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History of Child Adoption in Europe

Benedikt Stuchtey

This project of a history of child adoption in Europe in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries will initially concentrate on the United Kingdom and Germany but will later probably be extended to other West-European countries. It aims at showing the social and cultural as well as political and economic aspects of adoption as part of an extended history of childhood and family. Adoption mirrors our understanding of the constantly changing image of the family in society. In the form of inter-country adoption it is also relevant for our historical and contemporary idea of globalisation. Which different legal developments, public and parliamentary debates can be traced? Which institutional frameworks developed; when and how did the process of adoption become professionalized? Under which social and political circumstances did adoption become a major topic for public debate; which role did family politics play, and how did competition between the different political and ecclesiastical welfare institutions come about in questions such as who was responsible for and in control of the whole process of adoption? How far can we and must we take emotional aspects into account? Given the different images of family in history, equally different social and cultural models of adoption competed with each other under the impact of national traditions and trans-national influences. Thus this book project also aims to show the tensions between private and public interest groups as well as the process of professionalization, institutionalization, and standardization of adoption. It will have to address a number of questions and problems involving the child, the birth parents, and the adoptive parents, and including the adoption agencies. The identity of the child, the normalization of adoptive parenthood and the expectations of the family as the nucleus of society will be illustrated. To this extent the intimate space of those directly involved will be extended to include those who actively contribute to the individual adoption, be it the state or the local agency.