Looking more at the human-pet relationship in sociological analysis

A new sociological study suggests more sociologists need to see pets as social actors:

In a new paper published earlier this month in the British journal Sociology, Charles argues that “the so-called species barrier” has long concealed the important kinship between humans and their pets. Her recent research suggests that it’s a bond that should have long ago figured into sociological analysis.

A recent survey in the U.S. revealed “that 91 per cent of pet ‘owners’ regard their pets as family members.” In Australia, Charles writes, 88 percent do. While some researchers may scoff at the notion that this type of relationship rises to any level of complexity, pet owners’ own recent qualitative descriptions also seem to offer compelling contradictory evidence.

This relationship, as Charles notes, isn’t new. It just hasn’t been probed in the way one would expect. Pet-keeping, as we conceive of it today, was first popularized in the 16th and 17th centuries, as urbanization shifted the human-animal relationship “from function to affect.”…

She believes that animals have consistently been treated, to some degree, “as social actors.” But the evidence for that kind of theory is mounting, she argues. “Thus, in a recent study of family formation and kinship networks, a significant number of people spontaneously included animals in their families; this was a particularly interesting finding as interviewees had not been explicitly asked about animals.”

On one hand, this sounds reasonable: lots of people have lots of interactions with their pets. On the other hand, what exactly are members of the American Sociological Association section on Animals and Society studying if they haven’t considered some of this…