Monday, October 14, 2013

Linda J. Seligmann's "Broken Links, Enduring Ties"

Linda Seligmann is Professor of Anthropology and Director of Graduate Programs in Anthropology at George Mason University. Her research and analysis has appeared in national newspapers and journals, including The Washington Post and on National Public Radio. She is the author of Between Reform and Revolution: Political Struggles in the Peruvian Andes, 1969-1991 (1995) and Women Traders in Cross-Cultural Perspective: Mediating Identities, Marketing Wares (2001).

Seligmann applied the “Page 99 Test” to her latest book, Broken Links, Enduring Ties: American Adoption across Race, Class, and Nation, and reported the following:
I wrote Broken Links, Enduring Ties to draw attention to the cultural assumptions that underlie family-making in America, particularly through adoption. Page 99 does reveal “the quality of the whole,” the constant movement I try to depict in my book between broken links and enduring ties in the course of family making among adoptive families with children from China and Russia, and transracial adoptive families with African American children. This page dwells on how adoptive parents of children from China create and use lifebooks to build memories for their children. Children who have been adopted frequently have few, if any, details about their early years. Lifebooks have become a central part of family- and place-making for adoptive families. They are one way they address broken links and process what will always be unknown, as well as to acknowledge and make explicit the loss, sadness, and anger their children may feel over time. Adoptive parents and their children revisit the lifebooks over time, finding different things in them and new sentiments about images and texts they’ve already seen. These lifebooks are patterned but also unique. Here, Ruth and Dan tell how they have used the vehicle of a lifebook to talk to Bella about being adopted since she was 18 months old. Ruth told me, “Up until recently, I haven’t said anything about a birth mother, but we’re starting to kind of weave that in….” Also on this page, Marge passionately defends her decision to ensure that her daughter Tess’s lifebook not be a whitewashed narrative. Many adoptive parents deliberately leave things out of lifebooks they think are ugly, painful, or shameful about how they came to be a family. Marge reasoned, “I really want to teach her that her story is hers and she never has to edit her story or her feelings about it for my benefit…. I’ve seen a lot of lifebooks that were very pretty and were very neatly packaged stories, and I just decided not to do that because I’s for her, it’s not for me…there aren’t tidy little edges….” Too often we hear only from adoptive parents. In my book, the voices of birth family members, adopted children, teens, and young adults, and teachers, administrators, religious leaders, and adoption brokers—come to life in the struggles they encounter, the roles that religion, spirituality, and the embrace of “intelligent design” play in the choices they make, their experiences with turbulent undercurrents of racism in America, the innovative experiments and rituals they arrive at to counter traditional school assignments on family trees, for example, and the burgeoning adoptive youth movement that youth and young adult adoptees have spearheaded. The structuring of lifebooks reflects the broader canvas on which family-making through adoption unfolds.
Learn more about Broken Links, Enduring Ties at the Stanford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue