Remembering care and caring for memories: adoptees’ sources of self


The intention of this paper is to explore how growing up in an adoptive or foster family shapes the experience of intergenerational memory transmission. This work builds on anthropological approaches to familial and intergenerational memory, in particular, those developed by Lambek and Antze (1996), Carsten (2008) and Lambek (2008; 2014). Three basic propositions guide this exploration. First, caring is understood as a fundamental form of remembering, characteristic of an ethos of kinship (Lambek 2008). Second, remembering is seen as a moral and intersubjective practice that oscillates between the stream of embodied experience and objectified narrative (Lambek 2008). Third, human action is considered as a kind of interpretation of one’s predecessors’ lives (Lambek 2014). This paper argues that since more often than not, adoptees have few sources from which to draw to build their personal identity, they make special efforts to integrate into their life stories fragmented family memories and scant knowledge of their origins both as biological and social beings. These efforts may take various forms. Drawing on five life-story interviews (two from the National Oral History Archive and three that I conducted), I show that these subjects have developed opinions, pursued interests and made crucial decisions based on their interpretation of the lives of their parents and carers. Where adoptees are aware of past acts of care, their practices inspired by these acts may extend a caring attitude across the generations. At the same time, the embodied experience of early abandonment may feed anxiety about interpersonal relationships into adult life. In sharing their recollections, these storytellers convey the fragile balance between feelings of anxiety and care.

Nov 12, 2020 — Nov 13, 2020
Rīga (Latvija)
Agita Lūse

antropoloģe, LU Filozofijas un socioloģijas institūta pētniece