© 2016

Birth Mothers and Transnational Adoption Practice in South Korea

Virtual Mothering


  • Presents a performance-based ethnography of maternity homes, a television search show, and internet forum, and an oral history to develop the concept of "virtual mothering"

  • Critiques the relentless effects of transnational adoption practices on birth mothers' lives

  • Offers a creative analysis that reveals a counter-public and counter-history centered around the collective grievances of birth mothers


Part of the Critical Studies in Gender, Sexuality, and Culture book series (CSGSC)

Table of contents

  1. Front Matter
    Pages i-xiii
  2. Unbecoming Mothers: A History of Gendered Violence

    1. Front Matter
      Pages 33-33
  3. Reconnection: Virtual Mothering

  4. Back Matter
    Pages 225-245

About this book


This book illuminates the hidden history of South Korean birth mothers involved in the 60-year-long practice of transnational adoption. The author presents a performance-based ethnography of maternity homes, a television search show, an internet forum, and an oral history collection to develop the concept of virtual mothering, a theoretical framework in which the birth mothers' experiences of separating from, and then reconnecting with, the child, as well as their painful,ambivalent narratives of adoption losses, are rendered, felt and registered. In this, the author refuses a universal notion of motherhood. Her critique of transnational adoption and its relentless effects on birth mothers’ lives points to the everyday, normalized, gendered violence against working-class, poor, single mothers in South Korea’s modern nation-state development and illuminates the biopolitical functions of transnational adoption in managing an "excess" population. Simultaneously, her creative analysis reveals a counter-public, and counter-history, proposing the collective grievances of birth mothers.


single mothers adoption kinship population policy maternity homes oral history biopolitics

Authors and affiliations

  1. 1.City University of New York College of Staten IslandStaten IslandUSA

About the authors

Hosu Kim is Assistant Professor of Sociology and Anthropology, with an affiliation in Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, at the College of Staten Island, City University of New York, USA.

Bibliographic information

  • Book Title Birth Mothers and Transnational Adoption Practice in South Korea
  • Book Subtitle Virtual Mothering
  • Authors Hosu Kim
  • Series Title Critical Studies in Gender, Sexuality, and Culture
  • Series Abbreviated Title Critical Studies in Gender, Sexuality, and Culture
  • DOI
  • Copyright Information The Editor(s) (if applicable) and The Author(s) 2016
  • Publisher Name Palgrave Macmillan, New York
  • eBook Packages Social Sciences Social Sciences (R0)
  • Hardcover ISBN 978-1-137-53851-2
  • Softcover ISBN 978-1-349-71151-2
  • eBook ISBN 978-1-137-53852-9
  • Edition Number 1
  • Number of Pages XIII, 245
  • Number of Illustrations 0 b/w illustrations, 2 illustrations in colour
  • Topics Ethnography
  • Buy this book on publisher's site


“Hosu Kim’s Birth Mothers and Transnational Adoption Practice in South Korea: Virtual Mothering, is an approachable book that manages to account for a significant historical breadth while also being succinct and clear. Any moments of repetition or circular writing are in fact helpful to readers as they navigate across time periods, genres, and media. Kim’s book is a memorable and necessary intervention in critical adoption studies.” (Jenny Heijun Wills, Adoption & Culture, Vol. 7 (2), 2019)

“This book is a must-read for scholars of adoption, mothering, kinship, gender, and affect studies. It breaks new empirical ground, by bringing into focus the often hidden experiences of birthmothers in transnational adoption and illuminates broader questions of motherhood in contemporary South Korea. It also offers an indispensable framework for understanding how birthmothers come into being at the interface of affect and media technologies.” (Eleana Kim, Associate Professor, Department of Anthropology, University of California, Irvine, USA)

“This is a compelling and powerful study of birth mothers in South Korea whose experiences and perspectives have been muted by colonial rescue myths and Confucian patriarchal structures for over sixty years. By the way of a nuanced ethnography taking account of the birth mothers’ presence in and through use of media technologies, Kim has managed to both listen to the previously silenced voices of the birth mothers as well as to develop the concept of virtual mothering, which is a valuable contribution to the field of critical adoption studies.” (Tobias Hubinette, Associate Professor, Intercultural Studies at Karlstad University, Karlstad, Sweden)

“Theoretically nuanced and empirically rich, Hosu Kim’s analysis of the political and affective economies structuring the transnational adoption of Korean-born children is a revelation. We are asked to see, but also to witness, the complex layerings of silence, violence, and geopolitical history animating Korean birth mothers’ experiences of social death and enforced separation. Situated at the intersections of global biopolitics and embodied loss, the book offers both a ‘memorial site’ for performative longings, and an astute critique of the structural forces rendering shame as economic development policy. Kim’s aim is nothing less than a ‘transformative knowledge,’ committed to recognizing other forms of mothering, and other practices of scholarship.” (Jackie Orr, Associate Professor in the Department of Sociology, The Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, Syracuse University, USA)