Usually when we think of adoption, we think of the people involved: birthmothers, babies, adoptive parents…social workers, counselors and therapists…we are tied to the personal stories of the people who live the experience of being born into one family and raised in another. The research methodology of disciplines like psychology, sociology, and anthropology, as well as law and history, all are used to help explain and explore the various aspects of this form of creating kinship.
Although I’m currently fascinated with social work as a discipline and practice, I still find myself using the lens of geography to explore and illuminate the complexities of adoption. As an undergraduate geography major, I was introduced to some of the wonderfully diverse tools at a geographer’s disposal (yes, geography is more than maps!).
Geography, at its core, is the study of the earth. You can’t get more broad than that. But what really makes geographers tick (and what distinguishes them from geologists), is that the focus of their study is the intersection of the earth with humanity…that is, the human dimensions of landscape. It is not enough to understand the physical earth, with its plants and animals and ecological processes. We also strive to understand how humans relate to and with this land, and how that connection and relationship changes in different parts of the world. In a nutshell: What is our human connection to space and place? How are we influenced by and how do we influence the places in which we live?
This, in my mind, makes geography an ideal lens with which to explore adoption, because adoption is very much a spatial phenomena. Children are born in one place, in one culture, in one family, and then migrate through systems (political, economic, social, cultural) to be raised in a new place, with a new culture, in a new family. We can track and measure and record these transactions using the geographer’s favorite tool: the map.
But beyond this, the lens of geography gives us a broader scope with which to view this very individual and personal phenomena. We can look at it on the macro-level, as a migration, or diaspora, rather than as a psychological analysis of individuals. We can consider the physical and social conditions under which adoption became necessary in the first place, we can track the migration of children from one place to another, and we can explore the impact that this migration has on not only the individual sense of self, but also on the collective understanding of what it means to be from a place.
This is just one of the many reasons why I fell in love with geography as an undergraduate student. It provided me with a language with which to explore and understand my experience as an adoptee. It gave context to my deep desire to find connection with place in my life. And it fueled a life-long desire to continue to understand how exactly humans (and especially adoptees) connect with place and space in their lives.
Traditionally, geography is a study of the external world–the physical land itself, and the oceans, and the various cycles and systems of air and water and earth and how they intersect with the human landscape. But there is also an internal geography to adoption, and I am also compelled to explore this internal space, which has no place, and is located somewhere different for each adoptee. What are the contours of this space of longing and questioning? How does it change over time? What places erode, and what new lands are born?
And so, the sub-title of this blog is exploring the geography of transnational adoption. This is a space, both literally and figuratively, to explore what it means to be transplanted from one geographic location to another…the what’s, how’s, why’s when’s, and of course, the where’s of adoption. This is the lens I use, because it makes the most sense to me…but of course, I welcome discussion from other experiences and disciplines. We have much to learn from each other, and I am eager to begin the conversation.