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PhD Candidate Murdoch University of Western Australia
ARCS Management Committee Member

Video screening of Translating Hiraeth and paper


Translating Hiraeth is the second in a series of video installation works which uses the affective or emotional fields held within silence to investigate the complexities of (re) stor (y) ing personal narrative. The first Mother. Mary Martyr. Fy Mam Mair Merthyres reframed the bureaucratic process of 'closed adoption', and engaged with the body and pre-verbal memory. The installation suggested a palpable sense of (dis) location besides a visceral (re) connection to the maternal. In Translating Hiraeth I have extended Fy Mam. Mair. Merthyres to negotiate the bodily issues of familial and cultural (im) placement in an attempt to address the complex and ambiguous process of 'translation' when (re) stor (y) ing the self across disrupted and dispersed identities.


Working with an archaeological sensibility I use contemporary letters, perceptions and reflections to expose the emotional tensions held within the past/present. Through the exploration of family and social silence the work draws on these other narrative positions to negotiate a relational text which falls somewhere between transgression and empathy. By working with particular issues and showing the different emotional viewpoints I am not working towards a definitive resolution, but rather attempting to expose the broader underlying cultural dynamics at play which impact on individual lives.


I will examine the apparent dialectic between the necessity of story and the politics of privacy. I am interested in the psycho-social processes at play - the influence of 'the social' on the telling of story at a particular historical moment - what can be spoken, when, where and to whom, and how this in turn impacts on the individual's emotional well being.

Judy Durey is currently completing a PhD through the School of Arts at Murdoch University. She was adopted under the British Closed Adoption Scheme in 1951, and has a particular interest in the area of Adoption. Her work is interdisciplinary and addresses loss, and the process of (re) stor (y) ing disrupted and dispersed identities. She is a practising visual artist and a former nurse.


Paper - (Re)stor(y)ing Disrupted Identities: Privacy and the Public Voice.


Video Presentation Translating Hiraeth


Stories move in circles. They don’t move in straight lines. So it helps if you listen in circles. There are stories inside stories and stories between stories, and finding your way through them is as easy and as hard as finding your way home.[1]


To feel at home is to ‘know’ those stories   - to incorporate them within a sense of be(longing) -  to know one’s place in the world. The above quote originated in a play entitled “Coming From a Great Distance” and was performed by A Travelling Jewish Theatre. In our itinerant and fragmented society it is story which connects our lives over time and across space to a network of people, and particular events. What information could be more particular than the situatedness of one’s birth,  the knowledge of one’s mother, father, siblings – and the stories of connection to their cultural background? “If people’s stories are destroyed they wander dispossessed on the fringes of other people’s stories” [2] – listening.


In White Cameleon (1991) Christopher Hampton writes: “Perhaps the person with roots takes them for granted, while the person with no roots whatsoever is vividly aware of them, like some phantom ache on an amputated limb.”   Gertrude Stein wrote: “It’s great to have roots, as long as you can take them with you”[3]. As migrants we talk about putting down roots. Perhaps these statements raise more questions in relation to silence and family separation. Is identity something that we know/and/or feel? How is it related to notions of home, affiliation, place, belonging, itinerance, loss of “origins”, and silence?


In a world full of displacement, boundary crossing, complexity and multiplicity, there are many who feel a need for (re)connection at this present time. I would argue that for those who have been separated through silence from their “original” family continuums, this contemporary feeling of dislocation is amplified. Within most cultures, a sense of ‘biogenic’ relatedness, within story, filtered across time, links people, places and pasts in a way that is full of corporeal meaning. In other words it ‘matters’.  It adds a particular density to our personal point of reference, within a shifting ‘locale’. Without such knowledge, I believe, we cannot fully answer ourselves the now clichéd existential question, ‘who are you and where do you come from’?  For many there is a yearning within the notion of be(longing) which sits outside the verb to be. It is the excavation of this silence which feeds the project of (re)stor(y)ing. To be, is to come from. Our understandings of the past feed into our ongoing, life long revisions, and constructions of the self – our identity.


Silence and secrecy go hand in hand. As past social policies are reviewed by historically and culturally locating them from within current thinking, we understand that they were shaped by the ideologies and practices of their time. But there is also a present cultural determination, and a political correctness[4] as to which silences from the past can be brought into public consciousness, and who may speak about them[5].  Secrecy about one’s past is disempowering and for disempowered individuals, finding a voice is therefore a vulnerable act of empowerment, and is necessarily tied to recovery. The telling of story is also the social medium through which we empathise, and share our humanity.


Within the context of this conference   I feel most qualified to focus upon the (re)stor(y)ing process for those who were placed under the ‘closed adoption scheme’. The (re)stor(y)ing project as I see it, encompasses  the interrelationship  between reconstructing the facts of the story, and ‘physiologically’ and emotionally incorporating them into a more embodied sense of self, through lived experience and a meaningful kinaesthetic ‘creative’ process. Knowledge as objective meaning making in terms of positivist research is more about provability and facts, whereas knowledge in this context is more about making sense of the experience through experience. And more embodied research process has been developed through the interrelationship between experience, practice and theoretical inquiry.


Translating Hiraeth is the second in a series of video Installation works, in which I use  the affective or emotional fields held within the silences of   adoption  to investigate the complexities of (re)stor(y)ing personal narrative. The earlier work Fy Mam Mair Merthyres reframed the bureaucratic process of ‘closed adoption’ and engaged with the sensory body, and the time prior to language – the pre verbal. This piece was inspired mainly by the emotional intensity and sensory responses I experienced when I returned to my (birth) mother’s house in Wales. Through the work I attempted to create a palpable sense of (dis)location besides a visceral (re)connection to the ‘maternal’. In Translating Hiraeth I have extended the focus of the story to try and articulate bodily issues of familial and cultural (im)placement. This piece includes the discovery of my birthfather’s family. Here I was given excess of language in the form of family stories, politics, and even another language which resonated, yet was ‘other’.  We shared an intimate relatedness, yet, I had no prior life experiences which connected me to my family’s, stories, place and their particular culture.


On the domestic front adoption is now seen as the most ‘extreme form of out of home care’ and is   mostly supported by a policy of ‘open adoption’ with ongoing contact between the birth parents, their children and adoptive parents. However there are many people searching for their families of ‘origin’ who were adopted under the past ‘closed’ system, including Aboriginal people, many of whom were adopted into white Australian families, and  an increasing number of  adopted people from overseas who may never have access to information due to circumstance. There are of course particular differences within all of these and it is important not to collapse these experiences together, yet there are also similarities and points of recognition between all of them.   There are also issues that will resonate across many other areas of family separation where there has been silence.     Whilst drawing from my broader research project, I reflect on the interrelationship between my own adoption search and what I would call an embodied art praxis, where a ‘participatory understanding[6]’ or ‘connected doing’ combines with a deeper inquiry. I will draw on aspects of the creative and reflective process as I touch on some of the critical thinking which has emerged. Through the interdisciplinarity  of the project, I extend the use of art as a ‘radical’[7] and necessary  device to  understand  and question the experience of the process itself. 


Where there is a history of erasure and a need to reconnect in the present, a process of (re)membering[8] forward has to come into play.   By putting the missing pieces of story  together,  art[9] as ‘performance’ can help to materialise the past, and help to incorporate new information about identity into an ongoing sense of ‘self’. This phenomenological and cognitive integration of personal story is, I believe, an important aid to emotional and mental wellbeing. 


In the area of research, Donna Haraway insists on a “vulnerable…situated… embodied nature of vision”, opposed to the   authoritative, objective “view from above” (1991: 188) or “the conquering gaze from nowhere” (1991: 196).   Working with the body and validating  ‘the emotional’ as agency within the (re)stor(y)ing project,   offers a sense of empowerment  to those involved, whilst in the broader context it acknowledges the role of emotion as part of our  meaningful communicative social practice. It acknowledges the publicness of emotional interaction, and the important relational aspects within and when sharing individual stories, that are crucial to the wider empathetic process.  Whilst contemporary ideology can shift past power bases, it also paradoxically has the power to relocate silence in the present. I have found that there is much in contemporary identity politics and abstract theory that doesn’t sit easily with the material life experience of adoption, at a practical level.

In this paper, I would like to draw aspects of cultural studies and scientific research together, and I have divided the (re)stor(y)ing project into two areas of  embodied ‘understanding’. The first area   has to do with   the process of making sense of, and acknowledging the experiences associated with the prior ‘relatedness’[10] to, and subsequent separation from the mother, before adoption. This time has to do with sensory perception, where responses are recorded according to the flow of positive and negative affect.


As a developmental psychologist, Daniel Siegel (1996)(1999) points out, drawing on Larry Squire’s earlier work that   this early form of memory   is  ‘non-declarative’ or implicit,  and involves the direct encoding of emotional , behavioural, somatic and perceptual experience into non-linguistic representations. These are laid down as early pre-symbolic cognitive representations[11]. Siegel maintains that these early interactions are not only associated with security and survival (Stern: 1985), but   form the foundations of attachment, through an early “mutual attunement”.  This enables an ability to thrive emotionally, and according to Siegel,   lays the groundwork for future dyadic relationships (1996). The adopted adult has no remembered language for their earliest experiences as they fall into the ‘pre-verbal’[12]


During search and at reunion, the adoptee can experience intense emotional responses which are difficult to place and   put language to[13].   I believe the creative arts, using a range of sensory triggers can help  to make sense of the past, and help to facilitate  a   process of putting language to their emotional experience.  Undoubtedly for some, feelings of   ‘recognition’ and   loss   enable a motivation and caring to connect at a deeper level.


This second area of ‘understanding’ or connection, in the (re)stor(y)ing process appears to be an inversion of the first, but has more to do with the cultural issues of reconnection, or (im)placement. I believe, the wider the divide between the birth family culture and the adoptive family culture, the harder the (im)placement [14]process is for the adopted person at reunion. As a result of   past silence, there is often an excess of language at reunion in terms of   the ‘new’ story, family mythologies and perhaps a different language.  The adopted person is presented with ‘new aspects of   story and new ‘particular’ facts about identity which they may not ‘feel’ attached to initially, but know they are part of in a bio-genealogical, intergenerational sense. At a bodily and sensory level they may feel a strong connection, but   have no remembered   life experiences to link ‘new’ cultural information to. Creative kinaesthetic devices are very valuable when (im)placing oneself within the ‘new’ familial and cultural story.  However welcoming the family may be, the adopted person is initially an intimate stranger to their closest ‘blood’ relatives, and an outsider to the family culture and sense of shared history. The corporeal realisation of being part of the ‘biological’ family social history as well as having the  intimate experience of the adoptive family, but without being part of their intergenerational history, I believe, situates the adopted person in  a version of Homi Bhabba’s third space, or his notion of the in-between. (1994). [15]


By interacting with the new environment in a creative and meaningful way, phenomenological associations can be made by connecting particular ‘events’ in the present to new significant  others, family ‘monuments’, places and their pasts. I found the creation of   simple ephemeral memorials not only enabled a more embodied understanding of the past, it also provided an experiential hook, in memory,  to hang new information on in the future.   This can take the form of a simple creative ritual - even an arrangement of stones documented by a photograph, video or drawing,  or a piece of automatic writing performed at chosen family sites. Any intentional, creative act associates a range of different sign systems, movements and sensory affect with new meaning, and will registe a ‘dispositional representation’,  or personal associative memory, which   links  ‘new’ people, places, and past events.


Siegel points out that there are at least three types of cognitive representations which interact to form an associative memory. They are the symbolic linguistic or semantic   meanings associated with words, the symbolic pre-linguistic which take the form of images or ideas[16], and the pre-symbolic which has to do with sensation and movement.  In this sense the performative or creative ‘ritual’ in the present, becomes a physical repetitious act of (re)connection between the self and   the ‘original’ family story.


Research shows that when past silences are lifted, for many adopted people the desire to reconnect in some way is very strong and does not in itself reflect any failure in the adoptive relationship.[17] In Let the Offspring Speak, Margaret McDonald refers to the desire for contact with the birth family as a “basic human need” (1997:123). Philosophically it may be difficult to identify what is meant by this “basic human need”. Yet in ‘real life’ terms adoption search can develop an intense emotional focus of desire for both the mother and adult adoptee[18].


Historically, ‘the emotional’ has been left outside serious research, in fact   social policy and institutional knowledge in general has been based on   rationalist models of the human subject dating back to Enlightenment thinking which associated ‘the emotional’ with irrationality, the ‘hysterical’ female body and the pejorative. [19]. Drawing from a range of disciplines, I am interested in our cultural interpretations of ‘the emotional’, and the connections between, creative activity, perception, silence, memory, meaning making and agency.


Given the Enlightenment theories, it now seems ironical that   science   is linking emotion to rationality, and I believe in this context, throwing new light on some of the processes involved in adoption restor(y)ing. Neurobiologists are even investigating the connections between emotion, memory and decision making (see Demasio 1994; LeDoux 1996; Kandel in Day (1995), Kandel & Squire 2000). They are looking into the emotional meaning of stimuli, particularly those associated with anxiety, and how different neural systems are responsible for registering different emotions. LeDoux (1996) examines research linking our ability to have unconscious emotional reactions based on past experience, and our ability to store unconscious emotional memories. This fits with Psychoanalysis. Freud’s interests in the unconscious originally began from a biological standpoint but he was unable to verify his ideas with scientific data and moved towards his theory of psychoanalysis[20].   There can be no fixed structural notion of individual selfhood that science can definitively know, as ‘the social’ constantly interacts with the biological body within the ongoing processes of life, just  as we, as social subjects react in a relational way to the world, and those around us. Yet, Antonio Demasio (1994:165) elaborates on the connection between the body, emotion and   reason with his “somatic marker hypothesis”. He says, there is often a physical body signal,  a ‘gut feeling’ accompanied by heightened emotion  and  visceral feedback from the body, which comes into play  to warn us against making poor cognitive  choices, within our social environment.[21] Within the context of this discussion these ‘gut feelings’ could also be registering past sensory connections and anxieties. 


Eric Kandel is a psychoanalyst, trained psychiatrist and neurobiologist working at Columbia University. He is renowned for his work on the “biology of memory”. In 2000 he won the Nobel Prize for Medicine for his work in uncovering the neurobiological mechanisms within the conversion of short term memory to long term memory. He has been working with ‘implicit’ memory storage and the unconscious recall of perceptual or sensory responses, to provoked anxiety. Kandel has also been working on ‘explicit’ memory which involves the conscious recall about people, places and things. Both types of memory storage work at a cellular level which has to do with protein synthesis. Extreme positive and negative affect enhances the release of what is called a neurotransmitter at the nerve sinapse, intensifying the registration of a significant event. Kandel’s work is relevant to both aspects of this restor(y)ing project. His work also draws the neurobiological domain into the area of social inquiry.


Firstly we can link this information to the earlier research mentioned, which indicates that early experience for the infant is linked to strong feelings of survival and security. This early pre-verbal experience is registered at the level of affect.  The separation of the infant from the mother results in the loss of all sensory connections between them, or the ‘mutual attunement’ mentioned earlier.  If we assume that strong inhibitions can develop at any age to prevent memories of traumatic events from coming to consciousness, the trauma due to the loss of the mother and associated affect, might be seen  in light of neurobiological research, to be part of a network that has come to be linked to neural mechanisms  associated with strong feelings of anxiety about separation.[22] This may help to explain the heightened experience, and at times the range of emotional reactions which are difficult to put language to, which are associated with search and reunion, [23]  The sensory ‘recognition’ and intense feelings of loss might suggest  a rekindling of the initial trauma.


Psychoanalyst, Bracha Lichenberg Ettinger (1995 ) describes the connection within utero and after the birth, as   “a liquid out of focus relatedness where there is a sensory interaction and exchange of psychic affect …. a palpable visceral relatedness”. When putting stories together about early separation and subsequent reconnection, the intense emotional, temporal collapse within the past/present makes sense in psychoanalytic discourse,   the field of neuroscience, and contemporary theory.


Much has been written about the intensity of search and reunion (Verrier: 1993), (Sorosky, Baron and Panor: 1978), (Lifton: 1979, 1990, &1994),(McDonald:1997, 2001) to name but a few,   but  little  has been  written which specifically helps unravel  the emotional complexities at a level of ‘practical consciousness’,[24]  - in a way which helps make sense of the   experience  and the (re)stor(y)ing process through the body.


Reunion experiences vary widely. Some adopted people experience ambiguous    feelings of loss and euphoria -  somatic resistances registering both simultaneously. For a few there may be a detached denial. For some the prior ‘relatedness’ may have been idealised during search, tapping into an ‘infantile’ desire to recover the initial loss, which of course, can never be met. 


When social silences are uncovered, the lack of knowledge about the self may also feed feelings of disempowerment and a political need for agency.   At reunion emotional euphoria, sensory connection and apparent physical similarities can   be a strong force of attraction[25]. Although physical resemblance, shared mannerisms and other similarities in themselves, do not necessarily guarantee future relationship or a strong sense of belonging, particularly when there is a large cultural divide. Cultural expectations and romantic media representations sometimes influence imagined ‘fairytale’ outcomes. The multiple issues are complex and for most people lasting relationships have to be developed over time through building on a shared sense of experience.


Ongoing creative practice can play a very useful role in the continuing (re)stor(y)ing process, by becoming an ‘act’ of translation which helps to make sense of experience. By working with local issues and tensions held within the story, and using emotion as a generative core and a key to the creative or performative work, connections can be made which enable a more embodied understanding to be reached through the kinaesthetic or physical process of a connected doing, thus combining   the body with   material and practical processes associated with new cultural meaning. Conversely when there is denial, or difficulty in feeling deeply,   the function of art with a level of motivation and caring may   help restore the pulpability of the experience.[26]


As with any translation there is always loss- it is never complete. There is no certain achievement, unified truth, or definitive answer. The American poet Lyn Hejinian writes, “To place a work in translation is to place it in transition and to leave it there unsettled”. In adoption (re)stor(y)ing,  the act of  translation is always felt  through  degrees of transition. 


When I discovered my father’s family near the slate quarries of North Wales, I felt a stronger cultural divide.   They warmly welcomed me into their community,   yet it was a very different experience from the earlier ‘easier’ reunion with my mother’s family in the South, where we had more in common, and also shared a strong physical resemblance.   In the North, Welsh was their first language and their strong political, nationalistic sentiments highlighted my English upbringing beside the negative aspects of their history.   This strange dichotomy   led me to examine the complexities of familial and cultural (im)placement in more depth, and to appreciate the value   of   creative acts within the complex processes of reunion across wider cultural divides.


Anthropologist Thomas J. Csordas (1999) discusses the nexus of culture and experience as a standpoint of being in the world, requiring what he calls a “cultural phenomenology” - the process of synthesizing the immediacy of embodied experience with the multiplicity of cultural meanings and possible interpretations. For me, the Welsh language resonated, was beautifully melodious and yet remained “other”.  For my ‘new found family’ it underpinned notions of cultural heritage, nationalism, politics, collective identity, and story. By way of response, I decided to work with Welsh words in a physical way. This created new relevance for me as I associated myself with various family sites and cultural monuments. Using the simple performative act of filling cloth sample bags with available material, such as earth, sand or slate, I then labelled each bag with a chosen Welsh word, videoed it, and left it there.  In this sense the ‘simple ritual’ which I suggested earlier in this paper    became   a bodily act of translation into the narrative, which tried to access the past through a compensatory performance within the present. For me it was a concrete way to approach aspects of the family story and language.


To describe the project at length is beyond the scope of this paper but three poignant words   were “cof”, “hanes” and “hiraeth”. “Cof” means memory and was inscribed onto every family grave[27], whereas “hanes” means story. I worked with the word “hanes” at the slate quarry where many family members have worked over the years. The grave stones at the family chapel were made from local slate, which came from this same quarry.  The word “Hiraeth” was inscribed onto   one particular grave. ‘Hiraeth’ is an old Welsh word meaning something like longing or yearning for.  But I was told there was in fact, no exact translation in English for this sentiment, which I thought poignant. Here it was evident that translation does bring you closer to something, but   in Lyn Hejinian’s words, it also “catalyses one’s own otherness” – there is always slippage.


Anthropologists, Naomi Quinn and Claudia Strauss (1994) use ‘schema theory’ and ‘connectionism’ to examine how we distinguish between an explicitly remembered or “familia type of situation” and a new cultural situation. Schemas are cultural understandings that have come to be shared to a greater or lesser extent without being universals. In adoption search and reunion the “familia” situation takes on new meaning when connecting with immediate relatives for the first time, in a linguistically different cultural setting[28]. Quinn and Strauss (1994), (1997),  Seigel (1999)  talk about how we make  sense of a new situation based on our previous experience, which includes the linguistic, cognitive connections we make, plus the sights,  smells, sounds and so on,  that go with that experience.


They say, schemas are well learned, but can adapt to new or ambiguous situations in an ‘improvised’ guided way to determine the differences and similarities of a new situation. Here we can refer back to Eric Kandel’s work on explicit memory storage about people, places and past events. 


Motivation, emotion and caring come into how any new situation is approached and affects how it is registered.  “This caring and motivation enacts some cultural understandings more than others (Quinn & Strauss, 1994: 290   )”. This motivation, emotion and caring is crucial to (re)stor(y)ing family narrative and  to the (im)placement project. As we know emotional arousal during or after an experience strengthens the neural connections that result from that experience (Kandel & Squire 2000: 172). This alters the neurochemical environment, in which the relations, among the features of those experiences were encoded, and render the mental representations of those associations stronger, than they would have been, had s/he not cared so much about what s/he was observing or, in this case ‘creatively’ doing.


Similarly, philosopher, Merleau-Ponty  (1962) suggests culture does not reside only in objects and representations, but also in the   participatory nature of perception and the embodied  processes of the experiencing self. He talks about the intentional threads that trace the connections between ourselves and our worlds. I think this intentionality highlights the relevance of the private, simple, ephemeral memorials mentioned earlier. In this context, our emotional responses and creative constructions within the (re)stor(y)ing environment  become a productive and meaningful act of healing. 


As I pointed out earlier, there are stories within stories and stories between stories.   The personal story is always relational and therefore joined to other   narratives, and by extension is   situated within a wider familial, social, historical and cultural context. The renegotiation of narrative is an ongoing process rather than a certain   achievement.  “We excavate the different aspects of the personal past which by its nature is also part of the biographical landscape of the family” (Hansson, 2000 ). By exposing the personal past, we also in turn, reveal details about other lives.[29] When dealing with past social silence, the act of translating the self within the (re)stor(y)ing project falls somewhere between transgression and empathy, and is a process which ultimately relies on integrity.


To conclude I want to return to the title of the video, Translating Hiraeth. If ‘translating the self’ is a necessary ‘act’, or performance of passage, and ‘Hiraeth’,  the  desire to understand something that, due to silence and cultural difference  is not quite translatable,  the  broader   research project interrogates  the elusive nature of that  ‘performance’, to examine    the processes of embodying ‘new’ aspects of identity. By working with emotion through informed material practices of creative production, we can enable ‘new’ knowledge, towards deeper understanding and wellbeing, at a level of ‘practical consciousness’.


In adoption, to (re)story the past, as our present lives continue to become story, is to acknowledge identity as occupying a fluid position within and between the many narratives of our experience





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[1] Corey Fisher, Albert Greenberg and Naomi Newman, (1978), in “Coming from a great Distance” performed in San Francisco by A Travelling Jewish Theatre.

[2] Miller, 1997:159.

[3] Cited in Rosi Braidotti (1994).

[4] Stephen Brookfield ‘reading’ the critical theorist, Herbert  Marcuse refers to   a form of “democratic repression”.

[5] See Foucault on  the ‘question of power’ (1989).

[6] This is a term which I have borrowed from Dwight Conquergood (2002).

[7] “The essence of being radical is physical”, as Foucault said in a late interview, “the essesnce of being radical is the radicalness of existence itself”, Foucault quoted by Susan Bordo and cited in Welton (1998).

[8]‘ (re)membering’, see OED, also see Seigal on memory and projected imagination (1999)

[9] Here I use ‘art’ or the creative act in its broadest sense as conceptual, perceptual, sensory, kinaesthetic and political process.

[10] For the child who is adopted beyond infancy where language is present. I would refer to prior relationship, rather than’ relatedness’.

[11] See Siegel (1999)

[12] If the child is old enough to put language to the pre-adoptive experience, these memories can be literally ‘lost in translation’ if a second language is involved, or  lost as a result of the experience not being validated or built upon as part of the life story. Memories can also be lost due to early trauma and separation.

[13] Conversely some adoptees   initially  can be quite emotionally disconnected, particularly if they have not   instigated the search.

[14] See J. Durey (2000) 7th Australian Adoption Conference proceedings.

[15] For many people this is a time of identity crisis. I believe the aim of (im)placement is to feel part of both families.

[16] See also Ettinger (1995).

[17] In WA the Adoption Laws were implemented  in 1897. Secrecy was introduced in 1921. In 1987 adopted people could access their birth information. Major research carried out before the change in the legislation to ‘open adoption’ in 1994 showed that between 1897 and 1991, 11000 ‘stranger’ adoptions had taken place – most of those were post WW2. The research also showed that between 1987 and 1991, 10,000 people had applied for their information (Personal communication with Colin Keogh, Adoptions, DCD WA). This figure does not reflect the number who have actually searched or the number of reunions, but it does show a very high level of interest in biological relatedness.

[18] Although here in terms of ‘desire’ I am particularly referencing   the  early sensory affective connections between mother and infant, it is important to mention that for many birthfathers and their children   reunion can be a very emotional experience. Search can also trigger strong emotional responses for the adoptive parents.

[19] See Hannah Decker’s account (1991) of Dora’s case, Freud, Dora and Vienne  1900.

[20] Eric Kandel points out in his 1998 article that Freud originally sought “a neural model of behaviour in an attempt to develop a scientific psychology”. See also Kandel 1999.

[21] Psycholinguist Julia Kristeva extended Freud’s work to develop her theory of the Chora, in which she identifies these moments of insight in the form of sensory or visceral feedback as “eclipses of signification in the subject…” (1987: 8)

[22] The level of ‘attachment disorder’ will vary according to the circumstances,  as in the case of the older infant who has been separated, those who have had several carers and/or those who have been institutionalised for long periods of time before their adoption. See Ronald Federici (1998 &1997) & Bowlby (1963) & (1980).

[23] There are also strong cultural expectations which induce emotional response, but   often these can be  expressed linguistically.


[24] This is a term that I have borrowed from performance theorist Dwight Conquergood (2002).

[25] Jon Telfor explores this area in his paper, “Why (not) looking Like Anyone Else Matters”, Australian  Adopion Conference 2000.


[26] See Lyn Hejinian’s work on “Forms in Alterity: On Translation”.

[27] In the Pentir graveyard I was shown many family graves spanning four generations, showing their strong sense of locality over time.

[28] A situation amplified through ‘inter country’ and cross cultural adoption. See Armstrong & Slaytor, Eds. 2001. The Colour of Difference.  See also www. 

[29] If we acknowledge that our stories are relational, we can no longer adhere to narrow Enlightenment notions of the rational, autonomous, private individual.

These papers are copywrite please contact author before using this material  

Papers presented at the 1st

 National Conference on the Mental Health Aspects of Persons Affected by Family Separation

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