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The origins of Korean adoption : Cold War geopolitics and intimate diplomacy

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  • The origins of Korean adoption
  • Kim, Eleana
  • U.S.-Korea Institute at SAIS


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Title The origins of Korean adoption
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Sub Title

Cold War geopolitics and intimate diplomacy

Material Type Reports
Author(English)

Kim, Eleana

Publisher

Washington, D.C. : U.S.-Korea Institute at SAIS

Date 2009-10
Series Title; No Working Paper Series / 09-09
Pages 26
Subject Country South Korea(Asia and Pacific)
Language English
File Type Link
Subject Social Development < Others
Holding U.S.-Korea Institute at SAIS
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Abstract

The adoption of children from South Korea to the West has been ongoing since the end of the Korean War in 1953. During the past half century, more than 200,000 children have been adopted into predominantly white families in Western Europe, North America, and Australia. This paper examines the origins of Korean adoption in the immediate postwar period, showing how the first adoptions of Korean boys by American servicemen gave way to the adoptions of mixed-race, and then full- Korean children into nuclear families. I elaborate on a little-known history of Korean transnational adoption to understand more fully how particular “technologies of intimacy,” including those related to legislation, transportation, communications, and especially mass media and financial sponsorships, facilitated the transfer of children from Korea to the U.S., and how these technologies were informed by and reproduced paternalistic relations between Americans and Koreans in the context of the Cold War. In addition, I focus on how sentimentalized images of “orphans” symbolically neutralized and depoliticized highly political contexts, and also on how the exchange and transfer of actual children in adoption mediated geopolitical relations between states. Through these neutralizing and mediating roles, “Korean orphans” linked the U.S. biopolitical order, ideologies of family and childhood, and Cold War geopolitical interests with South Korea’s own biopolitical, nation-building and diplomatic exigencies. Viewing Korean adoption through this lens reveals connections between biopolitical projects and the production of domestic intimacies (Stoler 2001, 2003), and between international migrations of children and political economic processes. It also denaturalizes a dominant narrative that equates transnational adoption with humanitarianism by contextualizing it with respect to Cold War geopolitics and American moral and cultural hegemony in the post-WWII period.