Engaging the commodified face: the use of marketing in the child adoption process

Higgins, Matthew and Smith, Warren (2002). Engaging the commodified face: the use of marketing in the child adoption process. Business Ethics: A European Review, 11(2) pp. 179–190.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1111/1467-8608.00274


This paper evaluates the ethical consequences of the use of marketing techniques in the child adoption process within England and Wales. Since 1995 the political climate in the UK has seen a reassessment of the manner in which the state organises care for children who are within its legal guardianship. Successive UK governments have acknowledged the under‐utilisation of child adoption as a moral and efficient means of child‐care. However, the presentation of child adoption in a more active fashion involves concerns about the manner in which child adoption has been organised. Increasingly child adoption organisations and social work professionals are being made accountable through the language of customer service and performance measurements. The use of commercial techniques such as marketing is justified on utilitarian grounds. However, any utilisation of marketing within the child adoption process is forced to ensure that the child is not de‐centred. Legislation requires that the needs and welfare of the child are the first consideration for the adoption agency. Here we begin to see tensions between the humanitarian project that is child adoption, and the unease produced by viewing the child as human ‘product’. This invites analysis via critical theory. The use of marketing in child adoption raises issues related to the objectification and commodification of the child and prospective adopters. Within child adoption it is assumed that we must engage with the child as ‘face’ (Bauman, 1995). But will these assumptions stand the encroachment of marketing techniques into this very sensitive area?

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