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Kinship by Design

A History of Adoption in the Modern United States

Kinship by Design

A History of Adoption in the Modern United States

What constitutes a family? Tracing the dramatic evolution of Americans’ answer to this question over the past century, Kinship by Design provides the fullest account to date of modern adoption’s history.
            Beginning in the early 1900s, when children were still transferred between households by a variety of unregulated private arrangements, Ellen Herman details efforts by the U.S. Children’s Bureau and the Child Welfare League of America to establish adoption standards in law and practice. She goes on to trace Americans’ shifting ideas about matching children with physically or intellectually similar parents, revealing how research in developmental science and technology shaped adoption as it navigated the nature-nurture debate.
            Concluding with an insightful analysis of the revolution that ushered in special needs, transracial, and international adoptions, Kinship by Design ultimately situates the practice as both a different way to make a family and a universal story about love, loss, identity, and belonging. In doing so, this volume provides a new vantage point from which to view twentieth-century America, revealing as much about social welfare, statecraft, and science as it does about childhood, family, and private life.

368 pages | 15 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2008

Culture Studies

History: American History

History of Science

Psychology: Social Psychology

Social Work

Sociology: Sociology--Marriage and Family


"Herman limns the shifting paradigms of kinship with thorough research, careful analysis, and incisive prose. . . . Deeply thoughtful and beautifully wrought, Kinship by Design is a history animated by ethical and existential concerns."

Barbara Melosh | Women's Review of Books

"This well-researched, informative, and thought-provoking book raises questions about the role of professionals, the state, and culture in family engineering, and whether the intellectual and cultural revolution in private life in the last century, or new reproductive medical technologies, are always progressive."


Table of Contents

Introduction: Family Making in an Age of Uncertainty

Part 1: Regulation and Interpretation, 1900–1945
1. The Perils of Money and Sentiment (and Custom, Accident, Impulse, Intuition, Common Sense, Faith, and Bad Blood)
2. Making Adoption Governable
3. Rules for Realness

Part 2: Standardization and Naturalization, 1930–1960
4.Matching and the Mirror of Nature
5.The Measure of Other People’s Children

Part 3: Difference and Damage, 1945–1975
6.Adoption Revolutions
7. The Difference Difference Makes
8. Damaged Children, Therapeutic Lives
Epilogue: Reckoning with Risk

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