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Pet grief: when is nonhuman life grievable?
Örebro University, School of Humanities, Education and Social Sciences.
(English)Manuscript (preprint) (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

This study explores how pet owners grieve their pets and view their pets’ transience. Drawing on Butler’s notion of the differential allocation of grievability, I have analyzed eighteen interviews with pet owners. Butler argues that grievability is made possible by a normative framework which allows for some human or human-like lives to be grieved, while other lives are rendered ‘lose-able’. All the interviewed pet owners say that they are capable of grieving a nonhuman animal, but analysis suggests that they make their pets grievable and ungrievable by turns. I argue that by maintaining this ambivalence, the interviewees negotiate pets’ inclusion in a human society while simultaneously defending human exceptionalism. The article concludes with a discussion of pet grief as a potentially destabilizing emotion. I suggest that grieving beings on the border between grievable human and lose-able animal—‘werewolves’ according to Giorgio Agamben—may be a powerful way of challenging normative frameworks which arbitrarily render some human and nonhuman lives lose-able.

Keywords [en]
animal studies, Giorgio Agamben, bereavement, Judith Butler, companion animals, grief, human-animal relations, loss, mourning, pets
National Category
Sociology
Research subject
Sociology
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:oru:diva-32187OAI: oai:DiVA.org:oru-32187DiVA, id: diva2:660197
Available from: 2013-10-29 Created: 2013-10-29 Last updated: 2017-10-17Bibliographically approved
In thesis
1. An animal without an animal within: investigating the identities of pet keeping
Open this publication in new window or tab >>An animal without an animal within: investigating the identities of pet keeping
2013 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

If the human is an animal without an animal within—a creature that has transcended the animal condition—what is a pet? This creature balancing on the border between nature and culture, simultaneously included in and excluded from a human “we”, is the focus of this thesis. The thesis analyzes the discourses and normative frameworks structuring the meaning of pets in people’s lives. By extension, it analyzes how the boundary between “human” and “animal” is produced, negotiated, and challenged in the relationship between pet and owner.

Each of this thesis’ four constituent studies focuses on an aspect of personal relationships between humans and pets: pets as figures for philosophical thinking, the dual role of pets as commodities and companions, the grief for lost pets, and the power issues at play in the everyday life of pet and owner. Drawing on Michel Foucault’s genealogical approach, crossbred with Donna Haraway’s material-semiotic perspective, the analysis exposes the powers allowing pets to occupy these various positions.

The thesis demonstrates that pets occupy a special position as boundary creatures in the lives of humans, allowing humans to play with and thus reproduce dichotomies inherent to the contemporary Western worldview, such as human/animal, person/nonperson, subject/object, and friend/commodity. However, pets’ conceptual transgressions may also challenge this worldview. On the one hand, pets are bought and sold as commodities, but on the other, they are widely included in the human sphere as friends or family members. This paradoxical position is accentuated in the construction of a more-than-human home, and it is also visible when pets pass away. This thesis argues that pets, these anomalous creatures, may help humans understand that there are no humans or animals within, only relations between them. Based on this argument, this thesis develops a sociological approach for analyzing the production of humanity and animality in relations between humans and other animals.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Örebro: Örebro universitet, 2013. p. 119
Series
Örebro Studies in Sociology, ISSN 1650-2531 ; 17
Keywords
animal studies, animality, anomalies, companion animals, Michel Foucault, Donna Haraway, human-animal studies, materialsemiotics, pets, posthumanism
National Category
Sociology
Research subject
Sociology
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:oru:diva-29323 (URN)978-91-7668-971-4 (ISBN)
Public defence
2013-11-15, HSF, Hörsal F, Forumhuset, Örebro universitet, Fakultetsgatan 1, Örebro, 13:15 (Swedish)
Opponent
Supervisors
Available from: 2013-06-04 Created: 2013-06-04 Last updated: 2017-10-17Bibliographically approved

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Redmalm, David

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Citation style
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