Source: Witt, Charlotte. “Family Resemblances: Adoption, Personal Identity, and Genetic Essentialism.” In Adoption Matters: Philosophical and Feminist Essays. Edited by Sally Haslanger and Charlotte Witt, Pages 112-131. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2005.
Charlotte Witt’s article explores the repercussions of the traditional definition of the family as a biological unit when, in today’s world, an increasing number of families do not fit that mode– whether because of adoption (the focus of our research), the “blending” of families in the case of re-marriage, or other situations. This change in what the American family looks like upsets long-held beliefs relating to what family is and means.
Family resemblance is often a source of self-identity, and is emphasised from an early age. Harry Potter fans will easily recall that Harry “has his mother’s eyes” and the way everyone insisted on telling him so; but how this fact of looking like her hardly made him feel closer to the mother he never knew. The way identity is couched in genetics-based resemblance, how can adopted children forge an identity? Witt comes to the conclusion that resemblance is most often nebulous (you more likely have your great-uncle’s eyes than your mother’s) and is a poor foundation upon which to base any sense of kinship. In this way emphasis on family resemblance (born of the idealization of genetic ties in the modern and historical United States [especially for individuals who feel they have superior genes- think eugenics]) is a detriment to families both united and not united by biology.
Witt, as part of a contemporary community of feminist adoption historians, very interestingly points out in her article that feminist and adoption theory tend to participate in perpetuating the idea that biological family is the ideal. “Feminists, who privilege the maternal relationship and emphasize its gestational and bodily aspects, at the same time privilege a biological view of family relationships” (136). Adoption theorists, among other things, focus on finding ways to make adoptive relationships ‘like’ or ‘as good as’ biological– implying that such relations are not by nature equal to biological parenthood. In this regard Witt offers constructive criticism to the adoption education and social services communities as well. In this Witt reminds us that modern American society still has much to learn and much to improve upon in regard to adoption.