Understanding Adoption

Epistemological Implications

Shane Bouel
17 min readDec 12, 2022


Adoption Disenfranchisement — AI ART by Thoughtless Delineation


I recommended that you click the “Listen” button at the top of this article to hear an audio version.

Value Freedom in Social Research refers to the ability of the researcher to keep his or her own values (personal, political and religious) from interfering with the research process.

All social behaviour is guided by values. Thus the study of social behaviour can never be value-free if value freedom is interpreted in the sense of the absence of values because the values of the society under investigation form a part of the social facts to be studied by sociology.

Knowledge and power are linked. In order to reveal the nature of the knowledge/power nexus and its relationship to the process of adoption we must not only ask what we know about adoption but more importantly, ask how we come to know what we know about adoption. When we do this it becomes clear that adoption in Australia has been misunderstood and misrepresented. Until we are able to re-locate and reposition our understanding of adoption as a social construct, the understanding of adoption’s inherent contradictions and the nature and origins of the knowledge positions and political projects of each set of stakeholders will remain beyond us. As well as meaningful reunion, reconciliation, healing and an adequate understanding of the true potential of the process.

Social researchers, social workers, mental health professionals, policymakers and members of the legislature are assigned the privileged status of expert in Australian, and other western industrialised societies. They hold a powerful, mainstream position as creators and arbiters of knowledge. Consequently, their understanding of adoption has a particular influence on the way it is presented and represented both theoretically and as practice. It will be argued here that various discursive, mainstream understandings of the social institution of adoption have not been based on conclusions arrived at through relevant, inclusive systematic study but rather have emerged as a result of distortions of the knowledge process.

These distortions are products of the power/social nexus whereby power validates certain kinds of knowledge by promoting certain narratives and silencing others.

The effect becomes the acceptance and adherence to sets of philosophical positions that often define the object of the social sciences in such a way that effectively legislates away their most important problems.

These distortions emerge as scientifically derived knowledge discovered as the result of the application and acceptance of the poor theory, personal bias, exclusionary sampling, and inappropriate research methods, including problematic measurement instruments.

Statements about the real nature of adoption become everyday knowledge discourses and these in turn become objective architectural monuments for judging the truth about adoption and its effects.

The uncompromising belief in the power of value-free science to provide answers about the real nature of collective human existence and to help humankind evolve and harness nature is central to beliefs about enlightenment, progress and freedom. This uncompromising faith in science and the belief that it will eventually provide answers to everything has become an institutionalised, habitualised, authoritative dogma that demands unquestioning belief. The habit of understanding social phenomena with our unquestioned beliefs (because they are scientifically legitimate) instead of first attempting to understand the nature and origin of those beliefs is especially evident when we take a holistic and reflexive view of the social sciences.

An analysis of the history of the application of positivistic methods, as the appropriate means for the investigation of social issues, reveals a methodology that has not been successful in unifying social thought or in providing a consensus on appropriate schemes for social and political reconstruction and healing. Arguably, what value-free, social science has accomplished is the maintenance and replication of the fundamental values and beliefs that are implicit within the dominant culture and that underpin particular kinds of social organisation and social power.

Much of our understanding of the process of adoption in Western Industrialised countries in the past 100 years has evolved within a social/cultural environment where faith in the so-called value-free, positivistic, theoretical methodologies to answer social questions has been paramount. However, this scientific approach to understanding has tended to ignore the premise that understanding of social phenomena as social systems, processes, problems or needs relates specifically to how those systems, processes, problems or needs are defined and analysed and by what standards.

Adoption research has more often than not, been underpinned by an unstated, theoretical orientation that assumes that social facts could be discovered by the application of methodologies applicable to the physical sciences and that social realities can be understood as something external to the researcher and the researched.

Some would have us believe that the primary motivating force behind much excluding, value-free social research has been conspiratorial, that it has been little more than a premeditated and conscious desire by the powerful to control the less powerful.

What has not been acknowledged is that these ameliorative measures have been based on conceptual understandings that depend entirely on the basic causative assumptions brought to the problem by the investigator, the researcher and those involved in the creation, administration and implementation of legislation and policy.

However, these knowledge positions have tended to deny us access to the nature of adoptions social construction, its effects and the origins of the massive social contradictions inherent within it.

Worse still, the acceptance, legitimisation and application of objectified, positivistic notions about the real nature of adoption have denied us access to the multi-level experiences of those who have been subjected to it. Moreover, blind faith in the power of positivistic social science has further resulted in the institutionalised devaluing and belittling of those suffering its effects. Those individuals who have been, in some way, consumed by the process and who have spoken out loudly about their experiences have been viewed as little more than emotionally charged, angry and therefore irrational and out of touch with reality.

Their subjective, and therefore illegitimate, expressions of their experiences of the process have been systematically reduced and they have been categorised and labelled as people who are psychologically underdeveloped, pathological, maladjusted and/or deviant.

These reductionist and deterministic attitudes do not stop at the mere devaluing of the individual however, they go on to place and fix the ultimate responsibility for the adoption-related problem squarely with the individual. In other words not only has the individual been blamed for the socially created, contradictory, unintended and unwanted effects of the process but they have also been systematically alienated, ridiculed and stigmatised.

Adoption has been portrayed and presented as given, unalterable and self-evident and as a consequence, it confronts the individual as a historically and scientifically justified, objective and benign process and therefore, it is undeniable fact. The biography of those consumed by the process is apprehended merely as a reactive, subjective personal episode, separate and distanced from the institution of adoption.

However, individuals continue to experience the power of institutionalised adoption as an objective coercive, and in many cases, an oppressive force.

Any attempts by them to resist tend to be subsumed by the sheer force of the institution's objectified facticity.

This homogenising of adoption is further assisted by a limiting reductionist emphasis on the nuclear family (mother, father, and child) as the primary and only relevant, objective unit of analysis in adoption research. This limited focus has served to obfuscate a range of social institutions that are undeniably implicated in the creation and perpetuation of the process.

History has shown us, however, that even in the face of its objectified reality, the unwanted and unintended effects of adoption have come to characterised the process to its detriment and arguably, to the detriment of many who could have benefited by it if it had been understood and constructed differently.

In Australia, many of those consumed have translated their personal experiences into political and social action. Individuals have collected together and formed support and action groups that have tended to take two dichotomous paths.


The first, while acknowledging the inherent problems associated with adoption, has accepted its objectified reality and worked alongside those institutions that maintain and present the process as a legitimate entity, understandable only as objectified everyday knowledge. Examination of the operating philosophies or mission statements of these groups reveals a theoretical orientation that appears to again be contradictory. While attempting, on the one hand, to address adoption's unwanted and unintended effects, on the other they legitimate the process by refusing to challenge, question or relocate understanding of the process.


The second type of group that has come to be part of the adoption landscape in Australia is the action-oriented, social change group. They see adoption as an inherently problematic and contradictory process that has often resulted in the institutionalised denial of human rights. They argue that the rights of all those implicated in the adoption process cannot and should not be legislatively balanced because the basic human rights of two sectors of the adoption triangle have been denied in favour of the third. They ask the question, how can the rights of all ever be balanced and equal when the rights of two factions have been corrupted to serve the needs of the third? institution. Their experiences of the process tells them that something is drastically wrong, yet they are trapped within an ontological prison that limits and reduces understanding to existing, legitimised, and prescribed ways of knowing the world.

Both of the groups described above, however, have served to provide a greater awareness of the problematic dimensions of adoption.

The second in particular has provided permission for those affected to speak out and question what has been done to them.

Unfortunately, the kinds of ameliorative measures ratified by the State and by mainstream Australian society have been geared towards addressing issues relating to the individual or family rather than towards understanding the process and addressing its underlying historical and social context/cause. This top-down approach reveals a fundamental theoretical and conceptual framework that again locates and places the responsibility for the problem, and for change, at the level of the
individual rather than with adoption as a social product.

It seems that while logic has assumed a powerful and privileged position in human thinking, in practice when we don’t have to deal with. the question of how we know what we know when we are able to discount and devalue the stated experiences of the powerless as irrational, subjective anger, then perceptions become much more acceptable than logic.

How should adoption be understood and represented?

By listening to the real-life experiences of those who have been touched by adoption it becomes clear that this is a process that is a human product, and that it is socially constructed.

In order to understand the nature of adoption as an institutionalised, human product we must first address the question of the nature of the social construction of reality.

Institutions further imply historicity and control. Reciprocal typification are built up in the course of shared history. In other words, institutions and their actors always have a shared history, of which they are the products and the producers.

When the process of institutionalisation becomes less than completely successful, the institution of law provides sanctions that exemplify a few who offend against the institution and this controls the majority.

However, if the majority reacts collectively and challenges the institution then it becomes in danger of disintegration. In this case, the institution will adapt to avoid psychological discomfort by either redefining its reason for existence and methods of operation or by dismantling itself. One method of redefinition is to remove all responsibility for socially constructed processes by objectifying them as realities external to the institution and therefore, not produced and unalterable by the actions of those within the institution.

When a new generation emerges the objectification of the institutional world manifest even more strongly as separate and distant. Parents provide explanations of human behaviour to the new generation as; this is how things are done. The institutional world then attains firmness in consciousness; it becomes real, larger, with an identity of its own. Because the new generation views the institution as a separate objectified reality and because it is experienced as such… it becomes that. This is compounded by the fact that institutions have histories before the
individual’s birth and are therefore not accessible to biographical recollection. When this occurs institutions cannot be understood by retrospection. The individual must go out and learn about them just as one learns about nature.

It is important to remember that the objectification of the social world is a human construct, humanly produced through a process whereby products of human activity are externalised and attain the character of objects.

The real effects of forced separation from family and culture are known only to well by those aboriginal people who were subjected to the process. They are experienced as a complete, unjust corruption of their traditional culture that was designed to exterminate their race over time. However, these issues are only just beginning to be acknowledged publicly by white Australia.

The effects of traditional, non-aboriginal adoption and the suffering experienced by many of those exposed to it remains publicly unacknowledged. In both aboriginal and non-aboriginal adoption, it was used as a means towards the satisfaction of particular socially constructed ends. Both aboriginal and non-aboriginal adoption involved social dislocation and physical separation in order to satisfy different socially constructed purposes.

At the core of the effects of the process of legal adoption on adopted people in Australia lies the issue of the socially contrived separation from biological kin and the socially contrived attempt at the re-establishment of normative (objectified as crucially important) biological kinship relationships through social/legal contract. This attempt to socially engineer new sets of kinship relationships as though they were biological kinship relationships is fundamental to the related issues of the institutionalised denial of information, of contact and the adopted person’s identity.

The individual who is different from others has no chance of reflexively developing a coherent self-identity. In the case of adopted people lack of access to their real kin denies them access to a source of stabilising
authority that is directly relevant to sustaining trust relationships.

The mere fact of being ascribed a child and then being expected to think of, and treat that child as ones biological child evokes cognitive dissonance that can never conceal the resultant psychological discomfort.

We habitualise, internalise and institutionalised kinship relations based on objectified perceptions of the importance of genetic lineage and then in the case of adoption, deny their importance by attempting to socially engineer them.

Adopted people who lack, or are prevented from accessing their real kin are, at the same time denied access to a source of stabilising authority
that is directly relevant to sustaining trust relationships. However, adopted people are often also accomplices in the closed or excluding nature of their
adoptive family life.

For many adopted people complicity in the maintenance and recreation of The socially engineered world of adoption is necessary in order to maintain a survival level of acceptance by their adoptive families. They are forced through sheer necessity to deny the
differences between them and their adoptive families. Embracing the objectified reality of adoption propagated by public and private institutions is welcome psychological relief in times of severe cognitive dissonance.

For many adopted people, to outwardly acknowledge a need to search and to know is, at the same time, acknowledging that they had biological families and to do this would destroy the opportunity to master appropriate responses to others. Acknowledging difference places the adopted person in danger of losing the chance of reflexively developing a
coherent self-identity, even when those chances and opportunities are already absent.

However, as argued previously, embracing positivistic rationality has not provided answers to the unwanted and unintended effects of adoption other than to level blame at those who have suffered.

Moreover, it could be argued that given the lack of adequate, inclusive and systematic social inquiry into the process of adoption in Australia, the beliefs and actions of many so called experts have been little more than attempts at social closure.

Those individuals whose responsibility it was to provide people in need with services that enhanced their (and the society’s) general state of health and well-being continue to be accused of performing or assisting and condoning horrendous acts of human rights abuse against birthmothers and adopted people.

Acts that include physical assault, kidnapping, obtaining the consent of birthmothers by drug and/or deceit, of trading in human flesh for profit or gain and of commodifying children.

These include the maintenance and support of the institutionalised restriction of the release of familial, genetic and historical information to birth relatives either through advising the policy and legislative process or through the actual administration of those policies and legislation. They, and their educators, have been accused time and again of failing to learn from the lessons of the past, yet is it really that simple? If the consumed level blame for the socially constructed problematic, contradictory and damaging effects of adoption at one sector of our community, are they not then guilty of objectifying the understanding of what is a socially constructed process?

The fact that we may now understand and question the problematic and contradictory nature of adoption does not mean that the knowledge positions that produced it were not premised on altruistic motives.

However, as we have seen the objectification of social reality, underpinned by notions of a positivistic, social science separates the knowing subject from the creation of their environment.

The reified, socially disconnected understanding of adoption has not only become manifest as legitimate adoption discourse but it has also underpinned and validated the values and beliefs of the dominant culture towards adoption as expressions within the political process.

Bureaucratic, public purposes have emerged that include the need to reduced public expenditure for the care of children whose parents were defined as relinquished Adoption here has provided the opportunity for the socially constructed transformation of public problems into private ones.

When demand for children outstripped the supply claims to expertise in
assessing prospective adopters became even more important in legitimating social work’s claim to licence and to monopolising adoption arrangements.

Socially constructed adoption discourse has elevated the importance and deterministic value of biological lineage, creating concerns for the adopting parents over the social and biological origins of the child. Adoptive parents have had to face the socially derived stigma of infertility even if they were not.

However, the most pervasive, sinister and cruel trick played on adoptive parents is implicit within the discourses relating to the best interests of the child and secrecy. Adoptive parents have been led to believe that their social contract with the state would provide them with their own biological child as long as they complied with the socially engineered, scientifically validated adoption blueprint.

The socially constructed messages that natural mothers have been exposed to include relinquishment is the best thing for your child be free of the stigma of ex-nuptial conception and birth.

The private sphere of the family or the state gave single unmarried mothers little support and many were economically and ideologically trapped by a patriarchal society that benefited from the systematic exploitation and denigration of women. Adoption for many natural mothers became a metaphor for a violent act of aggression.

The way we continue to understand and construct the process of adoption leaves us nowhere to go other than to continue down the path toward painfully felt injustices and serious social tensions.

If we as adoption workers and researchers wish to work with individuals and groups of people who have been touched by the process then we must be able to deal with the often competing constructs of the truth of the various stakeholders by locating them not only ontologically but also epistemologically.

Legitimising the voices of those marginalised by the adoption process is something that must begin at the individual level and move to the collective or community level.

Reconstructing previously objectified, personal problems as socially constructed, therefore political problems legitimised the voices of the marginalised and provides logical understanding of an inherently problematic, contradictory, process that is characterised by distortions, absurdities and legal untruths.

Social research and social work of all kinds is essentially an ideological activity, it is political practice. Those who engaged in it for reward must be well informed, broadly educated, critically reflexive and sensitive to others. Theoretical literacy demands an inclusive tolerance that begins with a willingness to listen to the voices of others, even in the face of competing truths. Social work and its practice must move from the individualisation and objectivation of social problems to more collective, historically respectful and socially located understandings and action.

While there are a multitude of methods available, unless we understand
and acknowledge that we cannot totally separate our (socially constructed) personal knowledge positions from the theoretical and methodological implications of our research, then we are in danger of engaging in research which is unethical.


When we take a theoretically literate stance and then listen to the perceptions of others we are able to map their emerging constructs epistemologically and ontologically. The origins and nature of the massive contradictions that have come to characterise the process emerge and clearly locate the problematic dimensions of adoption as a product of those

When we take a critical humanist approach to understanding, not only do we acquire a new understanding of adoption that is historically respectful and socially connected but those who have been consumed by the process gain a sense of mastery over what has been done to them.

Blame for the unwanted and unintended effects of adoption is shifted away from the individual to the collective, organising human consciousness and a better way of knowing emerges.

Finally, the question of the future of adoption must be dealt with. Is there any value left in a process that has been shown to be so damaging?

Arguably there is, so long as we are able and willing to re-think our understanding of it and reconstruct the process so that we avoid the problematic dimensions that occur when we deny the social construction of reality and then build in sets of massive social contradictions.

The starting point of a re-constructed adoption process would involve the institutionalised recognition of the complexity of adoptive relationships and of the need for respect and recognition of the adopted person’s life

I’ve just lodged a human rights complaint with the Queensland Human Rights Commission.

I posted the other day about the poor trollish behaviour of certain people on the internet in regard to adoptee abuse.

Well, this is MUCH worse because it can cause real harm.

Joan Pease MP State Member for Lytton posted on Facebook about Making it easier for trans and gender-diverse people and. contemporary families, to change their birth certificates.

My biological family put forward their concern that adopted people in Full reunion do not have the same rights.

When People who are elected to change policy remove comments and block a whole family in her electorate from asking for the same rights as everyone else there is a serious problem.

This paper was presented at the 6th Australian Conference on Adoption, 13–15 June 1997. The National Apology for Forced Adoptions was on the 23rd of March 2013.

The difference between 15th June 1997 and 23rd March 2013 is 5761 Calendar Days. — 5 Years, 9 Months, 1 Week and 5 Days

23rd March 2023 will be the 10th Anniversary of The National Apology for Forced Adoptions, that’s 3652 days

Totalling 15 Years, 9 Months, 1 Week and 5 Days of delayed and inadequate action.

Original Paper.

_ Coleman, J.S. (1994) Foundations of Social Theory, Belknap Press, Cambridge.

_ Foucault, M. (1961 ) Madness and Civilization: A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason,

Vintage Books, New York.

_ Monistic, the belief that there is one and only one objective reality.

_ Donovan, F. & Jackson, A. (1991) Managing Human Service Organisations, Prentice-Hall,

New York.

_ McIntyre, J.J. (1995) Achieving Social Rights and Responsibility: Towards a Critical Humanist Approach to Community Development, Community Quarterly, Victoria. p.22.

_ OShaughnessy, T,. (1994) Adoption, Social Work and Social Theory, Avebury, England. p.19.

_ Berger, P. & Luckmann T. (1966) The Social Construction of Reality: A Treatise in the Sociology of Knowledge, Penguin Books, USA. p, 69.

_ McIntyre, J.J., (1996) Tools for Ethical Thinking and Caring: A reflexive approach to community development theory and practice in the pragmatic 90s, Community Quarterly, Melbourne. 21.

_ ibid., p. 48.

_ Berger and Luckmann, op. cit., p, 66

_ ibid., p, 74.

_ The term institution is used here to describe an established order where activities become Regularised and routinised.

Behaviour, beliefs and attitudes become standardised and patterned and knowing becomes operationalised as rules.

_ Berger and Luckmann op. cit., p. 72.

_ ibid., p. 73.

_ ibid., p. 78.

_ Giddens, A. (1991) Modernity and Self Identity: Self and Society in the Late Modern Age, Stanford University Press, USA.

_ ibid., pp. 187–201.

_ Boulet, J. cited in OShaughnessy op. cit. p. 208.

_ Giddens, op. cit. pp. 187–201

_ ibid., pp. 187–201.

_ McIntyre, op. cit., p. 29.

_ OShaughnessy, op. cit., p. 81

_ Boss, P. (1992) Adoption Australia, The National Children’s Bureau of Australia Inc, Melbourne.

_ OShaughnessy, op. cit., p. 140.

_ McIntyre, op. cit., p. 78.

_ Iffe, J. (1997) Rethinking Social Work: Towards critical practice, Longman, Australia. pp.


_ OShaughnessy, op. cit., p. 6.

_ McIntrye, op. cit., pp. 69–86

_ ibid., p. 66.



Shane Bouel

Written to lift standards of ethics & morality by promoting truth and denouncing the Conservancy of inhumane ideologies. From Thoughtless Del AKA Shane Bouel.

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