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My Friend Who Never Let Me Down: Ambiguous Emotions at Pet Cemeteries
Karelian Institute, University of Eastern Finland.
Uppsala University, Disciplinary Domain of Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of Sociology. (HumAnimal Group)ORCID iD: 0000-0001-9902-1191
2017 (English)Conference paper, Oral presentation only (Refereed)
Abstract [en]

Pets are liminal creatures: they are regarded as friends and family while they are, at the same time, considered to be belongings. Violence against pets is highly socially stigmatizing in most contexts, but at the same time, owners of companion animals may chose to end their pets’ lives without facing legal charges. There is a general idea, present both in research and popular culture, of a widespread norm against strong emotional responses to the passing of a pet. The reason would be that pets are not considered fully human, and grieving pets in a way similar to human mourning would challenge the boundary between humans and other animals. Yet, there are numerous products and services specifically designed for bereaved pet owners: condolence cards, bereavement counseling, popular psychology books—and pet cemeteries. Through an ethnographic study of pet cemeteries in Sweden, Finland and Norway, we show how pets’ ambiguous status is conveyed through tombstones, decorations and the practices of cemetery visits. Relying on photographs, field notes, interviews with key informants, and the studied pet cemetery organizations’ documentation, we explore the material and meaning-making practices that make these places possible. We suggest that these spaces enable a double sense of pets’ life: pets are simultaneously grieved as human-like friends and family members through anthropocentric gestures, and as nonhuman others through innovative and norm-challenging ways of grieving. Drawing on Judith Butler’s writing on grief, and Giorgio Agambens’ conceptualization of “the animal,” we discuss how practices at pet cemeteries convey abstract and sometimes ambiguous understandings of what life is.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2017.
Keyword [en]
Pet cemeteries, death, companion animals, dogs, cats, intimacy, anthropomorphism, anthropocentrism, posthumanism, Donna Haraway, Judith Butler, Giorgio Agamben, grief, mourning, rememberance, headstones, tombstones
National Category
Sociology Human Geography Gender Studies Social Anthropology Social Psychology
Research subject
Sociology; Cultural Anthropology
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-329454OAI: oai:DiVA.org:uu-329454DiVA: diva2:1141585
Conference
13th Conference of the European Sociological Association: (Un)Making Europe: Capitalism, Solidarities, Subjectivities Athens, Greece, 29 Aug. - 01 Sept. 2017
Projects
Intimate Sociality: Practice and Identity in Collective Housing, Human-Animal Relations and Couple Dancing
Funder
Swedish Research Council, 421-2014-1465
Available from: 2017-09-15 Created: 2017-09-15 Last updated: 2017-11-23

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