Published: April 18, 2016

This Thursday, April 21, Kathryn E. Goldfarb, Assistant Professor in the Department of Anthropology, will present at our last Luncheon Series event of the semester on, "Anonymity, Ancestry, and Family Registry: Adoption Debates in Contemporary Japan."

In 2007, the Catholic Jikei Hospital in Kumamoto Prefecture, Japan, began operating the “kōnotori no yurikago,” or what would quickly become known as the “akachan posuto” or “baby drop box.” The yurikago featured an incubator into which an infant could be anonymously deposited. The issue of anonymity rapidly became a flashpoint for child welfare scholars and practitioners. While hospital representatives emphasized that anonymity was a crucial way to encourage safe relinquishment rather than infanticide, critical voices argued that anonymity benefited the parents but actually harmed the child, who would lack the knowledge about his or her origins that is central to being an “ordinary” person in Japanese society. How should we understand this mechanism of child welfare that proponents say is life-saving, even as its detractors claim that this saved life is denied a fundamental form of social being? This paper takes the debates surrounding the yurikago as a starting point to explore the ways that desires for parental anonymity exist in tension with family registry practices, child welfare discourses regarding a child’s “right to know” his or her ancestry, and the imperative (highlighted often by Jikei Hospital) of “saving a small life,” which, hospital spokespeople argue, is made possible by this very condition of anonymity. I suggest that the continuing controversies surrounding the yurikago illuminate how the act of family registration is a performative mode of social recognition, a type of recognition that users of the yurikago generally hope to avoid.

Kathryn's talk will begin at 12:00 p.m. and will be held in the CAS Conference Room at 1424 Broadway. Lunch will be provided for attendees.