Animal Studies Bibliography

Sanders, Clinton. 1990. Excusing tactics: Social responses to the public misbehavior of companion animals. Anthrozoos 4(2): 82-90.

Companion animals are central to many aspects of social life--for example, the daily lives of owners, the people's occupations (vets, etc.), assistance for the disabled, and entertainment (zoos, etc.). One of the animal's key roles is acting as a unit with a human in public. These interactions are important because human sense of identity is formed through these daily social interactions. Animals are thus central to the self-definition process both as social facilitators (their presence increasing strangers' comfort with interacting and providing a safe topic, as well as warning owners about shady characters) and as people in their own right (keyed as family members, viewed by owners as people to be confided in and interacted with like a person, or serving as a surrogate person). The presence of animals thus increases the number and quality of self-defining situations. Animal-human interaction when the two parties are familiar with each other functions in the same way as human-human interaction--the two parties understand each other's goals and behavior and act in concert. In public, an animal-human pair can be interpreted as a with when it includes tie signs (physical contact, use of the animal's name, leashes, mutual gaze, etc.). The with is expected to abide by the rules of public conduct; when these rules are violated, the owner is held responsible because the human is considered competent to know the rules, while the animal is not. This violation results in negative responses from others and damage to the human's self-definition. After a violation, humans act to return to normalcy by actions called remedial interchanges, aligning actions, or excusing tactics. Participant observation in a puppy kindergarten and auto-ethnography revealed 7 excusing tactics owners commonly used, alone or in combination, after a violation. First, owners situated the offense, pointing out aspects of the environment that would have made the dog act incorrectly (e.g. an unfamiliar setting). Second, owners justified the dog's behavior by shifting blame from themselves onto another human (e.g. the person approached too quickly or touched the dog incorrectly). Third, owners sometimes redefined the dog's behavior as cute, smart, or otherwise positive (e.g. calling a problematic dog a class clown). Fourth, owners used quasi-theories to explain the dogs' behavior, such as that's just the way dogs are, or attributing the action to a developmental stage, as in she's just a puppy. Fifth, owners emphasized the training process, saying that they have been working on getting the dog to stop the problem behavior. Sixth, owners use demonstrative disciplining, often being harsher than necessary to make their disapproval clear to others. Seventh, a tactic of last resort is unlinking, or giving up on the animal-human relationship. In this case, owners claim they cannot get the animal to stop the behavior and shift the blame from themselves to the animal. The patterns observed here are quite similar to patterns observed in other human interactions involving less-than-competent others. For example, adults in public settings with misbehaving children often use the tactics of redefining, emphasizing training and developmental stages, and demonstrative disciplining. These cases serve, then, as important examples of the linkage between other-objects and the self (87) and the ways in which self definition includes controlling the associated other. Further, it may be used to explore the interactional experiences of socially discounted others (pets, children, mentally retarded people, etc.) to understand their actions as minded.


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