Intimate Speculation: The Flows and Futures of Private Agency Adoption in the United States


Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowships




This dissertation examines how adoptive parents, birthparents, and adoption professionals reformulate kinship in the face of immense uncertainty and risk of failure. The adoptable child has been theorized in certain lay and scholarly discourses as either an affectively imbued gift or a problematically commodified subject. An ethnographic investigation of private agency adoption within the race and class dynamics of Chicago reveals complex circulations of power, knowledge, money, and time that both encompass and transcend gift/commodity models. Imagining the adoptable child as a multivalent and highly contingent imagined future—in which a great deal is invested (money, time, hope, and anxiety)—allows for the conceptual and ethnographic overlap of intimate, economic, and temporal logics. Focusing on the process of adoption rather than its outcomes, this project brings adoption studies into conversation with broader interdisciplinary scholarship on futurity, hope, and risk—shifting the object of analysis from problematic origins to uncertain futures.