This case study combines James C. Scott's theory of high-modern social engineering with economic and evolutionary theories of altruism and reciprocal altruism to analyze and interpret the text and quantitative data in reports spanning 1887-1963 from the Kansas Orphans' Home. Orphanages are relatively new, unusual creations in human history, and have existed in significant numbers for less than 200 years. Orphanages put private matters of family structure - child-rearing practices, and the identification and obligations of kin - into the hands of non-relatives who have been granted authority over private families. The study uses official records supplemented with personal interviews from former residents and staff, and addresses actions and motives for each of the parties involved. The study found conflict between the State and local administration before 1930, and decreasing conflict after 1930, correlating with rising interests in professional child welfare practices and scientific diagnostic methods. This case study supports Scott's theory of conflict between local and distant administrators.
It also supports the evolutionary and economic theories which contend that people's decisions and actions, including those nominally altruistic, typically have a reciprocally altruistic component. This study draws on the fields of cultural anthropology, American studies, and history.