Cultural Studies
College of Humanities and Social Sciences

Forging Family: Creating and Perpetuating Collective Memory in Families with Children Adopted from China

Sarah Sweetman

Major Professor: Kelly Schrum, PhD, Higher Education Program

Committee Members: Alison Landsberg, Lisa Gring-Pemble

Research Hall, #162
April 11, 2013, 10:00 AM to 07:00 AM

Abstract:

Families in the United States have adopted close to half a million children, primarily girls, from China. In recent decades, many of these families used adoption websites to save and create memories for their child and new family, inform friends and family about the process, and participate in the larger community of families formed through Chinese adoption. This dissertation asks not only what memory is created in these families, but also how they develop and maintain the memory they create. Earlier explorations of transnational adoption focused on the ways in which children are “kinned” into their new families or the ways mothers practice “culture-keeping” by integrating elements of the child’s birth culture into the family. These two practices seem to be in tension, as kinning seeks to eliminate difference between the child and the family and culture-keeping seeks to reinforce (and celebrate) that difference. This study of seventy-three adoption websites created between 1994 and 2009, however, concludes that there is not a clear tension between kinning and culture-keeping. Instead, these families create culture using stories and symbols developed and disseminated within the larger community of families who have adopted from China, shaped by their perceptions of China, in ways that fit their specific situational needs. Exploring common elements within these websites as well as key silences reveals that this culture creating does not engage with contemporary China, the Chinese-American experience, or the realities of biological parentage. Rather, it serves to mark families as members of a community and to develop collective memory in both the families and this community.

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