Katherine E. Hoffman

Katherine E. Hoffman

dates de séjour

01/09/2016 - 01/07/2017




Professeur associé


Northwestern University

pays d'origine


projet de recherche

Regimes of care: Islamic guardianship and the transnational adoption of muslim orphans

The proposed research project is a qualitative examination of transnational Islamic guardianship and the adoption of orphans born in countries with personal law that prohibits adoption (Ar. tabani), which includes all Muslim-majority countries except Indonesia, Turkey, and Tunisia. Other countries permit kafala (Islamic guardianship), which entails the judicial transfer of authority to the kafil parent, expected to oversee material needs and education (particularly in religion) until adulthood, with no right to filiation or inheritance. In many non-Muslim countries, plenary adoption (Fr. adoption plénière) entails a judicial establishment of descent from adoptive (non-biological) parent(s) to the child, breaking the child’s legal link with biological parents, if known. Simple adoption (Fr. adoption simple), performed in some countries including France and Belgium but not the United States or Quebec, institutes a tie between child and adoptive parents without severing the child’s link to biological parents. Adoption and guardianship arrangements permitted by law vary even within Western legal systems, and more specifically to my project, within the European Union (EU), and this despite Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights that specifically ensures respect for family life and privacy. Anthropologists have long documented the informal, customary arrangements of fostering and adoption in various societies (Goody 1969, Marshall 1977, Rezig 2004, Selman 2000, Weismantel 1995). While children may be given as “gifts” to childless relatives or friends in some societies (including Morocco; see Bargach 2002), customary practices are irrelevant in the judicial domain unless incorporated into state law. What the European Court called “cultural pluralism” in 2012 reflects less an anthropological notion of culture than a recognition that state laws may be inspired by religious factors. Private international law, which coordinates state laws governing private relations between individuals of different nationalities, is underdeveloped on the portability of kafala guardianships. Muslim makfoul children raised in Western states suffer repercussions that may include precarious residency status, denial of medical care, and compromised participation in school activities. Despite European states’ insistence that kafil children enjoy the protections of biological and plenary adopted children, complaints about discrimination can be found in first-instance, appeals, and final appeals (cassation) court cases as well as cases brought to the European Court for Human Rights (ECHR). The last decade has witnessed a sharp increase in legal challenges from kafil guardians. Both the European Convention for Human Rights and the United Nations Convention for the Rights of the Child (UNCRC 1989) stipulate the state’s responsibility to provide for the abandoned child’s “best interests.” Yet the definition of “best interests” allows for significant judicial interpretation, enforcing or defying the received wisdom that Muslim children are not “adoptable.” Citizenship is the most crucial right for a resident makfoul child, yet there have been instances in which applications for French citizenship after the standard five years of residence have been denied by judges arguing that citizenship makes a child available for adoption and thus counters the child’s original (Islamic) personal law. In France, revisions to the adoption prohibition have been made as recently as 2014, but they still allow considerable judicial discretion.    


Katherine E. Hoffman is a linguistic and sociocultural anthropologist who specializes in the relationship between expressive culture, ethnicity, and political economy.  Her research explores this nexus in North Africa, and particularly Morocco, from the late 19th c. to the present, particularly as it has been shaped by the processes of French colonialism, anti-imperialism, nationalism, and postnationalism.  Her book We Share Walls: Language, Land and Gender in Berber Morocco book (2008, Wiley-Blackwell) is an ethnographic account of the ways in which political economy and migration have shaped rural ethnolinguistic repertoires in both talk and song, and in Arabic and Tashelhit Berber languages, among the Ishelhin Berbers of southwestern Morocco. 

A second book currently being drafted, Mirror of the Soul: Language, Islam, and Law in French Native Policy of Morocco (1912-1956), considers the language ideologies underpinning French colonial administration of rural Morocco.  It argues that notions about the inherent interrelationship between language, law, religion and morality had consequences for the development of French Native Policy (politique indigène), Moroccan nationalism, and more recently, contemporary struggles around Amazigh (Berber) linguistic and cultural rights. Of particular interest in this project are the Berber customary courts (tribunaux coutumiers) that not only elicited nationalist polemic but also generated massive amounts of labor from Protectorate officials and their North African employees.