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ISEK - Institut für Sozialanthropologie und Empirische Kulturwissenschaft Populäre Kulturen

Origin Narratives for/about Children from Different ‘Ethnic’ Backgrounds

Discourses on immigration and international adoption in recent children’s literature

Funding Period: 01.04.2014 - 31.07.2016

Direction: Prof. Dr. Ingrid Tomkowiak

Researcher: Macarena García González, M.A.


Children grow up in increasingly diverse societies, yet differences between people still lead to a long list of questions that parents and teachers are often unsure how to answer. Culture, identity and intercultural communication are today discussed as part of education policy around the world. Interestingly, the increasing diversity in school classrooms not only responds to migration and people’s growing mobility but also to new forms of family reproduction, among which international adoption of children is the most visible. This project inquires into the ways these questions get narratively ‘answered’ reproducing certain discourses on ‘ethnicity’ and ‘race’.

The research project “Origin Narratives for/about Children from Different ‘Ethnic’ Backgrounds, Discourses on immigration and international adoption in recent children’s literature” explores children’s books recommended to teachers and parents to explicate migration, international adoption, ‘race’, racism, social integration and interculturalism.

In recent decades, a growing number of children's books dealing with the politics of equality have been published, yet we still find scarce research done on them. This is a project which draws upon recent research on narratology and narrative theory, as well as upon different theoretical frameworks on the representation of difference (Intersectionality, Postcolonial theory, Imagology, Critical Race Theory) to shed light over the ideological underpinnings of recommended books. The research is also fueled by anthropological and sociological perspectives on (European) discourses on international adoption of children and immigration, and it attempts to enlarge the research on contingent social phenomena from humanities perspectives. Methodologically, it also contributes to the emerging scholarship on picturebooks —and multimodal construction of meaning— through a close reading of the interplay of image and words in the reproduction or resistance to stereotypes.


The primary goal of the research is to uncover how children are socialized into notions of ethnic and racial difference. The research builds upon theories positing that individuals operate in a conceptual environment that determines and limits them in ways of which we are often unaware, and that this conceptual environment is constructed through narrative processes. We are inspired by theories on narrative and cognition arguing that logic is a process informed by narrative, and that we understand and comprehend the world if we can narrate it. This theoretical framework sheds light on the discourse analysis of children’s books, since we may trace in them how adults —authors and mediators— try to make sense of the world and convey it in the form of possible, realistic, “tell-able” stories to educate children in presumably new social challenges.

Children’s literature provides an excellent source to inquire into discursive constructions, as they are product of consensus —that is, children’s stories are written upon the set of shared values of a specific society, values to be passed on to the next generation. This study inquires into books that are published and recommended as examples of pro-diversity literature and inquires also into the practices of recommending and evaluating texts for children.

The research plans to achieve a number of secondary objectives, including:

− To provide an in-depth analysis of adoption narratives exploring agency and the subject position of their characters, and how these stories are meant to serve for the identity construction of the adoptee and the adoptive family.

− To provide an in-depth analysis of literature on immigration and how these stories transfer or counteract stereotypes about people with migrant backgrounds.

− To contribute to adoption studies with insights from immigration studies and, conversely, to contribute to immigration studies with a comparison of narratives on adoption and immigration. This comparison reveals paradoxes and hidden conventions that shape our ideas on (national) belonging, exclusion, ‘race’, ethnicity and origin.

− To provide a critical analysis of recommended readings and the assumptions behind selecting certain literature about and for certain contingent social issues.

Case Study Materials

The analysis is focused on a sample of books about diversity provided by the Spanish Servicio de Orientación de la Lectura Infantil y Juvenil (S.O.L., Children’s and Youth Literature Orientation Service). The S.O.L. was originally an initiative of the Spanish Publisher’s Association, supported financially by the government and carried out by the Fundación Germán Sánchez Ruiperez, a prestigious institution in reading promotion.


  • 2015 “Literatura infantil sobre adopción y performatividad. Usos y abusos de libros como instrumentos de socialización” in ASETEL II Congreso Internacional de la Asociación Española de Teoría de la Literatura, Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas. Centro de Ciencias Humanas y Sociales. Madrid, 28-30 January, 2015
  • 2014 “Your Mother Cannot Be Your Mother!” Blood, ‘race’ and belonging in recommended books about adoption and immigration" in "Histoires de famille: filiation, transmission, réinvention ? / Family Stories: Parentage, transmission or reinvention? " Université de Paris 13. Paris, 27-28 November, 2014.
  • 2014 “People With Dark Eyes Have More Children Than Those With Blue Eyes?“ Immigrant and Local Mothers in Recent Children’s Literature" in Schweizerische Gesellschaft für Geschlechterforschung Fachtagung. Universität Basel. Basel, 11-13 September, 2014.
  • 2014 Transnational Adoptees and ‘Illegal’ Immigrants. Nation as Family in Recent Spanish Children’s Books in Family Narratives/Nation(alistic) Narratives International Workshop. Zurich, 22-23 May, 2014
  • 2014 Routes against Roots? Past, Perspective and Place in Children’s Books about Adoption. “ Time, Space and Memory in Literature for Children and Young Adults, The Child and The Book Conference”. Athens, 10-12 April, 2014.
  • 2013 ‘Race’ in antiracist children’s literature. The case of books about immigration and international adoption of children. “Ethnographic inquiries into contemporary configurations of racism. Annual Conference of the Swiss Society of Ethnology/Social Anthropology”. Sierre, 7-9 November 2013
  • 2013 Do You Get the Picture? How ‘race’ and ‘ethnic diversity’ is narrated to children. IRSCL biannual conference. Maastricht, 10-14 August 2013.
  • 2013 And They Lived Happily Ever After: children’s literature for adoptees International Conference on Adoption Research (ICAR4). Universidad de Sevilla. Bilbao, 7-11 July 2013.
  • 2013  Cuentos que adoptan. Narrativas de adopción y diferencia en libros infantiles. Seminario AFIN. Universidad Autónoma de Barcelona. Barcelona, 8th May 2013
  • 2012 Nosotros y ellos. Reflexiones sobre prejuicios, juicios y estereotipos en la literatura infantil presented at the international congress “Qué leer. Cómo leer. Perspectivas sobre lectura en la infancia”, organized by Ministerio de Educación and Universidad Diego Portales. Santiago de Chile, 7-8 December, 2012.
  • 2011 I came by plane. Origin narratives for internationally-adopted children, International Symposium Fostering Literature: Childhood, Immigration and Readership at Universidad Autónoma de Barcelona. Barcelona, 17-19 November, 2011.

Organized Events

Family narratives/National(istic) narratives – International Workshops

Organizers: Macarena García González (ISEK), Ieva Bisigirskaité (Gender Studies Group)

How do family discourses intersect with national discourses and the symbolic construction of the ideal family? Contributions include studies on international adoption of children; migration and diaspora; the reproduction of national ideals in children’s education; normative femininity; and mother identities, among others. These various topics are all explored using narrative and intersectional analysis.


1st Workshop: 22- 23 May, 2014 (Keynote speakers: Karin Lesnik-Oberstein (University of Reading) and Ann Phoenix (Institute of Education, University of London)

2nd Workshop: 9-10 June, 2015. (Keynote speakers: Nira Yuval-Davis (University East London) and Molly Andrews (University East London).

Both workshops have been funded through a GRC Grant.

Weiterführende Informationen


9. und 10. Juni 2015: Workshop - Family Narratives/National(istic) Narratives)