This ethnography is based on 28 interviews with orphanage graduates, orphanage staff, volunteers, NGOs and adoptive parents conducted in February, 2018 in Almaty and Taraz, Kazakhstan. Former President Nazarbayev’s call for deinstitutionalization of orphanages following a similar program in Russia, put orphans and orphanages under the spotlight. However, the increasing number of discussions and public activism around deinstitutionalization of orphanages in Kazakhstan does not adequately address the issues faced by orphanage graduates. Specifically, public discourse still stigmatizes orphans and orphanage graduates as indicated by low adoption rates, and high adoptee return rates. I employ Michel Foucault’s (1975) productivity of power, and Erving Goffman’s (1963) stigma to discuss the effects of institutional childhood and the ways orphanage graduates make sense of their experiences during and post-institutionalization. I argue against criminalizing and victimizing narratives of orphanhood in Kazakhstan, and instead suggest that orphanage graduates can employ strategies to negotiate their identities, and exercise agency in navigating their institutional and post-institutional lives.
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Thesis advisor: Luehrmann, Sonja
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