Wade in the water : storying adoptees' experiences through the Adoption Act 1955 : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Psychology at Massey University, Manawatu, Aotearoa/New Zealand
In Aotearoa/New Zealand, the Adoption Act 1955 legislated and governed adoption practices until 1985
when it was supplemented, but not amended or repealed. More than 80,000 children have lived with the
effects of that Act. Underlying the legislation were assumptions about illegitimacy derived from notions
of nullius filius, the child of no-man. Dominant culture sought to right the wrongs of illegitimacy
through the practices of adoption producing a child as if born to legally married adoptive parents.
Through these practices, adoptees became legitimate beings in the social world. The first two
chapters of this thesis trace the legal and psychological narrative constitution of adoptees and make
it possible for me to ask the question: how are adoptees enabled and constrained through specific
subject positions within a particular moral order and how are social power relations implicated in the
narrative constitution of adoptees? To address this question, I draw on a Foucaultian poststructuralist
position using narrative theory to form a hybrid representation of the stories of 12 adoptees. The
first analysis chapter considers how a legal narrative positions adoptees so as to exclude the
possibility of articulating their experiences within 'normal' kinship and social narratives. To be
positioned as if born to did not remove the history of being born to for the adoptee, or the 'real'
lived effects of that lack. The second analysis chapter discusses the ways in which adoptees'
psychological experiences are affected by their legal positioning, how they cope while living the legal
fiction and include accounts of, and resistance to, psychopathological narratives that constitute their
experience. The next analysis chapter explores the complexity of reunion experiences in relation to
ongoing identity construction for adoptees. A chapter of hybridity then draws the analysis chapters
together to represent some of the complex and contradictory social elements of adoption. This thesis
argues that it is possible that the legal exclusion from normalising kinship narratives constitutes
the psychosocial responses of adoptees that are observed as abnormalities and result in their
over-representation in clinical populations. From the participants' perspectives, it is possible that
their experiences are normal responses to abnormal circumstances.