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Autopoietic Law and the ‘Epistemic Trap’: A Case Study of Adoption and Contact

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This paper examines autopoietic theory with reference to functionally differentiated social sub-systems, particularly law, science, and politics. It sets out to ‘test’ the practical relevance of autopoietic theory in relation to ongoing debates about post-adoption contact and personal identity issues. Law has resisted social scientific pressure to regulate post-adoption contact in the context of a social policy approach, which emphasizes the relationship between identity development and genealogical continuity. I argue that law's response to this pressure relates to the particular nature of adoption as this is expressed through legislation and case law. Law's refusal to intervene in post-adoption contact reflects its self-referential operations and its attempts to avoid epistemic entrapment by a social scientific discourse. Applying autopoietic theory to law's practical operations in adoption clarifies its explanatory value, provides a conceptual framework for understanding the relationship between law, politics, and social science and indicates areas that require theoretical refinement.

Document Type: Original Article


Publication date: 2004-09-01

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