Grant TypeDissertation Fieldwork Grant
Institutional AffiliationCalifornia, Irvine, U. of
Grant numberGr. 10093
Approve DateApril 8, 2021
Project TitleBae, Shannon (California, Irvine, U. of) "Reconciling DNA: Making kin and nation through genetic testing in South Korea"
SHANNON BAE, then a graduate student at University of California, Irvine, California, received funding in April 2021 to aid research on “Reconciling DNA: Making Kin and Nation through Genetic Testing in South Korea,” supervised by Dr. Eleana Kim. This project investigates how DNA is being imagined, constructed, and deployed to produce personal and public knowledge of identity, kinship, citizenship, belonging, and (trans)national memory in South Korea. Between 1956 and 2000, South Korea sent more children for international adoption than any other country in the world. Previously, adoptees had to rely on (often falsified) records held by adoption agencies, but now, sidestepping gatekeeping institutions, DNA testing is often one of the first steps in birth family search. As part of a larger state effort to recognize adoptees as part of the Korean diaspora, the South Korean government began enabling adoptees to submit their DNA at its diplomatic missions worldwide. Based on 13 months of fieldwork research within a network of social actors and institutions that provide birth family search support and services, this research argues that DNA testing is disrupting longstanding constructions of kinship knowledge and practice by broadening the kinds of relations being produced at individual, familial, national, and transnational levels. Furthermore, the prevalence of DNA testing is raising significant social, legal, and moral questions, with the ethics of adoption practice coming under greater scrutiny, generating counternarratives that challenge hegemonic adoption frameworks and state-sponsored nationalist narratives.