Swain, S. (2018). What price a child? Commodification and Australian adoption practice 1850–1950 [accepted manuscript]. The History of the Family,23(1), 1-19. United Kingdom: Routledge. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1080/1081602X.2016.1186558
The issue of premiums has always proved problematic for advocates of benevolent adoption for whom the involvement of money tainted an exchange that was meant to be grounded in love. This paper argues that the shifting relationship between supply and demand has meant that there has always been a market in children and that adoption was one of the more prominent mechanisms used to regulate that exchange. Drawing on a database of 25000 advertisements placed in Australian newspapers during the so-called century of the child, it analyses the ways in which children were rendered desirable in a competitive market. Analysing the more than 3000 advertisements in which it was made clear that money, known at the time as a premium, was to change hands, it casts new light on the commodification process involved in adoption, identifying a mismatch between the preferences of those seeking and those needing to dispose of children. It identifies a market that was highly responsive to the environment in which it was operating and proved remarkably resilient in the face of the increasing regulation of adoption. By viewing adoption through the lens of the market, it questions the notion that the ‘best interests of the child’ have always necessarily prevailed.
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