Society for Cultural Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
This paper seeks to understand how parenting is legislated through the discretionary decision-making of “care” institutions invested in the protection of children and the rehabilitation and reunification of families. In particular, I consider how personnel from the Illinois Department of Child and Family Services (DCFS), in tandem with guardian ad litems (GALs), public defenders, state's attorneys, and juvenile court judges, determine what placement and permanency options uphold children's “best interests.” Drawing upon individual interviews with DCFS personnel, as well as extensive observations of their interactions in juvenile court, case reviews, home visits, case conferences, staff meetings, I consider how the discourse and phenomenological experiences of "street-level bureaucrats" both sustain and reproduce the "policies of personhood" in which state surveillance and intervention are grounded (Carr 2011: 25). In other words, DCFS and family law personnel not only enforce the laws and policies ostensibly designed to discipline "bad parents", but, more importantly, such actors produce both good and bad parents through their exercise of authoritative discretion and the discursive frames they employ to justify it. In so doing, child protection personnel do more than "make the state manifest in the intimate lives of people" (Leinaweaver 2009:52); rather, in producing deserving and undeserving subjects, such agents of care also operate as a bordering regime. Indeed, parents whose "illegality" renders them unintelligible, unknowable, and deportable often struggle to satisfy subjective conceptions of good parenting--conceptions that are often aligned with ideal citizenship and national belonging.