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Title: Morality on the Margins: Fostering Disabled Children in Contemporary China
Authors: Raffety, Erin L.
Advisors: Clark-Deces, Isabelle
Contributors: Anthropology Department
Keywords: disability
foster care
Subjects: Cultural anthropology
Asian studies
Individual & family studies
Issue Date: 2015
Publisher: Princeton, NJ : Princeton University
Abstract: This dissertation challenges scholarly claims that suggest that Chinese society and Chinese families are in moral decline by detailing creative family-making processes by individuals living on the margins of society. While the turn of the twenty-first century boom in international adoptions and China's surplus of baby girls have drawn attention from scholars and the general public, the recent disproportionate abandonment of children with physical and mental impairments, numbering in the millions, remains unexamined. This ethnographic research, based on fieldwork carried out in the Guangxi Autonomous Region between 2010 and 2012, shows how through foster care, poor, elderly women and abandoned, disabled children, both on the fringes of China's kin-oriented society, establish alternative family bonds that are economically and socially meaningful. Foster relationships, in their unique ability to create mutual obligation among strangers that transcend blood relations, challenge foundational state and societal boundaries of kinship in China. Therefore, this dissertation posits that modernity might not be necessarily destructive, but rather, instrumental in shaping new kinds of family. While literature in China Studies tends to emphasize social change, social immorality, and the influence of the Chinese state, this dissertation also draws attention to moments of continuity in Chinese childrearing practices, morality that has surfaced along the margins of China's modern society, and the potential of ethnography to illuminate the humanity of state actors and complicate monolithic theories of the state. Despite the social disability that impaired children and poor, elderly women experience due to their social abandonment in a kin-oriented society, this dissertation shows that the bonds they develop through fosterage reintegrate them into family and society, recuperating their social personhood and rehabilitating their social status. Despite certain legal and cultural limitations of this personhood, these bonds of fosterage often exceed the bounds of contractual kinship, thus unsettling normative understandings of family held by state orphanage officials and INGO caregivers. Therefore, despite their seemingly marginal character, foster families powerfully disrupt mainstream ideas of about what family means in China today.
Alternate format: The Mudd Manuscript Library retains one bound copy of each dissertation. Search for these copies in the library's main catalog
Type of Material: Academic dissertations (Ph.D.)
Language: en
Appears in Collections:Anthropology

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