University Of Tasmania
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The relationship between applicants and officers in intercountry adoption : a sociological analysis

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posted on 2023-05-26, 21:31 authored by Jansen, E
In modernity the welfare of children is provided for at the institutional 'intersection' of the family and the state. Where kinship structures are diffuse, nuclear hardship leads to increased state dependence. The institutional relationship between the state and the family is marked by divided responsibility and competition for control over the welfare of the individual. In late capitalism, citizenship has expanded to include the rights of the child and the child has emerged as a social personality, protected by the emotional bonds of the family and by the political rights afforded by the state. In modern capitalist societies like Australia, the well-being of the child is recognised as important by both the family and the state. Paradoxically, there is potential for tension and even conflict where the claims of autonomy and the assertion of private property rights in children by the family cut across the notions of responsibility and public accountability espoused by government. The strain between parental autonomy and state responsibility is often unresolved. Intercountry adoption is a social phenomenon that removes structurally-isolated children from the socially marginalised and economically deprived conditions of orphanages in order to relocate them, for their benefit, as members of caring, well-to-do families. Support for intercountry adoption can therefore be expected from all people who are committed to the well-being of children and who see the nuclear family as the most desirable social setting for the raising of children. Since those values are almost universally supported in modernity, it might be thought that officials who process adoptions applications will have an harmonious relationship with prospective adoptive parents. Intercountry adoption services might also be expected to run smoothly since all participating parties ostensibly work in concert to achieve shared goals. These expectations are not borne out. While the two groups share many fundamental values, the relationship between officers and applicants in intercountry adoption is often contested and tension-ridden as is evidenced by an Ombudsman's report and academic research. This thesis explores that relationship sociologically in order to identify these tensions and antagonisms and their sources. This research explains the persistent tension in the relationship between applicants and officers in the Tasmanian intercountry adoption service. It argues that the tensions between officers and applicants reflect the normative and institutionalised tensions between the family and the state. This thesis is examined by analysing the extent to which shared social values and attendant patterns of behaviour, ideology and expectation underpin the tensions that affect the interaction between the Intercountry Adoption Service officers and applicants. The analysis shows that the competing attitudes and behaviours displayed by Intercountry Adoption Service applicants and officers are 'predictable' because of the constraining effects of social institutions on both sides. More specifically, the thesis demonstrates that uncertainty and contingency are institutionalised features of the relationship between applicants and officers since the social actors interact in terms of their roles as representatives of their various, competing positions within a broad social framework, as well as pursuing individual interests, and that the resulting tension takes on some highly predictable forms. Interviews were chosen as the most appropriate method for gaining the qualitative data that enable the tension in the relationship between applicants and officers to be analysed and explained. The interviews were used to gain information on the relationship between officers and applicants. First, anxiety and tension are explored as reflections of the institutionalised tension between the family and the state. Anxiety is depicted as an essential characteristic of the politically unequal relationship between applicants and officers. Secondly, the thesis explores ways in which motivations become an issue around which applicants and officers express anxiety. Thirdly, the thesis analyses the way in which the service is rationed and the manner in which rationing contributes to tension. Fourthly, the compartmentalisation of parenting roles, and the manner in which responsibility for the child is divided among officers and adopting parents, are analysed by examining the views of the participating parties on appropriate procedural pace. Waiting periods are recognised as major points of tension. Fifthly, the values shared by applicants and officers are identified to show that the relationship is not totally hostile. On the contrary, the tension in the relationship is shown to be attributable to competing agendas more than to conflicting value systems. Sixthly, and finally, the thesis analyses the management of the dissatisfaction, identifying it as an important element in the interaction between applicants and officers but as only one aspect of that complex relationship. In addressing these six issues, this research provides an analysis of intercountry adoption that is of value to applicants and officers in inter-country adoption services in Australia and other receiving countries and to many children in relinquishing countries. By investigating sociologically the relationship between the family and the state in Western modernity it explains the manner in which strain is managed at the intersection of two key social institutions.


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Copyright 1995 the Author - The University is continuing to endeavour to trace the copyright owner(s) and in the meantime this item has been reproduced here in good faith. We would be pleased to hear from the copyright owner(s). Includes bibliographical references (leaves 209-232). Thesis (Ph.D.)--University of Tasmania, 1997

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