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Alternative Title

Biopolitical and phenomenological encountering of intergenerational parental child abuse in the United States

Publication Date


Document Type

Masters Thesis

Study Type


Degree Name

Master of Social Work


School for Social Work


Child abuse, Phenomenology, Child welfare-United States, Abusive mothers-Counseling of, Biopolitcs, Myth, Abuse, Mothers, Social work, Splitting, Ambivalence, Child, Children, Discipline, Melanie Klein, Michel Foucault


This phenomenological study was undertaken to gain greater depth of understanding into how clinicians working with child welfare referred clients, experience and hold parents and children in families with the presence of intergenerational physical child abuse. The ways in which clinicians encountered, reflected on, and experienced their clients was analyzed in relation to larger discourses past and present around child protection.

Four clinicians, working with the above-mentioned population, were interviewed in a set of two interviews ranging from one to one and half hours per interview. Participants partook in a reflective writing activity in-between the two interviews. Themes of the split mother, the internal child, shame, and care/control emerged in data. Analysis locates the emergence of these themes in a biopolitical landscape, asking how the positions of clinician and client are constructed in relation to one another and larger American myths of the Child, Mother, and Family. This study has implications for social workers engaging in work with ‘vulnerable’ populations and interacting with institutions, presenting a way of examining the power relations embedded in these encounters and a way of working with and through them.




iii, 66 pages. Includes bibliographical references (pages 54-58)