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An animal without an animal within: investigating the identities of pet keeping
Örebro University, School of Humanities, Education and Social Sciences.
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 [en]
animal studies, animality, anomalies, companion animals, Michel Foucault, Donna Haraway, human-animal studies, materialsemiotics, pets, posthumanism
National Category
Sociology
Research subject
Sociology
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:oru:diva-29323Libris ID: 14228898ISBN: 978-91-7668-971-4 (print)OAI: oai:DiVA.org:oru-29323DiVA, id: diva2:625178
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
List of papers
1. In-your-face-ethics: phenomenology of the face and social psychological animal studies
Open this publication in new window or tab >>In-your-face-ethics: phenomenology of the face and social psychological animal studies
2011 (English)In: Undisciplined animals: invitations to animal studies / [ed] Pär Segerdahl, Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2011, 1, p. 73-104Chapter in book (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

In this essay, I show how nonhuman animals can challenge anthropocentric theoretical reflection by their mere gaze. According to the central social psychological thought figure, humans become the individual beings they are in the eyes of others. What happens when those others are nonhuman animals? Instead I show that many social philosophers focusing on the encounter face-to-face have a peculiar fascination for nonhuman animals; it is as if nonhuman animals quietly call attention to themselves as soon as philosophers begin their meditations. In the essay, I especially focus on Emmanuel Lévinas phenomenology of the face. For Lévninas, the meeting face to face is prior to all other forms of sociality. When another being respond to your existence, you become someone in the very invitation to speak. The invitation to speak entails a responsibility to respond and confirm the existence of the other, and therefore, ethics is intimately intertwined with the process of perceiving a notion of self and the meeting face-to-face. While Lévinas argues that we never can decide in advance who has a face and who has not, and that human beings may be bereaved of their faces, Lévinas is not ready to grant a face to a nonhuman animal. This has raised a discussion whether Lévinas is indeed consistent with his own thinking. I show that Lévinas position in relation to nonhuman animals does not follow from his discussion of the phenomenology of the face, but from the things he associate with the word ‘animal’, and from how he uses it to define the human subject.  I suggest that studies of social life cannot define in advance what an ‘other’ is, since the moment where we discover a new face and challenge our notion of ourselves is an integral part of social existence. Since an important aspect of Lévinas face is that it is always prior to the I, then we can never dismiss a possible face in advance. This becomes crucial in relation to nonhuman animals, since they regularly are bereaved of their faces with reference to their animality, even though many people interact face-to-face with nonhuman animals. Consequently, in order not to risk neglecting meaningful interaction, social scientists need an open stance toward possible faces, and they should start by letting nonhuman animals into social science studies in general, and social psychological studies in particular.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2011 Edition: 1
Keywords
Emmanuel Lévinas, Jacques Derrida, Donna Haraway, postmodern ethics, animal ethics, face, animal studies, human-animal relations, l'animot, Djurens Rätt, Animal Liberation Front
National Category
Social Psychology
Research subject
Sociology
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:oru:diva-27070 (URN)978-1-4438-2951-9 (ISBN)
Available from: 2013-01-28 Created: 2013-01-28 Last updated: 2017-10-17Bibliographically approved
2. Holy bonsai wolves: chihuahuas and the Paris Hilton syndrome
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Holy bonsai wolves: chihuahuas and the Paris Hilton syndrome
2014 (English)In: International journal of cultural studies, ISSN 1367-8779, E-ISSN 1460-356X, Vol. 17, no 1, p. 93-109Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

This article examines the reasons for the Chihuahua breed’s popularity in contemporary westernsociety by looking at two sets of data: Chihuahua handbooks and The Simple Life show, starringParis Hilton and her Chihuahua Tinkerbell. The article argues that the Chihuahua is a holy anomaly:a creature which can be used in myths and rituals to temporarily alleviate the tension-filled binaryoppositions and stereotypes inherent in a particular culture, in order to celebrate and reinforcethat culture’s categories and social order. The Chihuahua – or the bonsai wolf – transcendstwo binary oppositions fundamental to contemporary westerners: subject/object and nature/culture. Although the Chihuahua challenges a number of related binary oppositions, it is generallydismissed as a matter for humor, low-brow entertainment or expressions of sentimentality,rendering ritual encounters with Chihuahuas harmless. The article concludes by asking: whatwould happen if humans actually started listening to what the Chihuahua is telling them?

Keywords
animal–human relations, anomalies, binary oppositions, chihuahuas, dichotomies, dogs, Donna Haraway, Paris Hilton, hudographies, humor, popular culture
National Category
Sociology
Research subject
Sociology
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:oru:diva-32185 (URN)10.1177/1367877912464539 (DOI)000328600100006 ()
Available from: 2013-10-29 Created: 2013-10-29 Last updated: 2017-12-06Bibliographically approved
3. Pet grief: when is nonhuman life grievable?
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Pet grief: when is nonhuman life grievable?
(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
animal studies, Giorgio Agamben, bereavement, Judith Butler, companion animals, grief, human-animal relations, loss, mourning, pets
National Category
Sociology
Research subject
Sociology
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:oru:diva-32187 (URN)
Available from: 2013-10-29 Created: 2013-10-29 Last updated: 2017-10-17Bibliographically approved
4. Discipline and puppies: the powers of pet keeping
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Discipline and puppies: the powers of pet keeping
(English)Manuscript (preprint) (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

This article analyzes eighteen interviews with pet owners to conceptualize how they organize their lives in relation to their pets. I use Foucault’s concepts of the bipolar technology of disciplinary power and regulatory biopower in combination with Haraway’s material-semiotics to explore the normative frameworks that structure the relationship between pet and owner and make it meaningful. The analysis shows that the boundaries of the home, the play of power between bodies, and exchanges of love and care are central to producing the pet relationship as inherently meaningful and as an indispensible part of the lives of both pet keepers and pets. While pet owners produce their pets’ subjectivity by speaking of them as autonomous persons, pets also enable their owners’ subjectivity. I end the article by comparing pet keeping to Foucault’s notion of a lived critique to underline that the power dynamics of pet keeping problematize the often taken-for-granted status of one of sociology’s main objects of study: “the human".

Keywords
biopower, companion animals, cynicism, disciplinary power, Michel Foucault, Donna Haraway, human-animal relations, pets, resistance
National Category
Sociology
Research subject
Sociology
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:oru:diva-32190 (URN)
Available from: 2013-10-29 Created: 2013-10-29 Last updated: 2017-10-17Bibliographically approved

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Redmalm, David

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