Blood and Water: American Adoption Stories – Kith, Kin, and Family (2005)

Source: Haslanger, Sally Anne., and Charlotte Witt. Adoption Matters: Philosophical and Feminist Essays. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2005.

In the opening essay of the compilation Adoption Matters: Philosophical and Feminist Essays, Sally Anne Haslanger and Charlotte Witt, feminist historians, explore the epistemology of the words “kith” and “kin”. Whereas we treat kith and kin as synonyms today, the epistemological meanings of the words are different.

Kith: Knowledge of or acquaintance with something. “A place known or familiar. One’s native land. Home.” (Haslanger, 2)

Kin: “A class, group or division.” Anything with common attributes. Denotes commonality in biological attributes in particular. (2)

“Although the family is often thought to be the basic and natural form of social life for human beings, adoption highlights the powerful role that law and politics play in shaping families and our ideas about these families” (Haslanger, 1). Haslanger and Witt’s compilation reveals how, by extension, the study of adoption sheds light on American assumptions about “what in human life is natural and what is social” (1) as well as the ways in which “unstated assumptions” about race, identity, and the “natural” form of the family shape the social norms and federal laws pertaining to adoption. Studying adoption also contributes to the exploration of philosophical and feminist issues. “This is hardly surprising, since the family lies at the intersection of nature and culture, and it embodies, and is shaped by, both social and legal norms” (15). Haslanger and Witt offer in their text a compelling argument that adoption is in many ways a feminist issue. 

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5 thoughts on “Blood and Water: American Adoption Stories – Kith, Kin, and Family (2005)

  1. The idea of Kith vs Kin is interesting. I wonder what approach we take when addressing adopted children. Is it more important for our children to feel as if they have kith or kin? It would be interesting to study whether adopted adolescents do better in families that they perceive as similar or if they live in similar places.

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    1. In my experience, Kin (as defined in the article) was never very important for me. I always wanted to know if my birth family was “okay”– if that makes sense (like not in a crack house somewhere)– And I had an interest in knowing my ancestral background, but other than that I didn’t feel not knowing my kin was a huge loss. I felt and still feel that my family is my family. Period.

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  2. Is adoption a feminist issue because it gives women an alternative avenue to having children, bu which they can defy the negative outlook on female infertility? How do Haslanger and Witt define adoption in terms of feminism?

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  3. I love the insinuation that because adoption is a feminist issue, women shape social norms and federal laws pertaining to adoption. Whether or not this is the reality, the thought is provoking. The distinction between kin and kith is wonderful as well – particularly by applying these concepts of family life within Native American Society, the history we read not only becomes more feminine, but also less eurocentric.

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  4. I did not know that kith and kin were often seen as having the same meaning in modern context. I am not very familiar with the word kith though, my field does not use it. Has the evolution of adoption from natural families lead to more interracial adoption?

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