Although humans have coexisted with dogs and cats for thousands of years, only recently have people openly included their pets as members of the family. Yet, because of the cultural ambivalence toward animals, what it means for a pet to “be” a family member remains unsettled. Drawing from research on family practices including kinship, household routines, childhood socialization, and domestic violence, this talk considers how pets participate in “doing” family and what their presence means for this social arrangement long considered quintessentially human. Today's more‐than‐human families represent a hybrid of relations, human and animal and social and natural, rather than an entirely new kind of family. Becoming family has always been contingent on a cast of nonhuman characters, and recognition of the “more‐than‐human” can enhance sociological understanding, not only of the family but also of other aspects of social life.
Leslie Irvine is Professor of Sociology and Director of the Animals and Society Certificate Program at the University of Colorado Boulder. She is the author of several books, including My Dog Always Eats First, which examines homeless people’s relationships with their companion animals, and Filling the Ark, which focuses on animal welfare in disasters. Leslie has also studied animal sheltering and abuse, representations of animals in popular culture, and the feminization of veterinary medicine. Her articles appear in journals including Gender & Society, Social Problems, Qualitative Sociology, Society & Animals, Anthrozoös, and Symbolic Interaction.