The Politics of Adoption

From Basic Bioethics

The Politics of Adoption

Gender and the Making of French Citizenship

By Bruno Perreau

Translated by Deke Dusinberre

An argument that French adoption policies reflect and enforce the state's notions of gender, parenthood, and citizenship.





An argument that French adoption policies reflect and enforce the state's notions of gender, parenthood, and citizenship.

In May 2013, after months of controversy, France legalized same-sex marriage and adoption by homosexual couples. Obstacles to adoption and parenting equality remain, however—many of them in the form of cultural and political norms reflected and expressed in French adoption policies. In The Politics of Adoption, Bruno Perreau describes the evolution of these policies. In the past thirty years, Perreau explains, political and intellectual life in France have been dominated by debates over how to preserve “Frenchness,” and these debates have driven policy making. Adoption policies, he argues, link adoption to citizenship, reflecting and enforcing the postcolonial state's notions of parenthood, gender, and Frenchness.

After reviewing the complex history of adoption, Perreau examines French political debates over adoption, noting, among other things, that intercountry adoptions stirred far less controversy than the difference between the sexes in an adopting couple. He also discusses judicial action on adoption; child welfare agencies as gatekeepers to parenthood (as defined by experts); the approval process from the viewpoints of social workers and applicants; and adoption's link to citizenship, and its use as a metaphor for belonging.

Adopting a Foucaultian perspective, Perreau calls the biopolitics of adoption “pastoral”: it manages the individual for the good of the collective “flock”; it considers itself outside politics; and it considers not so much the real behavior of individuals as an allegorical representation of them. His argument sheds new light on American debates on bioethics, identity, and citizenship.


$35.00 X ISBN: 9780262027229 240 pp. | 6 in x 9 in


Deke Dusinberre.


  • In The Politics of Adoption, Perreau offers an account of the public and private distinction in French politics and considers in particular forms of state action, distinguishing between the sphere of what is legally sanctioned and what is practically undertaken. He traces how the changing notion of the 'couple' affects both French and wider European adoption law. Moreover, he is able to think through this problem in the context of changing notions of kinship, filiation, and parentage, noting in particular how conventionally private concerns not only become matters of state interest, but also come to reconfigure the relationship between the state and the public sphere. His work engages discursive and institutional analyses, anthropological perspectives as well as political theory, and along the way he shows us how key concepts such as truth and action have been effectively reformulated in the context of the contemporary challenge of adoption law and public policy. Whereas one might expect a single-issue politics from such a study, one receives instead a way of understanding adoption policy as no less than a way of rearticulating political modernity.

    Judith Butler

    author of Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity

  • Bruno Perreau welds together conceptual analysis, history, social science, and legislative history to show how adoption policies in France express ideas of human nature, human relationships, and even national identity. In a well-executed analysis, Perreau shows that adoption policies in France are not an extension of 'nature' but expressions of cultural ideals and exertions of power. The timely analysis here is of interest to everyone working in the fields of adoption, assisted reproduction, bioethics, child advocacy, and gender studies.

    Timothy F. Murphy

    University of Illinois College of Medicine at Chicago

  • Perreau provides a fascinating, compelling, and highly accessible account of the history of adoption regulations and practices in France. This book will be invaluable to anyone interested in the intersection of gender, sexual orientation, and the law and politics of adoption.

    Carlos A. Ball

    author of Same-Sex Marriage and Children and Distinguished Professor of Law, Rutgers University

  • The Politics of Adoption, while it is focused on the French case, also examines different procedures and concepts of parenthood and eligibility for adoption in the United States, to shed light on the distinctive features of French law. The treatment is exhaustive, covering the history of adoption, law, political debates, and questions of national identity. The study is enriched by interviews with those involved in adopting (social workers, judges, birth and adoptive parents). The insight we gain into the complexities and psychic costs of the process are rich and complex. Debates about gay adoption (different as they are here and in France) gain new clarity in the course of reading this engaging and informative book.

    Joan W. Scott

    Harold F. Linder Professor of Social Science, Institute for Advanced Study