Adopted Territory

Transnational Korean Adoptees and the Politics of Belonging

Adopted Territory

Book Pages: 344 Illustrations: 15 photographs, 4 tables Published: November 2010

Author: Eleana J. Kim

Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, Asian American Studies, Asian Studies > East Asia

Since the end of the Korean War, an estimated 200,000 children from South Korea have been adopted into white families in North America, Europe, and Australia. While these transnational adoptions were initiated as an emergency measure to find homes for mixed-race children born in the aftermath of the war, the practice grew exponentially from the 1960s through the 1980s. At the height of South Korea’s “economic miracle,” adoption became an institutionalized way of dealing with poor and illegitimate children. Most of the adoptees were raised with little exposure to Koreans or other Korean adoptees, but as adults, through global flows of communication, media, and travel, they have come into increasing contact with each other, Korean culture, and the South Korean state. Since the 1990s, as Korean children have continued to leave to be adopted in the West, a growing number of adult adoptees have been returning to Korea to seek their cultural and biological origins. In this fascinating ethnography, Eleana J. Kim examines the history of Korean adoption, the emergence of a distinctive adoptee collective identity, and adoptee returns to Korea in relation to South Korean modernity and globalization. Kim draws on interviews with adult adoptees, social workers, NGO volunteers, adoptee activists, scholars, and journalists in the U.S., Europe, and South Korea, as well as on observations at international adoptee conferences, regional organization meetings, and government-sponsored motherland tours.


“By examining the dynamic history and relations among the concerned state actors, international and domestic adoption agencies, adoptee advocacy groups, and individual adoptees and their self-governance groups, Kim expands existing scholarship within Korean studies on the geopolitics of intimacy . . . and neoliberal and developmentalist modernity. . . . Adopted Territory may be of particular interest to scholars in the fields of Korean studies, Asian and Asian American studies, and anthropology.” — EuyRyung Jun, Journal of Asian Studies

“Students and scholars of social and cultural anthropology, transnational identity and Korean and Asian American Studies will find Dr. Kim’s ethnography particularly informative. . . . Adopted Territory cogently argues the transformative potential of adoptee discourses on the inaccurate representations of adoptees as orphans and children, and the ideal family as a nuclear unit, and on challenging the state in social welfare provision. At the very least, for readers, it will re-shape conceptualizations of Korean identity and belonging.” — Ann H. Kim, Ethnic and Racial Studies

“This scholarly study is of importance well beyond the Korean context.” — Shurlee Swain, Asian Studies Review

Adopted Territory is truly a groundbreaking publication. It not only contributes to the new fields of Korean adoption studies, adoption cultural studies and critical adoption studies that have emerged lately, but also to the unfortunately still too territorialized fields of Asian studies and Korean studies, which still need to become transnationalized and not just include diasporic Asians and Koreans on the research agenda, but also embrace such previously discarded, forgotten and ‘non-authentic’ subjects as adoptees living in Western countries.” — Tobias Hübinette, Pacific Affairs

Adopted Territory, Eleana Kim’s powerful and innovative book about Korean transnational adoption, brings both intellectual rigor and a fresh approach to the study of adoptive kinship.” — Barbara Yngvesson, American Ethnologist

“Eleana Kim’s is a rare book: a remarkable history unfolded before her ethnographic eyes. . . . Adopted Territory should enjoy the scholarly attention of those with interests n kinship, family, globalization, and nationalism. . . . I am confident that readers will stand convinced that it tells a very large story about our times and cultural predicaments. I look forward to teaching it in courses on the anthropology of the family, Asian America, and the contemporary Koreas.” — Nancy Abelmann, Anthropological Quarterly

“The many strengths of Adopted Territory are solidified by Kim’s lucid and stylishly crafted prose. One is propelled through the book by a beautiful balance of detailed empirical accounts and judicious use of cultural theory. . . . Kim’s work is an altogether new treatment of a number of themes known to transnational adoption scholars, defamiliarizing territory we thought we knew. At the same time, it will familiarize scholars from a number of other fields with the importance of adoptees’ stories and histories to transnational counterpublics.” — Sara Dorow, Contemporary Sociology

“The reviewer, the father of two adopted Korean–British sons, found this work to be rich in its many observations and comments, its anecdotes and personal stories. . . . [A] worthwhile read for anyone with an interest in the social history of contemporary East Asia, transnational adoption, and North American–European social issues.”
— James H. Grayson, Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies

Adopted Territory is a tour de force, masterfully traversing a complex transnational terrain that is at once overtly public involving multiple vested interests and competing agendas, and intensely personal and emotive.” — Jessica Walton, Anthropological Forum

Adopted Territory is the best and most thorough treatment of transnational adoption that I have seen. Eleana J. Kim provides sophisticated analyses of Korean overseas adoption to the United States, and South Korean history and state politics, within the contexts of cold war geopolitics and the rise of the American empire, while also attending to issues of nation, race, citizenship, gender, social class, and culture. The breadth, depth, and scope of Kim’s analyses contribute importantly to our understanding of the people and the phenomenon. Her well-contextualized and sensitive discussions of adoptee subjectivities are of particular interest.” — Elaine H. Kim, University of California, Berkeley

“This truly remarkable ethnography chronicles the birth and first generation of the global Korean adoptee movement. Adopted Territory brilliantly asserts that the movement is born of a powerful historical conjuncture among: the U.S.’s millennial culture of multiculturalism; South Korea’s aggressive globalization regimes and emergent democratic civil society; and adoptees coming of age. Adopted Territory offers also a sophisticated study of family, kinship, and nation through the challenging lens of adoption which Eleana J. Kim declares a veritable ‘catalyst for social transformation.’ A beautifully crafted multi-sited ethnography, Adopted Territory will no doubt enjoy a vibrant intellectual life.” — Nancy Abelmann, author of The Intimate University: Korean American Students and the Problems of Segregation


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Eleana J. Kim is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of Rochester.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments ix

Notes on Transliteration, Terminology, and Pseudonyms xiii

Abbreviations xvii

Introduction: Understanding Transnational Korean Adoption 1

Part I

1. "Waifs" and "Orphans": The Origins of Korean Adoption 43

2. Adoptee Kinship 83

3. Adoptee Cultural Citizenship 101

4. Public Intimacies and Private Politics 133

Part II

5. Our Adoptee, Our Alien: Adoptees as Specters of Family and Foreignness in Global Korea 171

6. Made in Korea: Adopted Koreans and Native Koreans in the Motherland 211

7. Beyond Good and Evil: The Moral Economies of Children and Their Best Interests in a Global Age 249

Notes 269

Works Cited 291

Index 311
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Winner, 2012 James B. Palais Book Prize in Korean Studies, Northeast Asia Council, Association of Asian Studies

Winner, 2012 Social Sciences Book Award, Association of Asian American Studies

Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4695-1 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4683-8
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