimilated into this realm of affect by becoming objects that are the constitutive supplements of identity.45 I see this archiving activity to be a similar process of constructing an affective aura around the child. the commodity is not only not recognized as fetishized but as not fetishized enough in its lacking the aura of a connectedness to family life—the very things that are familiar in the dual senses of the familial and the intimately known. fathers are not exempt. Yet we see his gaze at the completed image of the child in the arms of his wife as if already in the .46 Although mothers take on the larger burden of affective labor within the family. In this sentimental economy. objects with a familial history. however. in which the domestic sphere was constructed as a sentimentalized haven from the uncertain contingencies of the marketplace. Intrinsic to this construction are the rituals of decommodiﬁcation that transform the commodity into a sentimentalized possession appropriate to a realm of affect that must be kept separate from the impersonal contract of market exchange. One prospective father shared with the e-mail list his “dream-work” in which he saw the child ﬂoating in a sea of complexity and difﬁculty. whether he or she is adopted or not. If nineteenth-century sentimentalism eschewed the promiscuous inclusion of commodities into the domestic order. and decorative photo frames and borders as the material support for the sentimental labor of constructing this aura around the child. which are lovingly made by hand but with the aid of objects prefabricated and purchased for this act of creation.Anagnost Scenes of Misrecognition 411 bear a signifying labor as the marker of difference. He then pictured her giggling in the arms of his wife or sleeping in her Winnie the Pooh jammies. a difference linked to the child in their common “origin. This is perhaps best illustrated in the construction of the memory books. He imagined the child’s biological parents and the “aunties” from the orphanage. special stamps. The feminine pastime of “crafting” combines the notion of handicraft production with consumer capitalism in the assemblage of acid-free pages embellished with stickers. late-twentieth-century subjects ﬁnd the realm of affect completely colonized by commodity consumption.” These archiving practices evoke a feminist historiography of the creation of domestic space in relation to the emergence of industrial capitalism. Gillian Brown has written about the domestic ideologies of nineteenthcentury America.
Here we see the uncanny ways in which economy and culture map onto each other. a process that allegorizes the broader processes of global economic ﬂows. the dragon.positions 8:2 Fall 2000 412 lens of a camera focused on capturing the loving touch between the child and the maternal body as the most intimate core of family life. suddenly “discovers” its corrosive effects as if they existed for the ﬁrst time. they can box people into stereotypical images as insistently as the representational regimes associated with colonial histories. a citizen capable of living at home in the world. One mother described how she deﬂected the baleful gaze of another woman at the supermarket . But the white subject. the process of constructing a cultural identity for the child often appears to exceed its avowed purpose as a support for identity formation in the child. the Chinese writing system. What is striking in the practices of many adoptive parents is how difference can be incorporated into the self and yet at the same time be continually reinscribed. or ethnic cuisine).49 If this repression of difference marked bourgeois subjectivity in the age of empire. Racism is experienced as a malignant gaze that must be warded off like the evil eye.47 The Multicultural Imaginary As suggested above. in which capitalism’s focus on the private sphere becomes expressed in an economy of desire that achieves its completion through a transnational circuit of exchanges. for whom racism in its most subtle and insidious forms has largely been invisible. At their worst. How do we explain this surplus of pleasure? Certain modes of institutionalized multiculturalism carry the potential to aestheticize racial and cultural difference. The politics of inclusion can so easily be subverted (as it often is in public schooling) to the controlled insertion of culturally inﬂected signs devoid of history (such as Chinese New Year.48 Recent scholarship on colonial domesticities has elaborated on the theme of how the presence of class and racial difference (often embodied in the ﬁgures of servants) was disavowed and repressed in the constitution of the bourgeois subject. with its powerful regimes of racializing and ethnicizing embodied value? Becoming multicultural through adoption is central to the constitution of a cosmopolitan subjecthood. what is the signiﬁcance of this practice of incorporating difference into parental subjectivity in the age of ﬂexible accumulation.
the infants left behind in the orphan home. the unwanted children who fail to survive. and the families in the United States who cannot stay together—as differently positioned forms of embodied value who may indeed be further disempowered by the enhanced mobility of other bodies.Anagnost Scenes of Misrecognition 413 with a smile doubled by her little daughter. rather. seeking its resolution in this retelling. immigration. it is a space of struggle that has real effects in the ethnicizing of subjects channeled into discrete but articulated circuits of reproduction.50 Perhaps the most vital challenge today for anthropology as the study of culture is to be always alert in looking at the different deployments of culture and its ever-widening circulation as a powerful discursive tool. In keeping with feminist critiques of theories of transnationalism. the indentured laborer of the Golden Venture. and embodied value. The practice of constructing a culture for a child adopted internationally appears to entail the insertion of the child into an economy of racialized difference that tends to contain or domesticate differences in discrete boxes or “culture bites. articulating complexly racializing discourses that are not entirely unrelated to determining the hierarchy of preferred places of origin for adopted children. my discussion has repeatedly drawn attention to the fact that the accelerating globalization of capital and forms of embodied labor at the century’s turn offer unequal degrees of mobility and opportunity. the child laborer in China.51 It seems necessary to me to keep in sight the ghostly doubles of the adopted child— the illegal migrant. to note their relation to the transnational dispersion of differently constructed ideas of Chinese identities at the turn of the century. And yet the shock of that misrecognition could not be immediately dispelled. How can we turn some of the energy we invest in the nurture of our own children to a more broadly realized program of social activism that transcends the privatized realm of domestic life to enhance the conditions of nurture for all children? How . Central to this project are the questions of what is at stake and who is empowered when culture is invoked.” My object is not to critique the “inauthenticity” of these constructions but. China adoption represents yet another site in which global ﬂows mark culture as a dynamic and contested thing. What is difﬁcult to confront is how the domestication of citizenship within the private realm fails to address these larger social issues.
1 I am indebted to an anonymous reviewer for helping me to clarify this issue. Lucy Jarocsz. Lorna Rhodes. Kaushik Ghosh. Victoria Lawson. Eric Thompson. Harriet Phinney. I also acknowledge the helpful comments on earlier drafts of this article from Andrea Arai.S. Janet Upton. Laurie Sears. the China adoptee is linked in that baleful gaze to other immigrants who may not share the same privilege. Katherine Libal.positions 8:2 Fall 2000 414 is it that children ﬁgure so urgently in our public discourse while social supports for poor families (supports that can keep families together) are rapidly eroding? This question. whose work on the child has clearly inspired my own. which contributed signiﬁcantly to the ﬁnal framing of this argument. Venkat Rao.52 In focusing so much effort on the construction of a culture whose referent is a dehistoricized and distant (if not imaginary) China. Notes This article was ﬁrst presented in a panel “Regimes of Value” at the 1997 Annual Meetings of the American Anthropological Association. obviously much larger than the scope of this essay. I am indebted for the detailed comments from the two anonymous reviewers for positions. Errors of interpretation are entirely my own. She will grow up to be a complex multiraced subject for whom the imaginary resolution of identity construction may not be all that helpful as she faces the powerful forces that racialize her when she emerges from the womb of domestic affect into the larger social world. China adoption represents a particularly privileged form of immigration that is facilitated because the right to form families is a consecrated middle-class imperative. Toby Volkman. If adoption is one form of immigration among others. which is critically important for thinking through the methodological problems of using the Internet . I am also indebted to Marilyn Ivy and Sharon Stephens. Restoring history to the process of constructing the child’s subjectivity may even lead to powerful alliances for an antiracist politics that could conceivably cut across historically constituted divisions of race and class. and Priscilla Wald. parents may be depriving themselves of important resources they could draw upon to prepare their child for the realities of racialization in U. Eric Diehl. could be addressed more speciﬁcally by suggesting that a stronger link needs to be made between the recent practice of China adoption and the history of Asian immigration. I thank Margaret Lock and Sue Estroff for giving me that opportunity to present my work. society. John Comaroff. Vicente Rafael.
The ways in which Internet communications are transforming our lives have outpaced our ability to reﬂect on them theoretically.: Johns Hopkins University Press. although contested. See Donzelot.C. Much of the material for this essay was gathered from e-mail discussion lists (listserves) and various web sites organized around the topic of China adoption. we could perhaps suggest that all children are similarly constructed in terms of race and class that go unmarked because they are naturalized through the privileging of biological relatedness. who attempts to trace a history of how we came to be the way we are. Especially for middle-class parents. Md. This essay is part of a larger comparative study of how economic and social processes of the last decade are transforming childhoods transnationally and of how parenthood—especially maternal subjectivity—is constituted through nationalist rhetorics and consumer practices (in both the People’s Republic of China and the United States). in U. I am grateful to Sara Dorow. I have not speciﬁed the issue number from which quotations have been taken. The Queen of America Goes to Washington City: Essays in Sex and Citizenship (Durham. 1997). I take my inspiration here from Jacques Donzelot.net) and pac (post-adopt-chinadigest@shore. I interpret the “we” of this statement in terms of a certain bourgeois ideology of the family that may be hegemonic. which I followed for almost two years. if the efforts of adoptive parents to construct a cultural identity for their child seem especially charged in terms of racial difference.C. Some of the wording has been borrowed here. 1997). Not all adoptive parents are unmindful of this problem.: Duke University Press. N. 84–96. in keeping with the protocols of ethnographic protection of informants. public life. Indeed. I am indebted to one of my anonymous reviewers for stating this point most eloquently. N. 8. See Lauren Berlant. who is working on her own ethnographic project on China adoption. and I have changed names that might identify speciﬁc individuals.S. This makes the project of this essay all the more tentative in attempting to pose what appear at the outset to be critical questions.Anagnost Scenes of Misrecognition 415 2 3 4 5 6 7 as an ethnographic resource. The question that this use of the Internet raises regarding the uncertain line between public and private in Internet communications will be addressed later in this essay. I raise it because of the apparent absence of any extended discussion in the e-mail lists I observed. the two most important lists being apc (a-parents-china-digest@shore. much of the pressure to parent in a certain way is to ensure the reproduction of class position in their child in an economic and cultural landscape that has made this outcome more uncertain. The Policing of Families (Baltimore. Although e-mail is considered a public document equivalent to a publication. for reminding me of this point. .: Duke University Press. esp.net). I am here indebted to Berlant’s conceptualization of the intimate public sphere in Queen of America and Lisa Lowe’s critique of certain modes of aestheticized multiculturalism in Immigrant Acts: On Asian American Cultural Politics (Durham. 1996).
on how widely a newly deﬁned ideal family form of two children. Policing of Families. for a well-supported discussion of how families valuing daughters conﬁgure extralegal adoption strategies as an important affective resource for parents. 2 (winter 1988): 16–22. 225. Representation. . See Kay Ann Johnson.: Duke University Press. 195–222. and Liyao Wang. no. While this is no doubt true. Banghan Huang.C. Policing of Families.” Women and Language 9. “The Missing Girls of China: A New Demographic Account. “Infant Abandonment and Adoption in China. 1997). 1997). no. on the rise of the “psy” forces that encircle the family with contradictory advice about parental responsibility and its excesses.positions 8:2 Fall 2000 416 8 One adoptive mother responded to an earlier version of this essay by stating that the concern to construct a cultural identity for the child was anticipated by the issues of identity raised by an earlier cohort of Korean adoptees.” American Ethnologist 21. one of each sex. 9 See Sten Johansson and Ola Nygren. Baby girls are often strategically abandoned on the doorsteps of childless or daughterless couples. 10 I have written elsewhere on the politics of embodied value in China in the wake of its one-child family policy and the role of transnational discourses of population control. and National Past-Times: Narrative. N. no. and Ernest P. See Ann Anagnost.1 (March 1991): 35–51. “Family Violence and Magical Violence: The Woman as Victim in China’s One-Child Birth Policy. for a discussion of the problem of “missing girls” in Chinese demography and of how sex-ratio imbalance needs to be read with a better understanding of the complex interactions of state policy and family practices. Young (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Center for Chinese Studies. A recent article in the Seattle Times featured a story about the formation of e-mail lists organized around the month of birth.” in Constructing China: The Interaction of Culture and Economics.S. My thinking about embodied value owes much to Donzelot’s discussion of the centrality of the policing of families to the emergence of a new social economy in nineteenth-century European modernities elaborating Michel Foucault’s concept of biopower in the history of the modern family. society has also set up new conditions for marking the child’s difference. Some adoptive parents reading versions of this article consider it as yet another instance of “misrecognition. “Children and National Transcendence in China.” My own engagement with these issues derives from my profoundly felt recognition of the ways in which all “modern” parents are positioned in a space of anxiety replete with paradox and contradiction. 11 Berlant uses this phrase to refer to the condition of partial legibility that arises when the identities that people inhabit fail to describe them completely.” Population and Development Review 17. 1 (February 1994): 3–30. often denying them full membership in the national community (see Queen of America. I wonder to what extent the increasing presence of multiculturalism in U. 12 There are lists for biological parents as well. even in rural areas. Parents. no. has become hegemonic. Shuen-fu Lin. 1). See Donzelot.” Population and Development Review 24. ed. See Susan Greenhalgh. 3 (September 1998): 469–510. See Donzelot. “Controlling Births and Bodies in Village China. Kenneth Lieberthal. and Power in Modern China (Durham.
however. Kittler. 41. If ethnography has always had an element of the voyeur about it.C. 5. and Sexuality in the Colonial Context (New York: Routledge. Berlant. Huang. Adam Gopnik. Imperial Leather: Race. Literature. and Wang. 1995). Media. my intention is to highlight the unreﬂective representation of human rights abuses that essentially “otherize” Chinese conditions of nurture. no. “Spaces of Identity: Communications Technologies and the Reconﬁguration of Europe. Australia.” New Yorker. Pleasures Taken: Performance of Sexuality and Loss in Victorian Photographs (Durham. An important exception to this would be the ﬁnancial support collected by parent groups for Chinese orphan homes to improve conditions for children left behind. much as the book was superseded by the typewriter. John Johnston (Amsterdam: Overseas Publishers Association.” Screen 30. forthcoming). and Informatics (Chicago: University of Chicago Press. N. Katherine Hayles. Anne McClintock. see also Carol Mavor. Information Systems: Essays. Literature.” on how the increasing stringency of birth-policy implementation in the early 1990s overloaded the underfunded network of Chinese orphan . Queen of America. N.: Duke University Press. The one-child family policy is the enabling precondition for making Chinese baby girls so readily available for international adoption. Kittler’s work opens the question of how electronic media might be understood as a technology of subject production. See David Morley and Kevin Robins. Her argument usefully introduces citizenship as a central category of analysis. ed. N. and the emergence of new means of catering to criminalized modes of looking (especially at children). See also Johnson. The new critical geography reconsiders the relationship between space and place. who feel isolated and anxious about issues of child nurture can compare their experiences with other mothers in North America but also transnationally in Englishspeaking communities in Europe. Gender. See the essays in Friedrich A. “Infant Abandonment.: Duke University Press. seeing the latter as a trope of spatialization that can apply to electronically linked as well as geographically proximate communities. That the salvage discourse is not in itself without its own contradiction will become clear later in this essay.” in White Love and Other Events in Filipino History (Durham. 4 (autumn 1989): 10–34. “The Undead: Photography in the Philippines. and Vicente Rafael.Anagnost Scenes of Misrecognition 417 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 primarily mothers. In critiquing the “salvage” narrative. How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics. and other places. 6 December 1999. “The Return of the Word. 1995). 1888–1920s. does not the emergence of a cyberethnography heighten this potential for a silent and distant observer to satisfy a love of looking that knows no limit in invading the intimate territory of a psychological interiority open to universal access? This issue is obviously much larger than the issues explored here as increasing engagement with the Internet begins to absorb the subject into a cyberworld with its peculiar forms of sociality. For work that theorizes photography as a technology not just of voyeurism but also of exhibitionism. 1997).C. and the cinema. 49. 1999). the gramophone. its transformation of the public sphere.
” for a discussion of similar kinds of commodity appeal in Chinese urban consuming practices. A similar point was raised by John Comaroff in his comments on an earlier version of this essay.S.” The anxiety that this category produces no doubt partly accounts for the projection of affect on their child’s earliest caregivers. for a discussion of how a few well-publicized cases intensify this fear of losing the child..: Duke University Press. She makes cogent use of Donald M.” seem to support this more balanced picture of the conditions of Chinese orphan homes. 25–28 May 1999). . 2 (summer 1998): 65–86. “Children and National Transcendence. which suggests a much more damaging picture of the state of nurture (or its lack) in Chinese orphan homes. during a time that can never be retrieved for the early regime of middle-class child nurture. See Danae Clark. someone who not only looks like the child but can talk to her in her “native” language. “Infant Abandonment. Taipei. paradoxically. Since The Dying Room. Lowe’s The Body in Late-Capitalist U. 1995) in her discussion of the family and the realm of commodiﬁcation. .89 in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Psychiatry. Death by Default: A Policy of Fatal Neglect in China’s State Orphanages (New York: Human Rights Watch. I am indebted to Vicente Rafael for bringing Clark’s essay to my attention. adoptive parents are rarely allowed into the crib rooms of the orphan home. 1996). 91–93. Academica Sinica. see the book-length report by the Human Rights Watch/Asia. See her “Sublime Sacriﬁces: Three Texts on Charity and Nationalism in Twentieth-Century China” (paper presented at the conference Nationalism: The East Asian Experience. 313. American Psychiatric Association. Commodiﬁcation. The data assembled in Johnson. See Anagnost. It is characterized as “a disturbance in social relatedness .A.C. . “Reactive attachment disorder” is diagnostic category no. 1994. Vivienne Shue’s research on public benevolence in China also supports a more critical perspective on the demonization of Chinese orphan care. The phrase “rituals of decommodiﬁcation” is also his. Some adoptive parents have been very vocal in defending Chinese caretakers against charges of neglect.” American Studies 39. no. a tendency to “indiscriminate sociability” in the older child. International adoption was one way of relieving that pressure while raising badly needed funds for those children who remained. Most often the child is brought to the waiting parents’ hotel by caretakers. and the Spectacle of Disruption. Huang. “Mediadoption: Children. Many of the issues she discusses in the context of domestic interracial adoption strikingly parallel those discussed here. presumed to be due to grossly pathogenic care” and resulting in “persistent failure to initiate or respond” to social interactions or. 4th ed. I am indebted to Venkat Rao for pushing me to ask this question. N. I observed a parallel desire to ﬁnding a Chinese nanny. and Wang. much of the evidence in the report is from the Shanghai home featured in The Dying Room. For a more inﬂammatory perspective. Such indications are often linked to “failure to thrive” and what is called “hospitalism. (Durham.positions 8:2 Fall 2000 418 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 homes.
despite attempts to resist this obvious manipulation through the deployment of the child. I experience such ads as an involuntary welling up of emotion through my upper body as if to seek its release in tears. on the “intensiﬁcation of family life. This inclusion is.” Public Culture 4. it resembles childhood. the dual relation before it was lost. respectively. a relation which is and is not a repetition. 32 See Donzelot. Santner. following Lacan. and Janelle Sue Taylor. the image of the past. so must we historicize Lacan’s fable of subject production via the mirror phase. Policing of Families. we say that the recognition of the imaginary during infancy is what begins the process of the constitution of the subject. which is only approximated in reproduction. I have been unable to view it myself. The dream of one prospective mother was quite detailed and included a photo of the child’s parents. She writes. “If. the Souvenir. of course. See Eric L. the relation between childhood and the present. 29 See the essays by Marilyn Ivy.: Princeton University Press. no. 1996). despite repeated attempts to capture it on television. or the record of the child’s fosterage).” in which “the family became an avid consumer of everything that might help it to ‘realize itself. ed. the mother as object of desire. akin to the rays of God that Schreber described as having taken over his body to transform it into something else in service to a heteronymous desire.Anagnost Scenes of Misrecognition 419 28 This description of the ad is provided by Janet Upton and Eric Diehl.’ ” 33 The imaginary relation to the child is also reﬂected in the eager search for signs that the tie between mother and child. 30 Susan Stewart. My Own Private Germany: Daniel Paul Schreber’s Secret History of Modernity (Princeton. 224–225.: Duke University Press. Insofar as we can historicize the projection of desire upon the child (and childhood) as intensiﬁed in a bourgeois family formation. although not biological. the Gigantic. the Collection (Durham. 1993). for detailed cultural critiques of the Advo circulars and the Volvo ad. The meager facts concerning the history of the child (such as the circumstances of his or her abandonment. the pure body-within-the-body. was divinely ordained by God or fate. It is like having one’s emotional life taken over by an alien force. N.: Princeton University Press. which will not change” (124–125). but a pure object. N. On Longing: Narratives of the Miniature. usually a list of dates. an object which will not be taken up in the changing sphere of lived reality but rather will remain complete at a distance. “Have You Seen Me? Recovering the Inner Child in Late Twentieth-Century America. 1995). constitutes an imaginary at either end: for the child.J. the oneiric “ﬁlling in” of the gap in the child’s origin. 2 (spring 1992): 67–80. it is no less the case that the imaginary’s function is to continue the process of that constitution through adult life as well. “The Fetus and the Family Car: From Abortion Politics to a Volvo Advertisement. for the adult. And out of this adult desire springs the demand for an object—not an object of use value.C.J. In the play of identity and difference out of which the subject ‘appears’ at any given point. are sometimes aligned with signiﬁcant dates of the parents to discover temporal linkages that resignify the . Sharon Stephens (Princeton. 31 Sometimes this activity anticipates the moment of referral in dreams.” in Children and the Politics of Culture. N. In this way.
” I am indebted to Harriet Phinney for suggesting this connection. 1994). Hence. See Gayatri C. complete with photos. trans. Spivak. Judith Williamson. 1990). an impossibility that our contemporary cult of the individual hopes to evade in a renewed inventiveness in the given names of children. Abadie. and Sherry B. This practice evokes the organization of “native place associations” by immigrant Chinese worldwide. This practice sometimes results in quite a long chain of monikers. Of Grammatology. I am indulging myself here by using the phrase for unﬁnished web sites. “Museological mania” is Emily Apter’s phrasing. Md. Anni Whissen (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press. 1993). as a psychoanalytic allegory of the search for the origin of the self in childhood. Dirks. 1976). I thank Eric Thompson for suggesting this connection. This parent also alerted listmates to the existence of M. This reading is inspired by the German novel by Marie Luise Kashnitz. Africa. Photography. . 1993). In the ﬁlm Blade Runner a population of replicants is provided with a similar archive of a human childhood so that they are fooled into thinking that the identities constructed for them are “really real. One couple named their child with three English names followed by the child’s two-syllable Chinese name and a surname. and Latin America. Immigrant Acts. The childhood of Kashnitz’s female protagonist is presented to her as an apparently impenetrable black box that reveals its contents in fragmentary screen images. J. on family web sites. Geoff Eley. N. “Can the Subaltern Speak?: Speculations of Widow-Sacriﬁce. Multicultural Baby Names (Stamford. See Mary Kelly and Emily Apter. Nicholas B. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak (Baltimore.: Princeton University Press. the link between parents and child can be imagined back to the point of the child’s own origin. for a discussion of the impossibility of a name that is truly proper. This link to the origin is also promoted in the construction of “hometown” web sites linking adopted children from the same orphan home with an informational node that forms a sense of place. ed.” in Culture/Power/History: A Reader in Contemporary Social Theory. See Lowe.Y. Conn: Longmeadow.: Johns Hopkins University Press.: Cornell University Press. “Family.” Wedge 7/8 (1985): 120–130. N. from which she must painfully construct a myth of origin.” in Fetishism as Cultural Discourse. 86–87. 352. The House of Childhood. This citation of Blade Runner in this way cannot avoid a certain irony in the extent to which the ﬁlm portrays a dystopic American landscape overwhelmed by immigrants from Asia. Emily Apter and William Pietz (Ithaca. 236–244. ed. “The Smell of Money: Mary Kelly in Conversation with Emily Apter. as intended for them from the very beginning. My suggestion that these objects are not solely for the child derives from the practice of posting adoption narratives. Education. See Jacques Derrida. trans. Ortner (Princeton.positions 8:2 Fall 2000 420 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 arbitrary process of referral.J.
3 (August 1988): 227–241. 50–53. Place. Pleasures Taken. 1993). 1990). 47 See Mavor. among others) and with ultranationalist discourses in East Asia. in its complex articulations with U. “Theories of East Asian Intellectual and Behavioral Superiority and Discourses on ‘Race Differences. 124. “The Colonial Romance in the Secret Garden” (unpublished manuscript). 1994).S. takes up the issue of the relationship between the Asian adoptee and Asian American communities. and Gender (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.’ ” positions 4 (winter 1996): 519–568. for a discussion of this dual anxiety of childhood. 52 After writing this essay. “Nostalgia: A Polemic. 45 Gillian Brown. . See Ann Anagnost. I was pleased to note that Good Fortune. a recent video on China adoption produced by Corky Merwin.” Cultural Anthropology 3.Anagnost Scenes of Misrecognition 421 44 See Jacqueline Rose. Space. 49 I review this literature elsewhere in tracking literary representations of the child whose moral and physical being has been contaminated by the nurture of native servants and the displacements that are necessary to ensure the formation of an appropriate class subjectivity. 46 See Kathleen Stewart. 51 I am indebted here to Doreen Massey. See Barry Sautman. 102.” 50 I am especially interested in how these celebratory constructions of Chinese culture are linked to the recent global circulation of a resurgent scientiﬁc racism. Domestic Individualism: Imagining Self in Nineteenth-Century America (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press. no. 48 I am indebted to Kaushik Ghosh for this thought. for how this drama of child nurture and transcendence becomes resigniﬁed in the late twentieth century through the recanonization of a “classical children’s literature. The Case of Peter Pan or the Impossibility of Children’s Fiction (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. for a discussion of the linkage between crafting and the phantasmagoria of latetwentieth-century consumer capitalism in the nostalgic retrieval of a handicraft economy by way of the commodity form. domestic racial politics (the “bell curve” debates and model minority status.
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