9th Conference European Sociological Association

RN11 Sociology of Emotions

2009-09-04 13:30:00 2009-09-04 15:00:00 Friday, 4 September 13:30 - 15:00 Relations & Emotions I Building II, C6.06

We love them, we use them, we kill them - Ambivalent emotions towards animals

Animals are an important part of our society - as pets or beef cattle - but still underestimated in sociology. Till now there are almost no - at least no European - sociological literature and research about the human-animal-relation. But pets and animal raising for consumption are both part of our everyday-life. So we should have a closer look at our relationship to these creatures - in my presentation I want to highlight the emotions involved in the human-animal relationship.
In western culture the relation of humans towards animals is very ambivalent and in the same way emotions towards them are ambiguous. On the one hand, they are loved and named family members. We feel able to show them our emotions, can cry in front of them, do not feel ashamed, and laugh and talk about them in their presence without being afraid to be talked back. They do not force us to follow feeling rules nor do emotion work. For all they do for us (and there is much more) we are so thankful that in most supermarkets areas for pet food are even larger than areas for infant food.
We also use animals and their abilities in therapy. For example, dogs are used as guides, sniffers, search and rescue dogs. Most of these functions will not be replaced by artificial things in the next few years. This implies that humans are dependent on animals.
On the other hand, we raise nameless animals for consumption. These should be invisible and as productive and cheap as possible. The Animal Welfare Act is necessary to protect these creatures from bad human treatment. Parallels to how slaves, Blacks and women have been treated historically speaking can be seen.
How can we explain these disparate treatment of animals with the established sociological theories of emotions? How is it possible that there are such ambiguous emotions and relations towards animals? Why do we accept some animals as part of our family/society, but not others? And why are we able to show them more authentic emotions than we do to other humans?