Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Social Work (DSW)


Social Work


Lyle S. Hallman Faculty of Social Work

First Advisor

Amy Rossiter

Advisor Role

Dissertation Supervisor


Many adopted persons report experiencing ongoing problems with identity, often resulting in feelings of personal deficiency to imprison their sense of self. The dominant position of the literature eon adoption individualizes and problematizes “identity” issues by locating the source of difficulties to individual traits of the adopted person and his/her adoptive family. Consequently, the struggle associated with the identity “adopted” is typically constructed as an individual struggle.

Drawing on my own lived experience as an adopted women, I have been engaged in a critical inquiry of the traditional view of adoption in order to understand the problem of identity not as an individual problem but as a social construction rooted in power. From this critical inquiry, I have developed a post-structuralist framework of adoption which offers a more liberatory interpretation of the adoption experience, in general, and the problem of identity, in particular. This theoretical perspective radically reframes the problems of identity formation within adoption by showing its social origins through the concrete production of difference at the level of the individual.

The purpose of this inquiry is to show the social construction of adoption as a problem of identity and to examine the ideological purposes of that construction. I interviewed eight participants who are self-identified “adoption advocates” and who openly acknowledged having struggled with the identity “adopted.” The methodological approach is an in-depth interview study informed by feminist research principles and hermeneutics.

I argue that identity formation is an intersubjective process of construction acquired through shared experiences of recognition. For adopted persons, the template “as if born to” that is active in the formation of identity is problematic because to think and live “as if” something is true when it is not intolerable and injurious to one’s developing view of self. Additionally, I argue that being produced “adopted” is harmful because potentials are harmed in that process of construction.

In reviewing some of the salient experiences of adoption identified by the participants’ stories, as well as my own, I have selected four sites of injury sustained to our identity formation. Specifically, the four sites of injury selected for discussion include: The Birth Story… Living a Pretense; Living Silence… Living Silent; The Experience of Being Mothered… The Desire to Belong; and Looking for Recognition… Claiming our Difference. Generally, my interpretation disputes widely held beliefs that suggest problems of identity in adoption are caused by early attachment disturbance and infant trauma. Instead, following a social construction approach, my different interpretation of adoption claims that the primacy of the biological family as a cultural ideal in Western Society causes harm to adopted persons.

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