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Human-Animal Studies Summer School

June 3, 2019 - June 7, 2019

Companion Animals in (Late) Modernity: The Shared Lives of Humans and Other Animals

3–7 June 2019
ICS-ULisboa Lisbon


  • Margo DeMello, Animals & Society Institute, USA
  • Verónica Policarpo, ICS-ULisboa, Portugal
  • Nora Schuurman, University of Turku, Finland
  • David Redmalm, University of Uppsala, Sweden

Pets are good to think with

“Pets are good to think with,” Erika Fudge points out in her book Pets (2008). Fudge paraphrases Claude Lévi-Strauss, who famously suggested that animals are good to think with, as non-human animals play such a central role in symbolism, mythologies and rituals. This role has been transformed during the course of modernization, to embody discourses of nature and culture and to keep animals in their designed ‘place’ in relation to humans. In the West today, the animals at the centre of the stories we tell each other are not first and foremost cattle, prey animals or mythological creatures, but pets. Cats, dogs and other companion animals inhabit human homes, roam through parks and market squares, and live on the streets. They appear as characters in books, TV shows and TV games, and are figured in lifestyle magazines and blockbuster movies. Companion animals are bought and sold and are marketed online, and while many are adopted into loving homes, a large number are abandoned and end up in shelters, where many are euthanized.  

Companion animals

Companion animals play an integral part in the lives of many humans. They are regarded as friends and family members by their owners, who often adjust their way of life to the needs of their animal companions, and invest in a stable mutual relationship. However, companion animals embody tensions inherent to Western culture. They are simultaneously understood as instinctive biological organisms and as sentient beings capable of feeling complex emotions and participating in social relationships. They are regarded as animals belonging to the realm of nature and human-like creatures who have passed over culture’s threshold and are treated as commodities. Consequently, they inhabit a fragile and unstable grey zone, recognized both as human and non-human, and the stories of companion animals reflect abstract dichotomies that shape animal lives during late modernity. Companion animals, however, actively engage in everyday practices with humans and other non-humans. In this contingent and unstable dance, animals co-construct a world and a life shared with humans


This course examines the ambiguous status of companion animals in modern society, and works as an introduction to theoretical and methodological issues central to the field of human-animal studies. The course also intends to be a laboratory of experimentation of new ideas for young scholars as well as guiding participants in their ongoing projects on human–animal relationships. The course focuses on the following questions:

  • How do companion animals and humans engage in practices inside and outside home and the co-building of hybrid communities? To what extent are these practices human-centred?
  • How are dichotomies such as nature/culture and animal/human played out in human-animal relationships? How do human–animal relationships produce animality?
  • How can animal agency be theoretically conceptualized? How are power relations enacted and negotiated between humans and companion animals?
  • What kind of methods can be used to study human–animal relationships?
  • How do humans grieve the death of companion animals?

 Venue: Institute of Social Sciences of the University of Lisbon, Lisbon, Portugal

Location of campus:

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