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‘So sorry for the loss of your little friend’: A study of condolence cards for bereaved pet keepers
Uppsala University, Disciplinary Domain of Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of Sociology. HVV, Mälardalen University. (Cultural Matters Group, HumAnimal Group)ORCID iD: 0000-0001-9902-1191
2015 (English)Conference paper, Oral presentation with published abstract (Refereed)
Abstract [en]

There is a place where the rainbow always shines, where kittens and puppies fly around with angel wings, and where pet rats feast on endless quantities of cheese: it is the world depicted on condolence cards for bereaved pet keepers. What do these cards tell us about humans’ view of other animals—and of themselves? Drawing on Judith Butler’s writing on grief and bereavement, this paper analyzes condolence cards for humans who have lost a non-human companion. Butler argues that grief has specific characteristics and that norms restrict the allocation of grief by impeding the ascription of one or more of these characteristics. This normative framework thus allows for some human or human-like lives to be grieved, while other lives are rendered ‘lose-able’. To send a condolence card is thus not only to recognize someone’s pain, but to recognize this pain in a specific way, contributing to such a shared normative framework, and to a differential allocation of grievability. In consequence, pet condolence cards show what is possible and acceptable when it comes to the display of grief across species borders, and what is not.

While many themes in condolence cards for companion animals resemble ‘human’ condolence cards, these cards also challenge non-human animals’ status as grievable: companion animals are recurrently represented as replaceable, the loss is sometimes framed as predictable or in other ways manageable, and the many objectifying depictions of non-human bodies in the cards suggest a lack of embodied empathy with non-human animals.  One the one hand, the cards’ double-sided rhetoric opens up for problematic representations of the loss of companion animals which risk belittling or rejecting the grief for a lost companion animal. On the other, some cards also challenge the hierarchical human/animal distinction, emphasizing non-human animals’ status as kin, in spite of the difference in kind. Thus, the fantasy place constructed by the cards’ imagery corresponds to a utopian space, however tension-filled and indefinitely articulated, in which the differential allocation of grievability is disrupted and ‘the human’ and ‘the animal’ is re-imagined. This is a space of heedless sentimentality and anthropocentric fantasies, but also a space where two taboos are challenged: the taboos around death and around the grief for lost pets.

The paper concludes by suggesting that condolence cards for bereaved pet owners tend to give non-human animals the status of ‘werewolves’, using Giorgio Agamben’s term for beings existing in the liminal space between grievable and lose-able. Because the cards represent companion animals as being simultaneously grievable and ungrievable—as human and non-human—they accentuate the werewolf status of these beings and the problematic distinction between human and animal. The cards that succeed in recognizing the grief for a ‘werewolf’, the paper argues, pose a serious challenge to the differential allocation of grievability and the anthropocentric politics of kin and kind.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Stockholm, 2015.
Keywords [en]
Giorgio Agamben, Animal studies, bereavement, Judith Butler, companion animals, grief, human-animal studies, mourning, posthumanism
National Category
Social Psychology
Research subject
Sociology
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-377021OAI: oai:DiVA.org:uu-377021DiVA, id: diva2:1288291
Conference
Interspecies encounters: Developing interactions in history, literature and practice, January 29, 2015
Available from: 2019-02-12 Created: 2019-02-12 Last updated: 2019-10-02Bibliographically approved

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