From the Asylum to the Orphanage

Early in 2013, I started my first foray into what promised to be a watershed moment in the future of education – free online courses. I tried out a couple of Coursera courses, one of which is The Social Context of Mental Illness and Illness. The history of ‘cures’ for lunacy has fascinated me since ‘Cuckoo’s Nest’ — see my short story, “You Must be a Loony!“. To add to the course material, I just picked up what promises to be fertile ground for future posts and stories …

History of Madness, Michel Poucault, 2009. Translated from the original,”Folie et deraison: Histoire de la folie a l’age classique”.

To maintain social order, they threw those who defied reason into asylums. To give the semblance or order and normalcy, they had to rid the streets, back alleys, and closed doors of quiet suburban neighbourhoods, of bastards, orphans, juvenile delinquents, and other undesirables. For this, they had at various times, orphanages, workhouses and the adoption system.

I popped onto the scene near the end of centuries when society branded young unmarried girls as scandalous wanton whores. The workhouses were gone by the ’50s and early ’60s, orphanages were filled to the rafters. Now, it was up to the adoption system to keep social order and allow people to keep believing that nothing bad or uncomfortable ever happened in the world.

Recently, the world has found marvelous tabloid fodder in the celebrity adoption stories of Madonna and Angeline, along with some nasty little morality tales in the form of movies of good families infected by bad seeds.

I used to joke to others about being chosen off the shelf of the baby store. It wasn’t until I started to do some research into this world, that I realized I wasn’t that far off.

I recently had an intense conversation with a woman at my local caffeine depot nearing the end of all hope of legally creating a family. Wandering through the Kafkaesque mazes of the IVF, adoption and foster care systems, one is left to wonder if these great hulking entities are not run by the charlatans and snake-oil salesman of old. Holding out and then snatching away hope to emotionally vulnerable clients so they keep buying into the dream, are tactics more suited to organized religion and late night shopping channels.

But, bringing it all back to the gut-wrenching basics was a conversation I recently had with a woman at a Starbucks. Shortly you’ll see a post about her “Choice” that deserves the meat of in-depth research to turn it into something bigger. So, I’m starting to chew on …

Baby Markets: Money and the New Politics of Creating Families. Edited by Michele Bratcher Goodwin, 2010.


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