1. University of Virginia
  2. Arts & Sciences

Dissertation Proposal

Recent decades have seen a rapid advancement in new reproductive technologies, including artificial insemination, surrogacy, genetic engineering, and embryonic research. These technologies have received much anthropological attention (cf. Strathern 1992b; Franklin 1997; Edwards 1993; Konrad 2005). Science has “extended” human capacities to include the very “choice to have children,” Marilyn Strathern has observed, turning relations of nature into a marketable transaction between consumers and producers (1992b: 166). But what about the child, who, once born, “has no choice about it” (ibid:172)? Every year, war, natural disasters, poverty, and disease leave thousands of children homeless and orphaned worldwide, and most state, local, and transnational institutions are inadequately equipped to deal with this global problem (Rizzini 2004; Altshuler 2010).

My research addresses this issue by exploring the contemporary orphan industry – the assemblage of institutions, discursive frameworks and policies, and intervention strategies – that define and regulate the global norms of child welfare. In particular, I focus on the complexity, scale, and significance of the largest transnational non-governmental organization and orphan charity, SOS Children’s Village (SOSCV), active since 1949. SOSCV’s approach is unique among institutional orphan care strategies in at least two ways: (1) its village and family organizational model; and (2) its global scale. Alongside education and financial assistance, it claims to give children a “true family,” composed of an employed “SOS mother,” “siblings,” and a “permanent home” in an SOS village, well integrated into the local community (SOS Children's Village Manual). To date, SOSCV has successfully implemented their uniform solution of care to the diverse problems and causes of “orphanhood” in more than 132 countries around the globe.

Given such overwhelming global success, the questions motivating this research are twofold. First, to understand and critically assess how SOSCV is able to establish its transnational network, implement its singular model of care, and subsequently maintain its long-term operation worldwide across diverse social, political, and cultural contexts, especially in contrast to the failures ofmany other state, local, and transnational initiatives? Second, in the enactment of its model of care, how does SOSCV affect the lives of SOSCV children, families, and employees in the production of a certain image of personhood and well-being? What kinds of concrete resistances and obstacles are encountered in the course of implementation, and how does SOSCV negotiate them?

I plan to answer these questions empirically by exploring how SOSCV, as an emergent social form, incorporates within its own cultural logic and practice local contingency and socio-cultural difference. For purposes of my dissertation project, I will conduct multi-sited research, focusing on SOSCV operating in Russia and Brazil, where the urban problems of orphanage, poverty, and child homelessness are both severe and divergent. This comparative framework is explicitly designed to foreground the multi-dimensionality of the transnational NGO’s shifting contexts and scales, across institutional and national borders. In doing so, I argue that SOSCV’s approach to care enacts globalized Euro-American neoliberal values of individualism and market rationality as well as neoliberal indicators of “best practice” and development, thus contributing to the benchmarks of the United Nations “millennial development goals” (Roy 2010) and children’s rights movement (Miljeteig 2002).

  • Brooks Hall 2nd Floor Conference Room
Event Date: 
Thursday, 18 October 2012 - 8:30am to 10:30am
Viktoryia Kalesnikava
Speaker Title: 
Global Childhoods in Global Villages
Event Type: