Illuminating adoptive family practices in India: a narrative analysis of policy and lived experience

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis


This study is concerned with the ways that adoptive family lives are practiced in contemporary India from a social work perspective. It was written in a time of urgent and contentious policy change which emphasised radical new ways of thinking about the practice of adoptive family life as a legitimate version of kinship. Since 2000, adoption policy and practice in this multicultural, multilingual, and multi-religious country, has undergone considerable change. Governed by multiple laws – both religious and secular – the adoption trend has been re-modelled through the introduction of secular policy, with a focus on advancing in-country adoption. This study demonstrates how adoption policy and lived experience narratives intersect as adoption becomes consolidated as a legitimate form of family. It focuses on the day-to-day family practices that emerge in adoptive families, and the ways these are shaped by adoption discourse. Drawing on theories of family and kinship, the thesis illuminates everyday practices of adoptive family lives in an environment where changing legal narratives contradict practice narrative. The thesis is distinctive in its use of in-depth accounts provided by young adult adopted people, adoptive parents, and social work practitioners experienced in adoption as practised in India in changing times. This study is original. It is the first to provide insight into the secularisation process of child welfare law from a social work perspective, and how it intersects with the ways in which adoptive family lives are practiced in India. It is also the only study to draw on young adult adopted people’s experiences and in-depth accounts from adoptive parents and social work practitioners alike, in the changing socio-legal environment of India. Finally, in its utilisation of an analytic method, the study enables the ‘practice’ of adoptive family lives as narrated within the specific local social and cultural context to be illuminated in ways helpful to practice development on the ground. This thesis makes four analytical claims: Firstly, diversity is analysed and documented within adoptive family practices and displays in India. This diversity arises in response to the challenges that adoptive families face in their everyday lives whilst creating a legitimate version of kinship. Secondly, that ‘doing’ adoptive family in India is ‘hard work’ – mentally and emotionally taxing, and procedurally exhausting - and cannot be successfully achieved through following a structured template. Although ‘doing’ family is a dynamic process, this research has identified that there is continuous and particular pressures on adoptive families to ‘perform family’ in order to gain acceptance. Thirdly, the processes involved in doing adoptive family require negotiating and renegotiating the hard work in which they must decide to demonstrate or not to demonstrate the familial relationships. Ultimately, this research suggests that - in the context of changing social, political and cultural times and competing and contrasting narratives - policy plays a strategic function to author adoptive family lives. Adopted people, adoptive parents, and adoption practitioners are expected to do – or facilitate the ‘doing’ of - adoptive family through a blended approach directed by the policy narrative as well as dialogic engagement, and not always in the ways they would necessarily want. This study aims to illustrate the value of attending to the subjective meaning of adoptive family lives, and to understand how policy related to domestic adoption in India can best ensure the systems and support necessary for diverse families over time.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Sussex
Award date16 Sept 2021
Publication statusPublished - 16 Sept 2021

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