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Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law

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This Article traces the genealogies of intercountry adoption, human rights, and neoliberalism and explains how they converge. Part I examines adoption genealogies, noting that “stranger” adoption erases genealogy, eliminating the legal and social consequences of an illegitimate birth and giving the child a new legal identity. This Part then describes the globalization of adoption after World War II, including the paradox of “saving” children by sending them away, and the futility of erasing genealogy when it is as plain as the nose on a child’s face, or the shape of her eyes, or the color of her skin.

Part II sets out the genealogies of the human rights which should govern adoption and explains why, for the most part, they don’t. There are multiple human rights instruments and multiple human rights movements, and they overlap and build on each other in complicated ways. These include a rich genealogy of children’s rights as well as the story of a “world made new” after World War II. The entire array of human rights has been challenged, however, their intricate networks sliced through in favor of a new pop-up conception of human rights that emerged “seemingly out of nowhere” in the 1970s.

Part III zooms out from the intimate scale of intercountry adoption, and the broader but still insistently human scale of human rights, to situate the preceding genealogies within the massive project of globalized neoliberalism. It tracks the genealogy of neoliberalism, from its intellectual origins, through the Washington Consensus, up through the global recession and the shaky recovery.

Part IV explains when, and why, genealogy matters in these contexts. Genealogy matters, for example, when the Haitian orphans “rescued” after the earthquake turned out not to be orphans at all. It matters when the affluence of the industrialized West is conflated with “human rights” to which all must aspire. It matters in this time of unprecedented inequality, when, as Thomas Piketty has shown, birth predicts wealth as certainly as it did during the Gilded Age. This Part concludes that genealogy matters now because it reminds us where we come from and how we got here, exposing “what currently remains hidden in plain sight;” that is, the runaway train of global capitalism, which commodifies everything in its path, including babies and human rights.


Early versions of this Article were presented at the Institute for Global Law and Policy at Harvard Law School, the New York Family Law Scholars Workshop at Cardozo Law School; the Workshop on Childhood, Vulnerability and Resilience at Emory Law School; the Hofstra Faculty Workshop and the Human Rights and Family Law Panel at the AALS Annual Meeting in New York.

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