Fostering Feelings: The Political Economy of Paid Foster Care Work in US-Guatemalan Transnational Adoption
Degree awarded: Ph.D. Anthropology. American University
Adopting children from other countries has become an increasingly prevalent way to create and expand families in the United States. A surge in transnational adoption began at the end of World War II as a humanitarian response to orphaned children. By 2006, Guatemala had become second only to China in the number of children adopted from abroad but, per capita, was the largest source of children adopted to the US. One of the factors that contributed to prospective adoptive parents' decision to adopt from Guatemala was the use of private foster care. In Guatemala, foster mothers, usually working class women, provided babies and young children with temporary homes before the children were moved to permanent homes, typically in developed countries with relatively affluent parents. Adoption agencies in the United States advertised their services noting that this private foster system provided a developmentally healthier and more loving environment for children than traditional institutional care facilities like orphanages. Yet, transnational adoption was also part of a market in which money was exchanged for services. Foster mothers were part of this private-sector market and received monetary compensation for their services. Based on interviews with Guatemalan foster mothers, fostering was a special type of job; it was paid maternal care work that involved both economic and deeply affective relationships. Since the women fostered children within a context in which cultural notions such as "care" and "work," and "kinship" and "economy" are understood as separate categories, their paid foster mothering was an ambiguous position because it could be understood both as a caring, kin-like relationship and as economic work. This dissertation examines the meanings that Guatemalan foster mothers gave to the particular bundle of commodified labor and affective caring involved in their paid care work within the context of transnational adoption. The intention of this project is to understand how the women experienced their care work, that is, what the women thought and felt about fostering children in their homes. Such an understanding must include how the larger political economic context in which fostering occurred informed and shaped the women's experiences.
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