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Making and Breaking Kinship Ties: Informal Intra-Family Adoptions

Louise Protar

Research Framework: This article looks at informal intra-family adoptions in French Polynesia and in Kiriwina, Papua New Guinea.

Objectives : It provides a cross-cultural analysis framework of the different forms of children’s circulation.

Methodology: The observations and interviews analyzed are based on two ethnographic surveys. My analysis of the life trajectories of people involved in adoptions is connected to the literature on the circulation of children and recent work in the anthropology of kinship.

Results: Informal intra-family adoptions are characterized by the existence of a kinship relationship between birth parents and adoptive parents, and the absence of a legal framework. The term informal refers to the flexibility and versatility of the kinning process. This process has a material dimension, and is constructed through parental work, economic transactions and transmission practices. Its temporality, essential to its understanding, is not linear: adoptions can be undone and some biographical periods are conducive to undoing or forging adoptive ties. Relatedness also involves discourse, and in particular the adoption story, which produces intentionality and expresses affects.

Conclusion : In the absence of formalized filiation, informal adoptions are based on an accumulation of acts, material and symbolic, punctual and regular, performed by parents, other family members and the children themselves. These actions produce attachment.

Contribution : This article draws on a description of contemporary adoptive practices in two different Pacific societies to develop a transversal analytical proposal that contributes to the comparative study of the circulation of children as well as to the conceptualization of kinship.