Dissertations and Theses @ UNI

Award Winner

Recipient of the 2006 Outstanding Master's Thesis Award - Second Place.

To go to the Graduate Student Award Recipients collection page, click here.


Open Access Thesis


Adoption--Terminology; Stigma (Social psychology);


Despite legal recognition of adoption as a legitimate family form, research suggests that adoptive families face a special set of circumstances revolving around the societal stigma involved with adoption. Additionally, adoptees admit to experiencing legal, social, and institutional discrimination because of their adoptive status. Although there have been many celebrations of adoption (such as Dave Thomas), there are cultural norms regarding the family that discipline us to see adoption negatively. Researchers acknowledge that the language surrounding adoption is negative, but do not pursue what that language is or where it appears. Thus, the purpose ofmy study was to determine how the contemporary public vocabulary repertoire represents adoption. Three national newspapers and eleven magazines published over a ten-year period were analyzed using a Burkean approach to uncover the clusters that infuse adoption's meaning and to establish whether or not the meaning of adoption is fixed or is undergoing a terministic catharsis. Findings indicate five sets of clusters that surround the word adoption and thus affect its meaning: first, there is an attempt to biologicize adoption; second, adoption is replaced in the discourse by a variety of terms that confuse its meaning; third, adoption's meaning is created through the perspective of the adoptive parent; fourth, biology is in direct opposition to adoption; and fifth, adoption is equated to the commodification of children. The research indicates that the meaning of adoption is muddled in the current discourse, thus providing a space for the meaning behind adoption to be transformed through a terministic catharsis. Ultimately, although adoption is celebrated in the public discourse, the underlying meaning of adoption is somewhat negative, but still very ambiguous.

Year of Submission


Year of Award

2006 Award

Degree Name

Master of Arts


Department of Communication Studies

First Advisor

Catherine Helen Palczewski, Chair, Thesis Committee


If you are the rightful copyright holder of this thesis and wish to have it removed from the Open Access Collection, please submit an email request to scholarworks@uni.edu. Include your name and clearly identify the thesis by full title and author as shown on the work.

Date Original


Object Description

1 PDF file (vii, 194 pages)



File Format