Shannon Bae

Grant Type

Dissertation Fieldwork Grant

Institutional Affiliation

California, Irvine, U. of

Grant number

Gr. 10093

Approve Date

April 8, 2021

Project Title

Bae, Shannon (California, Irvine, U. of) "Reconciling DNA: Making kin and nation through genetic testing in South Korea"

Since 1952, South Korea has sent an estimated 200,000 children for overseas adoption. As Korean adoptees have come of age, the number searching for birth family has risen rapidly. Previously, adoptees had to rely mostly on records held by adoption agencies, but now, sidestepping information gatekeeping institutions, DNA testing is often one of the first steps in birth family search. Genetic information is housed in a DNA database, waiting to be matched—a genetic archive of the lives impacted by adoption in South Korea. In its project to include adoptees in the Korean diaspora, the South Korean government has also entered the genetic testing arena. But DNA testing, on brand with the country’s reputation as a scientific and technological global leader, also has the potential to expose trauma on individual, familial, and national scales, and raise significant social, legal, and moral questions. This project examines ethnographically the discourses, practices, and policies surrounding genetic testing technologies used by adopted Koreans, birth families, and the South Korean state. Across this network of social actors and institutions, this research asks how DNA is being imagined, constructed, and deployed to produce personal and public knowledge of identity, kinship, citizenship, belonging, and (trans)national memory.