The Circulation of Children

Kinship, Adoption, and Morality in Andean Peru

The Circulation of Children

Latin America Otherwise

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Book Pages: 248 Illustrations: 11 illustrations, 2 maps Published: November 2008

Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, Latin American Studies > Andes, Sociology

In this vivid ethnography, Jessaca B. Leinaweaver explores “child circulation,” informal arrangements in which indigenous Andean children are sent by their parents to live in other households. At first glance, child circulation appears tantamount to child abandonment. When seen in that light, the practice is a violation of international norms regarding children’s rights, guidelines that the Peruvian state relies on in regulating legal adoptions. Leinaweaver demonstrates that such an understanding of the practice is simplistic and misleading. Her in-depth ethnographic analysis reveals child circulation to be a meaningful, pragmatic social practice for poor and indigenous Peruvians, a flexible system of kinship that has likely been part of Andean lives for centuries. Child circulation may be initiated because parents cannot care for their children, because a childless elder wants company, or because it gives a young person the opportunity to gain needed skills.

Leinaweaver provides insight into the emotional and material factors that bring together and separate indigenous Andean families in the highland city of Ayacucho. She describes how child circulation is intimately linked to survival in the city, which has had to withstand colonialism, economic isolation, and the devastating civil war unleashed by the Shining Path. Leinaweaver examines the practice from the perspective of parents who send their children to live in other households, the adults who receive them, and the children themselves. She relates child circulation to international laws and norms regarding children’s rights, adoptions, and orphans, and to Peru’s history of racial conflict and violence. Given that history, Leinaweaver maintains that it is not surprising that child circulation, a practice associated with Peru’s impoverished indigenous community, is alternately ignored, tolerated, or condemned by the state.


The Circulation of Children is an important contribution to the literature on kinship, on family making in the Andes, and on global forms of child circulation. Its greatest strengths are its straightforward and sympathetic approach, delivered with minimum jargon and a useful level of reflexivity. . . . On the whole, this book delivers a nuanced, compelling, and deeply empathetic account of the circulation of children and its intersection with race, class, and global political economy.” — Jan Newberry, International Journal of Sociology of the Family

“I applaud the author for writing a book that raises so many compelling questions, and does so in an accessible and engaging manner. This book will be a welcome text for undergraduate courses on Latin America, the global politics of adoption, contemporary kinship studies and the anthropology of emotions.” — Kimberly Theidon, A Contracorriente

“Jessaca Leinaweaver has produced a provocative, engrossing and informative work on what she has termed ‘child circulation’ in the Peruvian Andes, exploring its social and moral consequences in light of recent changes in international and domestic law.” — Ronald E. Ahnen, Bulletin of Latin American Research

“Leinaweaver’s book is timely because it offers a new analytical framework to study classical anthropological issues such as kinship, adoption and morality. It is gracefully written and applies a ‘thick description’ approach that carefully guides the reader through the many complicated meanings and uses of child circulation in Peru. In essence, it is exemplary of how modern ethnographies can be written and is a welcome read for both scholars and students interested in Latin America, kinship, generation, inequality, gender and migration.” — Karsten Paerregaard, Social Anthropology

“Leinaweaver’s monograph is the first extended description and analysis of a process that is widely referenced in the ethnography of childhood, namely, distributed child care. . . . This is a very readable book and its topic is quite timely. I would recommend it as a supplemental text for classes on the anthropology of childhood.” — David F. Lancy, Journal of Anthropological Research

“Leinaweaver’s work contributes a critical exploration of the mutual constitution of family, society, and the modern state in Peru, with ethnographic illustrations that enable readers to grasp the everyday local and broadly global dimensions of relatedness in Andean society. Her rapport with Andean families as providers and receivers of children, adoption office staff, and international adoptive parents precludes any easy criticism of those participating in either traditional child circulation or modern adoption. She instead offers a more textured representation of these complex social relations.” — Florence E. Babb, Signs

“This ethnography will be of great interest to specialists in Andean studies, kinship studies, human rights studies, and childhood studies, and it would be an ideal selection for a variety of graduate or undergraduate courses. . . . [A] fine, holistic, and provocative ethnography of childhood mobility in Andean Peru.” — Michael D. Hill, American Ethnologist

“This is an excellent account of the many pathways stemmed with obstacles and moral dilemmas that arise when children are move from their natal parents’ homes to be raised by relatives, by other people, in institutions, or adopted abroad.” — Enrique Mayer, Journal of Latin American and Caribbean Anthropology

“This relatively short and very interesting book will be useful well beyond the field of anthropology. Certainly this book makes a contribution to international understandings of social policy, and would be of use in university courses concerned with international social work or global health. This is an accessible text, nicely described and nuanced, that explains a great deal about social relations that apply far beyond the Andes. . . . Leinaweaver also has something very important to say about transnational adoption, social inequalities and their relationship to the global economic context.” — Karen Swift, Health

“Without a doubt, The Circulation of Children advances anthropological understanding of the social, historical, and conceptual underpinnings of chidren’s movements between households within Peru. Specialists in the Andes and Latin America, kinship, youth, and migration will find the book distinctive in its focus. Engagingly written, the book will extend discussion in graduate and upper-level undergraduate classrooms especially when this specific case is located in a broader theoretical or comparative context.” — Krista E. Van Vleet, American Anthropologist

The Circulation of Children is a real contribution to several fields, including kinship studies and Andean studies. Jessaca B. Leinaweaver has done substantial fieldwork in an important region of South America on a topic of great current interest and lasting scholarly importance.” — Mary Weismantel, author of Cholas and Pishtacos: Stories of Race and Sex in the Andes

“In this highly readable, quite original study of the practice of child circulation, Jessaca B. Leinaweaver discusses the social, economic, racial, gender, legal, and moral contours of that practice; locates it in a complex web of local, regional, and national vectors of culture and power; and offers a nuanced interpretation of it as neither entirely benevolent nor completely exploitative. Leinaweaver is respectful and empathetic, and her book is rich in ethnographic information, thick descriptions, and personal stories.” — Carlos Aguirre, author of The Criminals of Lima and Their Worlds: The Prison Experience, 1850–1935


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Jessaca B. Leinaweaver is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Brown University.

Table of Contents Back to Top
About the Series vii

Acknowledgments ix

A Note on Translation xiii

Introduction: Moving Children in Ayacucho 1

1. Ayacucho: Histories of Violence and Ethnography 21

2. International Adoption: The Globalization of Kinship 37

3. Puericulture and Andean Orphanhood 61

4. Companionship and Custom: The Mechanics of Child Circulation 81

5. Superación: The Strategic Uses of Child Circulation 105

6. Pertenecer: Knowledge and Kinship 134

7. Circulating Children, at Home and Abroad 154

Glossary 163

Notes 165

Bibliography 195

Index 213
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Winner, 2010 Margaret Mead Award, presented by the Society for Applied Anthropology

Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4197-0 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4181-9
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