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“Be[a]ware of the Dog”: A Post-Humanist Approach to Housing
Adrian Franklin
a
a
University of Tasmania, Australia
To cite this Article Franklin, Adrian(2006) '“Be[a]ware of the Dog”: A Post-Humanist Approach to Housing', Housing,
Theory and Society, 23: 3, 137 — 156
To link to this Article: DOI: 10.1080/14036090600813760
URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/14036090600813760
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‘‘Be[a]ware of the Dog’’: A Post-
Humanist Approach to Housing
ADRIAN FRANKLIN
University of Tasmania, Australia
ABSTRACT Alongside much talk of the dissolution of a nature /culture binary view of the world,
there is also, symmetrically, considerable change observed in the performance of relations with
non-humans and the proliferation of hybrids (Latour 1993, Haraway 2003). Through an
examination of why and how humans and companion species have begun to live with each other in
new ways this paper will challenge (at least) two of those sociological disciplines currently
governed by humanist ontologies. It suggests that the sociology of the family and the sociology of
housing need a new post-humanist makeover, for it is increasingly doubtful whether either are
exclusively human domains. This is because neither families, households or housing can be
thought of any longer as humans among themselves. Companion animals are now found not only
in the vast majority of human households / families but their position, role, agency and status has
shifted quite profoundly. Using data from a national survey of human–animal relations in
Australia it will be shown that companion animals are widely regarded as, and act as, family
members and that they occupy housing in profoundly different ways
1
. The paper argues that this
new period of intimacy also ushers in the potential for greater mutual becomings (or co(a)gency
to use Michael’s term
2
) as both companion species and their humans (together with their
technonatural contexts) explore even more possibilities of co-presence. The paper concludes with
an example of this, taken from the House Rabbit Society: a radical and ever more popular
experiment in becomingrabbitbecominghuman (to use a Deleuzian convention)
3
.
KEY WORDS: Post-humanism, Dogs, Human-animal relations, Family, Housing, Rabbits
As an intellectual and theoretical object, housing conjures up, par excellence, the
humanist-modernist project: human progress is its object and an anthropocentric
world order is its principal outcome. Housing is by and for humans, obviously, and
housing theory has largely confined its attention to theories of provision,
distribution and meaning (to humans) and social construction, with a light flurry
of aesthetic content here and there. But if housing is necessarily related to those
contemporary social and cultural conditions that affect what it is to dwell as a
human
4
, what it is to be properly and happily housed and the everyday nature of
domestic lifestyle (or housing and ways of life) then those framing humanist themes
Correspondence Address: Adrian Franklin, School Sociology, University of Tasmania, Private Bag 17,
Hobart, Tas 7001, Australia. Tel.: +03 62267241. Fax: +03 62262279. Email: Adrian.Franklin@utas.
edu.au
Housing, Theory and Society,
Vol. 23, No. 3, 137–156, 2006
1403-6096 Print/1651-2278 Online/06/030137–156 # 2006 Taylor & Francis
DOI: 10.1080/14036090600813760
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seem only too limiting and narrow; barely even a beginning. In times of liquid
modernity, makeover culture and an experimental, playful and open-ended
domesticity, we must begin to bring in perspectives that can cope with this
complexity (see Urry 2003, Law and Mol 2002), with its relational materialism (Law
1999), its sociotechnical hybridity (Michael 2000) and semiotics (Latour 1993). If we
look closely at people and their homes or what happens in homes from the
perspective of what people do, or in John Law’s (1994) terms deploy a sociology of
verbs rather than nouns, then one of the first and most striking things we find in
almost every home in the western world and beyond is that homes are not home just
to humans but that they are home to humans living very closely and purposefully
with other species, particularly with cats and dogs
5
. Other non-humans also figure in
these heterogeneous assemblages: machines, technologies, texts, policies, restrictive
covenants, cleaning agents and the agents cleansed. It goes without saying that such
stories cannot properly be told with including the full cast of supporting actors. Mike
Michael’s (2000) salutary advice here (to view actors as necessarily involved in
heterogeneous assemblages rather than free-standing and separable), particularly as
it is demonstrated in the Hudogleddog essay is acknowledged, if not fully heeded,
here. In this essay, however, I will confine my attention to the way humanist housing
has been undermined by the increasingly intertwined nature of domestic life with
companion species.
The sociology of the family also remains resolutely humanist, though as a sub-
discipline whose object has always been in permanent crisis and collapse it is hardly
surprising that eventually those tensions have been resolved through recourse to the
non-human world. Companionship, friendship, love and even community are words
that have been rescued for many through new relationships with companion animals.
Despite a growing literature that confirms this we have not seen serious sociological
research investigate these new anthrozoological formations. We do not even have a
systematic description of the communications or ethogram between these two species
though one exists for species such as humans and dogs, separately (Smutts 2001).
What follows is a beginning.
The paper is arranged as follows. Firstly, it describes in fairly crude terms the
extent of this multi-species occupation of housing and the changing designation from
pet to companionate family member. Secondly, it accounts for this relatively new
phenomenon by relating it to fairly standard dimensions of housing and family –
household formation, contemporary family structures, contemporary community
life, ontological security, risk and, to use another of Bauman’s terms, ‘‘liquid love’’.
Thirdly, it argues that the nature of relationships with companion species has
changed from instrumental to companionate to familial relations, and, that during
the course of these shifts both species have had opportunities to make further
experiments with each other, not least in how they live and are housed together.
Survey data and interviews with veterinarians are used to support this claim. Finally
the paper discusses how domestic life and other family and housing issues are
affected by the accommodation of companion species and the emergence of trans-
species housing. These include that changing nature of spatial use and boundaries
within the home; new technologies and architectures of the multi-species house and
garden; the changing nature of sociability and communal life; the tangible benefits to
human health and well being; the implications of the latter for elderly people,
138 A. Franklin
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children and the socially isolated and its translation into new areas of policy
initiative. In short the socio-technical-semiotic complex that is housing and family
can be shown to have affected a significant shift from a humanist to a post-humanist
form.
The paper will draw on a variety of empirical sources, but notably the first ever
national survey of human animal relations conducted in Australia (Franklin 2006),
the growing literature on general relationships with companion animals from the
Anglophone world, the special literature relating to the health benefits of companion
animals (from the USA, Australia and the UK and, finally, work relating to the
special case of the American House Rabbit Society
Multi-Species Households
A recent trip to the national folk Museum in Cardiff, Wales, UK, reminded me that
Western cultures have lived with and not just adjacent to animals for a very long
time. Some of the oldest farm dwellings in their collection of historic buildings from
Wales contained humans and farm animals – for entirely practical reasons: in the
cold winters when the cattle were kept indoors the heat from their bodies provided
warmth for the humans. Similarly, there were instances of pig-hen houses: the heat
from the pigs kept the hens above them warm in winter, extending their laying period
considerably. We don’t know much about these cohabitations because they went
unrecorded and by modern times the differentiating impulse worked to keep species
apart, in their rightful place. In 1950s modern suburban Australia and the USA pets
were common enough, but by contemporary standards even they were differentiated
spatially, behaviourally and ethically to a considerable degree. 1950s dogs lived
outside in the kennel or dog house, a term that became synonymous with socially
cast out or suspended (temporarily) from affection – and in misery (Council for
Science and Society 1988). Cats were put outside at night in the dark and cold.
Moreover, as Franklin (1999) has shown, in the 1950s dogs and cats were
differentiated by different naming strategies. Whereas from the 1970s it can be
shown that dogs began to be given human names, and that from the 1990s they
began to be given the same names currently being given to human babies, in the
1950s dogs (and cats) tended to be given specifically dog or cat names (Fido, Rover,
Tibby, Kitty and the like). The materialist politics of the early to mid-twentieth
century also meant that many household did not have pets, though we know poverty
and low pay encouraged some to keep backyard or allotment animals for meat
(Williamson 1982). The so-called post-materialist Western societies of the 1970
onwards lived in a world of plentiful food and keeping pets was no great financial
obstacle, though why they should be so compelling under conditions of dual-income
families, fast-time, careerism and the information age begs the question. That pet
keeping, particularly of cats and dogs, has increased dramatically since the 1970s is
not in question (Franklin 1999). Accounting for this, and in particular accounting
for the changing nature of relations between them and their humans is more
demanding. It was certainly after the 1970s that ‘‘pets’’ changed to ‘‘companion
animals’’.
In a country such as Australia more than two-thirds of households today keep an
animal on their property and given that Australia is almost completely settled in its
A Post-Humanist Approach to Housing 139
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six capital cities (and always has been) we can discount any major influence from its
farming, rural/colonial past. Where property is extremely expensive and a greater
proportion of households live in high-rise apartments, such as Sydney, the density of
companion animal keeping is lower (see Table 1). This may be accounted for, almost
entirely, by restrictive covenants and greater proportions of non-companion animal
orientated ethnic groups. Elsewhere in suburban and more anglicized Australia, up
to 86% of households keep an animal of one kind or another
Mostly, as Table 2 shows, it is dogs and cats that dominate multi-species
households, with dogs the species of preference (47%), cats a poor second (30%) and
birds coming in third with unexpectedly high numbers (17%). On the other hand, the
range of ‘‘exotic’’ species in the survey is also remarkable and relatively new.
Table 3 offers some purchase on why contemporary households include
companion animals. If in the 1950s ‘‘pets’’ were predominantly bought for children,
for their function and for amusement (Council for Science and Society 1988,
Franklin 1999) this is certainly not the case today. Dogs, cats, rabbits, fish and birds
were all kept to amuse children, to a degree, but this was not why most of the
animals in our survey were recruited to human households. Nor was it to provide
company for children, though this was more significant. The single biggest reason
given was as company for our 2000 adult Australian respondents. In the case of cats
and dogs this was given for 80% of the number of animals recorded in our survey,
but it was also the case in 50% of all birds kept and 35% of rabbits.
Table 1. Do you keep animals on your property?
Total Sydney Melbourne Brisbane Perth Adelaide ACT Hobart
Respondents (n) 2000 430 361 153 140 122 36 21
Yes (%) 68 55 59 69 75 77 81 86
No (%) 32 45 41 31 25 23 19 14
Table 2. What types of animals do you currently keep on your property?
Total Sydney Melbourne Brisbane Perth Adelaide ACT Hobart
Respondents (n) 2000 430 361 153 140 122 36 21
Birds (%) 17 15 11 16 19 14 14 24
Cats (%) 30 21 28 30 29 40 31 52
Dogs (%) 47 36 39 46 49 53 44 71
Fish (%) 13 11 8 15 12 19 14 14
Guinea pigs or
hamsters (%)
2 1 2 2 2 3 3
Horses (%) 4 1 1 4 1 3
Rabbits (%) 2 4 1 4 4 6
None of these (%) 1 1 0 1 3
Not asked* (%) 32 45 41 31 25 23 19 14
*The survey was administered to a nationally representative sample of 2000 Australians. However,
detailed questions on animal ownership was only asked of those who kept animals on their property, hence
there is a value in this and other tables for those ‘‘Not asked’’. ACT5Australian Capital Territory.
140 A. Franklin
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Elsewhere I have tried to account for this astonishing phenomenon in terms of
critical social changes in contemporary society (Franklin 1999, Franklin & White
2001). Western societies have become individualized societies where extensive
loneliness in society and high degrees of ontological insecurity are widely reported
(Giddens 1984, Bauman 2000, Furedi 2005)
6
. As Bauman has repeatedly claimed,
marriage, friendship, partnership, community ties and even love itself has become
insecure, ephemeral and fugitive: in his own poetic words they have become ‘‘until
further notice’’ (Bauman 2000, 2003).
In a previous book Animals and Modern Cultures
7
I argued that those in Western
Anglophone societies who have suffered family trauma and who find themselves
alone and possibly socially and physically insecure or isolated often acquire
companion animals, particularly dogs and cats. Divorce, separation, single
parenthood, economic depression, the migration of young people from country
areas, insecure local labour markets, all serve to increase the numbers of people
living alone or households stranded away from former kin. The numbers of lone or
small household units has increased dramatically over the past 30 years, to the point
where the building industry now builds for a different, lonelier demography.
‘‘According to US Census Bureau projections, by 2010, 31 million Americans will be
living alone, a 40% increase from 1980’’
8
. According to the BBC, ‘‘the independent
Family Policy Studies Centre (FPSC) findings show that more than 6.5 million
people in Britain – about 28% of households – now live on their own, three times as
many as 40 years ago
9
. In Australia things are no different. Lindsay Tanner, MP for
Melbourne, describes it as a crisis of loneliness
10
, citing significance proportions of
elderly and young people as at risk. The latest survey on loneliness among
Australians aged 25–44 years, the group that has experienced the highest increase in
solitary living, found that 16% of both men and women agreed with the statement ‘‘I
often feel lonely’’ (Flood 2005:11). However 33% of men and 23% of women living
alone reported feeling lonely often. Clearly, people believe that their loneliness will
be alleviated by animal companionship (and as I will show, companionship is the
single biggest reason given for acquiring a dog, a cat or a bird) and indeed, the most
sophisticated research using the ‘‘Revised UCLA Loneliness Scale’’ found that
participants living entirely alone were more lonely than those living with pets
11
.
Table 3. Thinking about all domestic animals you have at the moment, and excluding animals
you keep for work, would you say you keep your pets for:
Birds Cats Dogs Fish Rabbits
Respondents (n) 303 592 945 204 40
Amusement and entertainment of adults (%) 38 24 26 45 20
Amusement and entertainment of children (%) 30 24 22 45 58
Competitive showing (%) 2 1 2 0
Other competition or sport (%) 1 0 2 0
Work (%) 1 1 6 0 3
Security and protection (%) 1 2 48
Company for yourself (%) 50 79 82 12 35
Company for children (%) 37 44 43 16 40
A Post-Humanist Approach to Housing 141
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Even those who are currently setting up new households put off having children
for longer and are far more likely to have no children or only one. Such households
frequently buy dogs or cats to fill out their household, to provide a focus for their
relationship or to provide surrogate siblings for ‘‘only children’’. Our survey data
supports the notion that pet keeping responds to transformations in family and
lifecycle change. For example, while in married and de facto households the
proportion of dog owners who chose dogs for their company was 80%, in divorced
or separated households the proportion rose to 88%, in widowed households to 90%
and among the retired 91%. Similarly, the divorced and separated are more likely to
choose a dog for security and protection than married/de facto households (Franklin
2006).
In Animals and Modern Cultures I also argued that a number of indicators show
that companion animals had been increasingly brought closer to their human friends
in emotional and social terms; indeed, that they were now often reckoned to be part
of the family. We therefore asked whether respondents considered any of their
animals to be members of their family. This not only indicates the surrogacy of
animals for significant human relationships, but it also indicates a breakdown in the
perceived difference between humans and non-humans. We also asked about
animals as family members because this ascription came up spontaneously and
frequently in a series of focus groups conducted in advance of the national survey.
This translation is commonly referred to as anthropomorphism, or the attribution of
human-like qualities to animals that are merely whimsical fantasies of the human
imagination. This may be so, but it is not necessarily so. If people are merely
extending to animals, as animals, the notion of belonging, and recognizing close
bonds with them as equivalent to those within human families, then this is not a case
of anthropomorphism, it is a case of hybridization: hybridization of the family.
Unproblematic similarities might include co-residence, enduring ties, emotional
inter-dependence, friendship, company and shared activities. Where this happens it is
important to realize that it is not a one-way, human-orchestrated attribution, but
one built of close feelings and emotions self-evidently expressed also by the animals
themselves. We see with birds, especially of the parrot and cockatiel family, emotions
such as jealousy and dependence, and embodied practices such as cuddling and
kissing. Some of these, of course, are parrot expressions, translations of courtship
and pair bonding behaviours that can be observed between parrots, but the critical
point is that some of them are not. Some of them are specific to the bonds between
humans and animals; unique to them. A good example of this is the vocal
expressions between cats and humans. Cats are largely mute in their dealing with
each other in the wild, but they seem to have learned of the significance of
vocalization between humans and the fact that humans vocalize to them. The meow
is the most significant (though it has many variations): cats do not meow to each
other. And it is also true that the breeds that have been domesticated the longest are
also the most vocal in their dealings with their human companions. According to
Kersti Seksel, ‘‘we really should understand cats better as they’ve gone to the trouble
of developing special forms of communication just to talk to humans, using body
language and vocalization which they’d never use with other cats’’
12
.
As Table 4 shows, the overwhelming majority of Australians did ascribe family
membership to their pets. This may not be so new, but what seems to be new is the
142 A. Franklin
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willingness to express it. One vet in an affluent suburb in Sydney had this to say
about companion animals as substitute children or just children:
Well funny enough people are actually willing to admit that it’s a substitute
child. They’re not embarrassed to actually say that. A lot of them actually say
it is a substitute child. I notice that – I don’t recall that so much in the past, but
in recent years I have noticed that people actually refer to it as their child in
many ways, you know.
Vet 3, Sydney.
On average, 88% thought that the animals they keep were part of their family.
Some places were well above this average, such as Perth and Hobart (94%) and
Melbourne, rural WA and rural Victoria (91%). Some were well below the average,
such as Sydney (84%) ACT (72% and NT (78%) (see Table 5). So in relation to this
issue there is no clear-cut urban rural divide. Sydney consistently shows up as less
sentimental and emotionally involved with animals, while in Melbourne and Hobart
such characteristics are very strong. Similarly, rural Queensland and the Northern
Territory are less emotionally and sentimentally attached than rural areas in
Tasmania and rural Victoria. This suggests that the critical factors are not urbanness
or ruralness but other cultural configurations in each place.
In addition to place, the degree to which people considered animals to be part of
their family varied, once again, with occupation and educational attainment.
Although we must be clear that the overwhelming majority of Australians did
consider their animals to be part of their family, it is also the case that the less
educated and those in blue-collar occupations were far more likely to. Unskilled and
skilled blue-collar groups dominated those who considered animals to be part of
their family (93% and 92%, respectively) while the white-collar professional and
managerial groups scored lowest (84% and 86%, respectively). Educational
attainment data shows that some groups in society are much less likely to consider
animals to be part of their family. Those with higher degrees are well below the
average in these terms and that likelihood of seeing animals as family members varies
gradually with educational level (Franklin 2006).
Table 4. Do you think of any animals you keep as members of your family (capital cities)?
Total Sydney Melbourne Brisbane Perth Adelaide ACT Hobart
All respondents (n) 2000 430 361 153 140 122 36 21
Asked respondents (n) 1350 237 214 105 105 94 29 18
Yes (% asked
respondents)
88 84 92 90 94 88 72 94
No (% asked
respondents)
12 16 8 10 6 12 28 6
Don’t know (n) 3 3
% respondents not
asked
33 45 41 31 25 23 19 14
ACT5Australian Capital Territory.
A Post-Humanist Approach to Housing 143
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Clearly there is something important about formal education that disturbs
attitudes and practices with animals. It is highly likely that those processed through
the tertiary and higher educational mills are most exposed to enlightenment
biopolitics and formal scientific positions on the essential (and proper) difference
between humanity and animality. Such views are mirrored in many contemporary
debates: in social and cultural studies of the environment and political movements, in
the sciences of ecology and land management and in Australian eco-nationalistic
history. One suspects that the less educated are less influenced by such taxonomies
and ontologies and tend to take animals as they find them.
To see whether ascribing family status to animals meant anything more than just
sentimental labels, we asked whether companion animals had access to those parts of
the house historically reserved for humans (Table 6). Anecdotal evidence suggests
that in the 1950s and before, animals were largely kept out of the home, sleeping in
kennels and on verandas. Today this is very much not the case. We scaled questions
according to where animals were allowed in the home, from the backyard at one
extreme to the bedroom and on furniture, including beds, at the other. Over half of
respondents claimed their companion animals were allowed in their bedroom and
35% allowed animals in their children’s bedroom. Forty-eight percent of households
allowed animals on their furniture. Seventy-six percent allowed their animals into the
family room or lounge, 62% allowed their animals in the room where they eat and
66% allowed animals into the kitchen. In other words companion animals mostly
have the run of the house.
We expected to find a significant difference between rural and urban Australia
over this question, but although there was a difference, the difference was not that
marked: 57% of urban Australian respondents allowed animals into their bedroom
for example, as against 47% of rural Australians. If our general hypothesis about
changing family structure, social vulnerability and loneliness and companion
animals was true we would expect the more sociably vulnerable groups to be more
liberal in their sharing of household space. Certainly there is some evidence for this.
For example, 58% of those between 70 and 75 years of age and 65% of those over 76
years of age allowed their companion into their bedroom. Similarly, while only 49%
of married and de facto households allowed their companion animals into the
bedroom, 59% of the divorced and separated did so. Other tolerant groups included
Table 5. Do you think of any animals you keep as members of your family (rural areas)?
Total NT
NSW
rural
VIC
rural
QLD
rural
WA
rural
SA
rural
TAS
rural
All respondents (n) 2000 17 250 151 192 51 45 31
Asked respondents (n) 1350 9 175 122 144 43 34 21
Yes (% asked respondents) 88 78 84 91 90 91 82 81
No (% asked respondents) 12 22 15 9 10 9 15 19
Don’t know (% asked respondents) 0 0 2
Not asked (%) 33 47 30 19 25 16 24 32
NT5Northern Territories; SA5South Australia; WA5Western Australia; QLD5Queensland;
VIC5Victoria; NSW5New South Wales; TAS5Tasmania.
144 A. Franklin
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two other groups vulnerable to loneliness: those under 20 years old (58%) and singles
(60%).
The symbolism of household space needs to be emphasized here. Bedrooms are
largely highly private spaces, the inner sanctum of privatized societies. Partners,
close friends and siblings and other close family members form the restricted group
of intimates using bedrooms together. So, in this sense, when people in our survey
stated that an animal was both a member of the family and allowed into their
bedroom, it was a refined answer indicating that they were not just a member of the
family but also a very close intimate member. Sitting rooms in modern homes are
places of social gathering and communal activities. Chairs are symbolic of both
belonging and status in Western cultures and this is illustrated both by norms to give
up seats to elders and the associating of high status with seats (aristocratic estates),
chairs (synonyms of high ranking authority) and of course thrones. To be seated
together means to be equally ranked. Therefore in the past when dogs were kept
outside in a separate house, or when they were allowed inside but not on furniture
their separate, inferior status was being marked. To discover that half of those
interviewed allowed their animals on furniture is to uncover a major shift in their
status and position relative to humans and human society.
To check whether this is so we framed a few statements in terms of moral and
political equivalence.
We asked if people agreed that ‘‘Keeping animals as pets is unnatural and
demeaning to both the humans and the animal’’; and ‘‘People who mistreat their
animals should be punished in the same way as people who mistreat human beings’’;
and ‘‘Animals should have the same moral rights as human beings’’. Table 7 shows
that these triangulating questions confirm a substantial move towards moral and
political equivalence. Fifty five percent agreed with the moral equivalence statement.
Perhaps more significant is the fact that when this exact question was asked
previously in a 1993 survey, only 42% of Australians agreed
13
. I suggest that this
change is significant.
Living Together in New Ways?
We have not had the opportunity to investigate in any depth whether these changes
in human-animal households and co-habitations have resulted in new ways of
accommodating and relating to each other, but we suspect that this is happening.
What is obviously so new about these relatings (to use term Haraway (2003) prefers)
is their new intensity (especially the intensity of time spent together), their focus on
essentially domestic/private/familial spaces, their emotional content and, at least
from the human side, the degree to which relatings with animals replace those with
other humans but it may well be that it is true for many animals too. The stories I am
beginning to hear about these relatings is that they have an open-ended,
experimental becoming rather than a fixed, behaviourally given and limited nature.
This is why Haraway and I prefer the fluid character of relatings (or relationships) to
the more definable and inflexible relationship. But it is also because relatings
acknowledge, and maintain methodologically, a more symmetrical pattern of agency
between humans and companion species. As Haraway says:
A Post-Humanist Approach to Housing 145
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Table 6. Are any of the domestic animals you keep, allowed into the following parts of your property?
Back yard
Veranda/
balcony Laundry Kitchen
The room
where you eat
The family or
lounge room
Your
bedroom
Children’s
bedroom
On the
furniture
Total 1350 1350 1350 1350 1350 1350 1350 1350 1350
Yes (%) 95 79 72 66 62 76 52 35 48
No (%) 5 19 28 34 38 24 47 63 52
Don’t know (%) 1 2 0 0 0 0 3 0
Table 7. Australian attitudes to animal issues
It is quite acceptable
to hunt feral
animals, such as
pigs and wild horses,
that degrade the
environment
It is wrong to
hunt native
Australian
animals
Keeping
animals as
pets is
unnatural and
demeaning to
both the
humans and
the animal
People who
mistreat their
animals should be
punished in the
same way as
people who
mistreat human
beings
Animals should
have the same
moral rights as
human beings
It is right to use
animals for
medical testing if
it might save
human lives
All respondents (n) 2000 2000 2000 2000 2000 2000
Strongly agree (%) 20 35 2 45 15 8
Agree (%) 48 36 8 39 40 47
Disagree (%) 21 19 48 12 34 26
Strongly disagree (%) 7 6 38 3 6 12
Have no opinion/don’t know (%) 4 4 4 1 20 6
1
4
6
A
.
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There cannot be just one companion species; there has to be at least two to
make one. It is in the syntax; it is in the flesh. Dogs are about the inescapable,
contradictory story of relationships – co-constitutive relationships in which
none of the partners pre-exist the relating, and the relating is never done once
and for all. Historical specificity and contingent mutability all the way down,
into nature and culture, into naturecultures.
(Haraway 2003:12)
More specifically for Haraway, as for Law (1994, 1999), we need to search for a
sociology of verbs not nouns:
Reality is an active verb, and the nouns all seem to be gerunds with more
appendages than an octopus. Through their reaching into each other, through
their ‘‘prehensions’’ or graspings, beings constitute each other and themselves.
Beings do not pre-exist their relatings. ‘‘Prehensions’’ have consequences.
(Haraway 2003:6)
While Haraway’s essay is specifically about domestic dogs – the subtitle is Dogs,
People and Significant Otherness – a species with whom humanity has had a long and
mutually constitutive series of relatings, the significance of prehensions, graspings
and co-constitutions apply equally to other species from whenever point they enter
into companionate relatings. The essential point is that they are open-ended,
experimental and likely to fold in other objects and beings into their cultural field.
In the case of Michael’s Hudogledog, for example, it is argued that it is the
co(a)gent or hybrid of the dog, the dog lead and the human dog walker that
constitute the nature of interesting and important community relationships in
English parks and recreational spaces. This story and co(agency) is but one in the
evolving nature of companion animals, humans and community in contemporary
society. Michael shows that it is the nature of the co(a)gency rather than objects
acting separately that configures the social and cultural interactions in the park.
Co(a)gents come into being ‘‘as heterogeneous admixtures….specific technologies,
bits of bodies, aspects of nature, parts of culture and traditions of discourse…’’
(Michael 2000:2). Similarly, my argument here is that co(a)gency is operating in the
constitution of contemporary homes, household and families. Very advisedly, I
avoid being too specific about the exact nature of this, since it will be something that
needs to be investigated rather than reported fully here. However, it is possible to
point to some examples and tell the story of one in some detail (although this means
switching from Australia to the USA and from dogs to rabbits).
The nature of housing choices, for example, is influenced by the consideration of
the housing of companionate animals who are significant others in the lives of
householders. Vets in Sydney, Perth and Hobart told me that their quality of life and
their environment are aspects that contemporary owners emphasize more and more.
Dog owners like to choose places with good walks for their dogs; areas where the
other dogs are not too rough and off the lead; areas where walks are not too
crowded; where there is a good choice and variability of walks (people who are more
attentive of their dogs realize that they get bored of the same route, just as they do).
A Post-Humanist Approach to Housing 147
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Such consideration may make a considerable impact on the nature of local housing
markets in a way that children’s schools once did (more significantly).
Equally, the nature of house type enters into the equation with gardens, for
example, becoming significant considerations among those who are not necessarily
keen gardeners. Garden design for companion animals has become important since
greater care has been exercised over their physical and mental health. A dog
consigned to the back yard in Australia was once left to its own devices, but now,
under more closely caring eyes, behavioural problems and mental suffering have
become cause for concern. For example, vets and contemporary dog health manuals
advise giving dogs a view of life in their neighbourhood; vantage points where they
can look out. This breaks up the solid walls and fence lines of homes and leads to less
neurotic digging and unending barking. Similarly, gardens that were once designed
for vegetables, children’s play, lawns and roses are now being more actively
considered from both human and animal perspectives. Some, for example, allow for
unhindered running, for playing fetch and ball games. Others include a water pool
for animals, a water source, elevation, climbing, hiding, digging and sleeping. It is a
mistake to think that this is just a question of human choice and agency because
typically it is knowledge and experience of companion species agency that inform or
inscribes itself on human decisions.
The interiors of homes are also changing. At one time the choice of coming into
and out of the house was determined by humans, but the spread of cat and dog doors
has changed that and extended more choice to the animals. The amount of animal-
specific furniture being added to the home is on the increase. Cats like to be in
elevated, draught-free, warm spots and owners have experimented with nests,
lookouts, climbing posts, ramps and boxes. In the UK owners can buy nests that fix
to central heating radiators. Across the Western world new companies have emerged
to provide luxurious, species-specific furniture that recognizes the elevated status of
companion animals in the family and household. Widely considered as pampering
and kitsch, this nonetheless expresses something important: animals are just as good
as people as objects for the expression of love and attachment and they are equally
good at asserting their agency in human households.
All of this is not merely the artefact of human cultural displacement, the welling
up of human emotion and ingenuity in the absence of proper (human) objects of the
imagination. Much of what changes is done in relation to/in combination with what
the animals do, prefer, enact. Much of it is or begins with non-human agency. For
example, the opening up of the full range of human domestic spaces to species that
had hitherto little experience of them began an emergent history of experimentation
and discovery. One woman in Brisbane discovered that her companion cane toads
that lived in specially constructed homes in her garden liked the sound of her
computer keyboard as she typed her work in the kitchen. They would gradually all
come inside to listen. Then the cane toads discovered that the woman’s bare feet were
warm and pleasant to sit on and before long the local cane toad family fought each
other for prime corpo(real) estate (Lewis 1989:58). Evidently they became soothed
and hypnotized by their kinesthesic experience. In the case of my own dog Coco,
who came to us shortly after this project began (and whose biography with us was all
the more acutely observed as a result), her access to the entire house was a problem.
We had a large, open plan house with a large kitchen area that she could enter from
148 A. Franklin
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one of two directions. She is a large, rangy boisterous dog and her normal behaviour
in the kitchen with children learning to cook, etc, was clearly dangerous. What did
we need to do? Alter the kitchen design with door or barriers? Actually no, what we
discovered is that dogs are hypersensitive to and respectful of the micro-politics of
space. After saying no to her coming into the kitchen, for what seemed like hardly
any time at all, she never come in and would never even try – while we were there.
We did not know this before or read it somewhere; we discovered it about her, just as
she discovered that we didn’t want her in the kitchen. Over time we realized that
Coco always like to locate herself centrally or equidistantly in relation to humans
and cats in the house and in a watchful position for them. At night when humans sat
around a television Coco sensed the significance of the gathering and wanted to be as
close as possible. She was fidgety and restless without a place on a chair around the
television but perfectly relaxed and mellow once installed in her television chair
place.
Relatings between humans and companion species also have very significant
impacts on who we are and how we are, how ‘‘partners come to be who we are in
flesh and sign’’ (Haraway 2003:25, my emphasis). In fleshy terms nothing could be
more significant than our health and physical (and mental) wellbeing, but these are
positively reconfigured, mainly in positive ways by our relatings with companion
species. In 1992 Anderson, Reid & Jennings found that in a survey of those attending
a cardiovascular screening service (n55741) in Melbourne, pet owners reported
significantly fewer visits to doctors and significantly less consumption of specified
medications (for high blood pressure, high cholesterol, sleeping difficulties or heart
problems). Pet owners had ‘‘significantly lower systolic blood pressure and plasma
triglycerides than non-owners’’, but the two groups ‘‘did not differ in body mass
index, socio-economic indicators, or smoking habits’’ (Jennings et al. 1998:163).
Moreover, pet owners in the study ate more meat and take-out food. Since then
numerous international follow-up studies have largely confirmed these findings
(Headey 1998, Freidmann, Thomas & Eddy 2000).
The significance of all this has not passed unnoticed by the researchers concerned.
In 1998 Jennings et al. estimated the health benefits of companion animals based on
their 1992 survey. Using 1993–94 health costs in Australia, the total savings were
estimated at $144,892 million, comprising of savings from GP visits of $26,244
million; savings on pharmaceuticals of $18,856 million and savings on hospitaliza-
tion of $144,892 million. According to a later study based on nationally
representative data, the estimate figure was considerably higher. Headey and
associates replicated Anderson’s survey and found similar results: pet owners made
significantly fewer visits to doctors and used significantly less medicine. Using 1994–
95 Medicare expenditure and assuming that all recurrent health expenditure can be
divided up proportionately to the number of doctor visits people make, Headey
(1998) calculated the saving to be $988 million, representing 2.7% of the nation’s
health expenditure. However, as we enter a new phase of more intensive and detailed
study of this phenomenon, the benefits may be more significant as a result of being
able to direct them more effectively in the population through training and
supervision. For example, Jennings et al. strongly suggest that the critical benefit
may not be from ownership per se but from specific types of relationship. They
found, for example, that ‘‘non-partnered people who reported feeling close to their
A Post-Humanist Approach to Housing 149
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dogs made significantly fewer doctor visits and took less medication than non-
partnered people who were not close to their dogs’’ (Jennings et al. 1998:168). This
suggests that we need to understand the relationship itself and its variation, how close
relationships develop and why they deliver health benefits. With greater confidence
in their administration and armed with Headey’s finding that people over the age of
55 years have the most to gain, Australia might elect enact policies that promote
their take-up.
While cardiovascular disease is a prominent problem for the nation, the benefit of
understanding the relationship we have with companion species is considerably
wider. It extends to general wellbeing (Garrity & Stallones 1998), treatment of
depression, loneliness and anxiety (Wilson 1998:61), and Alzheimer’s disease
(Batson, McCabe, Baun & Wilson 1998) to say nothing about therapeutic uses in
prisons, hospitals and homes for elderly people.
The health benefits of the human–companion animal relation is not one way.
While there may be reciprocated life-prolonging influences for animals by simply
being with humans, there are now very tangible medical benefits through the
willingness of humans to pay for veterinary services. During interviews with vets in
Australia, in Perth, Sydney and Hobart, it was obvious that owners are willing to
pay very large sums of money for their animal’s health. This is bottom-line proof of
the meaningfulness of owners’ claims that their animals are their family. As we will
see owners now spend small fortunes on the health needs of cats and dogs, but it is
not restricted to these species. One of the most extraordinary stories was told by a
Perth vet. It concerned a pet rabbit:
I have a reputation to be one of the best vets for rabbits in Australia and I had
this lady with a sick rabbit in Brisbane and she paid me $100,000 to come and
treat it…. A lot of people will feed the rabbit and don’t think much about the
rabbit, but for this person the importance of the rabbit was at least worth
$100,000. But that’s the extreme, but I’ve had people telling me that they would
give everything they have to treat their animal and they are usually able to find
$5000 to $10,000.’’
Another vet in Sydney emphasized that people tend to follow very similar
treatment options for animals and not merely the cheapest. Nor are they necessarily
in non-human hospitals:
I have a dog with a tumour of its lower jaw that, umm, we could – it’s a cancer
and the real option for this guy is to have his jaw removed surgically. Now the
owner said, ‘‘I don’t want to do that. What other options do I have?’’ The
other option is radiation therapy and so we’ve negotiated to deal with a human
radiotherapist. I am transporting this dog every afternoon up to the Human
Radiotherapy Unit at Wahroonga Hospital, which takes me about three-
quarters of an hour drive to an hour drive. We anaesthetize the dog at that site.
He is treated in the human hospital and then I wake him up from the
anaesthetic and I transport him back again and we’re doing it every day for ten
days. Now that is going to cost the owner $6500 by the time he has finished
that treatment. Now we could have removed his jaw for probably $2000 to
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$3500 going through all of that procedure and the aftercare and what have you.
But the owner didn’t want to do that. He wanted to maintain the integrity of
the dog’s jaw, it’s appearance and it’s function and so to do that we’re spending
$6500 in an attempt to cure his cancer. Now we know he mightn’t get a cure.
He has only got probably a 75% chance of getting a cure, but the owner is
prepared to do it. Umm – is that a good enough example?
A further demonstration of the extension of humanity to companion species is
expressed in owners concern about pain. It may surprise some that pain relief was
hardly administered to companion species in the past. This is no longer true, but
again the change is quite recent, as this Sydney vet acknowledged:
…they just have higher expectations, yeah. So, for example, they are very
concerned about pain relief and we offer a lot of pain relief these days, which
certainly going back some years was not so broadly done. You might give pain
relief initially, but we give on going pain relief and people are often very
concerned about what pain their animal might be in. I think that’s something
different.
But prehensions and graspings such as this go beyond the practical realm of
everyday life and embodiment, rich though that is. The intensity of life with
contemporary companion animals is such that this serial dance of agency alters
forever whatever conceptions of animals or particular species one might begin with
and in particular demonstrates the instability of the notion of species. Species are
understood as fully and finally formed entities with a coherent and limited body of
behaviour; with what we might call ‘‘a nature’’, to use everyday language, that
defines but also circumscribes them. However, life in the new environment of the
contemporary home destabilizes such narrow conceptions and both species of the
companionate relation live in this unstable but mutually re-constituting ontology.
The case of the House Rabbit Society in the USA, my final example is all that it
takes to demonstrate the infinity of possible worlds of relatings, affordances,
prehensions, naturecultures and indeed technonatures that constitute the prospect
for humans and animals.
The House Rabbit Society
What follows is based mainly on the work of Julie A. Smith (2003) and to a lesser
extent on other publications by other House Rabbit Society (HRS) members. When
I first heard Smith talk about the HRS at a conference in London in 2001 I began to
realize that this was probably not an eccentric oddity but the beginning of something
that was becoming – has already become – more widespread. One immediately
thinks of ‘‘natural horse riding’’ for example as a cognate development. Whether
eccentric or zeitgeist, it is clearly the archetype of developments and becomings
suggested in this paper.
The HRS is an organization founded in 1988 in California by Marinell Harriman
and others that encourages a new way of living with rabbits: not imprisoned in
hutches, alone and outside but relatively free to live with humans and other rabbits
A Post-Humanist Approach to Housing 151
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inside human dwellings (though as it progressed the latter can only be considered
humanrabbithomes). ‘‘Holes’’ would be a good term for them, not only because this
is one way of describing a natural rabbit home or burrow, but because this is how
many conventional middle American people would uncharitably describe the homes
of the HRS after they had become rabbitized….as you will see and hear.
Smith’s wonderful paper is part biography and part analysis. One of the main
driving anxieties for Smith is how to live ethically with animals such as domestic
rabbits and she begins her paper responding to Tuan’s (1984) critique of pet keeping
and the sinister side of humanity it expresses (the pleasure of dominance, as he put
it). Throughout the paper Smith tries to rescue an ethical position for keeping
domestic rabbits in the way the HRS does. They rescue rabbits from a variety of
perils, recruiting most of them from animal shelters. Thus, the first ethical position is
that she is rescuing them from danger, then looking after them, then, by applying the
rules of the HRS adopting them out to those agreeing to abide by the HRS rules. But
next she worries about the ethics of their life with humans: surely humans are
exercising an unacceptable dominance even those as caring as the HRS.
For example, HRS rabbits are neutered. Smith agonizes over this, but eventually
understands it as a medical intervention in favour of the rabbits’ health (a life of
breeding and fighting is not without substantial risk) and in any case, as she argues, a
life not spent breeding can be spent on other things, other activities and explorations
that enable the rabbit to be just as natural or rabbit-like in their approach to them.
The argumentation has a certain resemblance to the human liberation from a life of
childbirth and family.
Those other things and activities centre on the life with and home shared with
humans. An environment inside the home can be contrived in such a way that the
rabbit not only feels comfortable and safe, but can arrange things themselves to a
considerable degree. Most potently however Smith describes their mutual relatings
as governed, at least as far as she governed, by a ‘‘performance ethics’’: ‘‘I propose a
‘‘performance ethics,’’ which will both celebrate the human desire to dismantle the
boundary between humans and companion animals and acknowledge its difficulty’’
(Smith 2003:183).
HRS Approach to Living With Rabbits
It is worth quoting Smith at length to gauge the extent to which the HRS member’s
homes and family life was disturbed by the new performance ethics:
The HRS did not simply manage difficult issues of control discursively. In fact,
its members surrendered enormous control over their homes. Many HRS
members ‘‘rabbit-proofed’’ their houses, a playful word that euphemized
extensive modifications. In my own house, rabbit-proofing meant that most of
the furniture was made of metal, electrical cords were fastened behind furniture
or covered in hard plastic or metal tubing, and protective wood strips were
tacked on to wood baseboards and wood trim around closets and windows. In
addition, linoleum replaced carpet – or the carpet was abandoned to shredding
– and fencing enclosed bookcases. So-called ‘‘litterbox training’’ primarily
meant capitalizing on the rabbit habit of urinating consistently in one or two
152 A. Franklin
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places. We simply put litterboxes where the rabbits decided to eliminate. Many
of us found it easier to change ourselves than the premises. At present, the
rabbit who lives in the bedroom is excavating my mattress. She bounces
around inside the dust cover and chews the wooden frame around the metal
springs. …. Indeed, I have heard HRS members laugh about taking turns with
their human partners sleeping on the wet spot in the bed; putting fencing
around their beds at night to keep rabbits from urinating on their pillow or
barbering their eyebrows; and catering to rabbits who nip ankles, box hands,
or trip-up human bodies when caretakers are too slow with the treats. Frankly,
I love this way of living, this version of ‘‘becoming animal.’’ It was the genius
of HRS founder Harriman to naturalize this life, so that those of us who came
after felt social permission to live as we had always wanted to. (Smith
2003:187–188.)
I can see the attraction. However, as with the examples of dogs and cats above, the
Smith household began to be changed not by their own performance ethics but by
rabbit agency: it both asserted itself and enlightened the humans in their
becomingrabbit. Here is Smith again:
Over time, we came to understand the principles of rabbit space and changed
our abodes even more. After many years of living with rabbits, I noticed that
they liked free corridors along perimeters. (Smith 2003:189.)
In addition rabbits like to pile ‘‘things’’ up in the middle of the room creating a mess
that was at the same time a rabbit ordered mess. In time Smith became attuned to
rabbit aesthetics and space management and began to enjoy the way rabbits could
make themselves at home in a dwelling shared with humans. Equally, in addition to
these housing issues, there emerged new interactions new intimacies and prehensions
14
:
In other major, minor, practical, and discursive ways did HRS members
express their vision of shared space. Interaction with rabbits was presented as
best happening on the floor. While the human lay quietly, the rabbit would
investigate, groom, climb and sit on the human, and allow him/herself to be
petted. In this way, rabbits were given freedom to initiate interaction, a key
component of relational partnerships (Harker, Collis & McNicholas 2000:191,
Smith 2003:189)
What is so clear from the writings of the HRS is the experimental nature of their
domestic relations with rabbits. They are experimenting with how it might be
possible to live with rabbits differently and in so doing discovering new forms of
possible relationships between rabbits and humans.
Conclusion
In this paper I have demonstrated, in the light of findings from an Australian
national survey, the extent to which human housing, household and family life has
become entangled in new ways with companion species. I have also located these
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changes in the individualized world of ‘‘liquid modernity’’ and ‘‘liquid love’’ and
have argued that new intensities of co-presence have offered opportunities for new
ways of relating to companion species and new ways of thinking about relating to
them. In particular, new relatings unearth the instability and unreliability of ‘‘species
being’’ and reveal companion animals to be exercising agency, creativity and
companionability in reference to their humans. I offer examples of this and an
archetype: the Society of House Rabbits.
Formerly exclusively human homes, households and family formations are now
undergoing change as they become sites for human-animal cohabitations. This
affects housing choice and design, furnishing and the internal configuration of space.
Glibly, one might understand this transformative process as a sad substitution of
animal objects for proper human sociability and bonds; sad for both the humans
reduced to such straits and for animals so anthropomorphized. However I have
argued that these circumstances are not such that animals cannot express agency or
that humans cannot relate to them as significant others and that their co(a)gency
results in new effects. Humans and animals appear to make very good companions
to each other and of course many have been tempered by thousands of years of co-
evolution. But many (cane toads, rabbits) have not – but they did not take long to
realize the benefits of cohabitation. Cohabitation is expressed both semiotically and
sensually, in communication and in flesh. Both, probably, account for the
remarkable finding that living with a companion species can improve human health
and well being.
Notes
1. The study, an Australian Research Council funded project Sentiments and Risks: The Changing
Nature of Human-Animal Relations took place between 2000 and 2004. It combined a nationally
representative survey of 2000 respondents with a series of case studies focussed around veterinary
practice and relationships with wildlife. The survey was conducted over the telephone with
Australians over the age of 16 years and we randomized the choice of respondent in each household
by asking to speak with the person whose birthday was next. This guaranteed that all ages and
genders are represented. We also created statistically representative interview targets for all capital
cities and state rural areas. The main survey was administered by NCS Pearson and the survey
instrument was comprised of 13 key questions of which 5 established key data on the type of animals
respondents shared their lives with, 7 were Likert-type questions which investigated values and
practices with respect to animals generally and one question was comprised of a battery of sub-
questions obtaining key social , economic and demographic data. The overall response rate was 35%
(calculated as a proportion of answered calls).
2. See Michael (2000).
3. This derives from Deleuze & Guatari’s work on ‘‘becoming animal’’ in One Thousand Plateaus. This
involves a radical decentring of the subject through imagining and practicing what it might mean to
be another species.
4. See Ingold 1995; 2000.
5. Of course there are other species that we do not purposefully live with, that also matter:
woodworms, mice, rats, mites, etc.
6. According to Abercrombie, Hill & Turner (The Penguin dictionary of sociology, 2005) ontological
security ‘‘refers to the security, order and regularity that people feel in their lives, which are likely to
be most clearly experienced in a stable sense of personal identity over time’’. Clearly, divorce, spatial
mobility, labour market change and cultural change produce a churning of ontological security or
ontological insecurity.
7. Adrian Franklin (1999) Animals and modern cultures. London: Sage.
154 A. Franklin
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8. Josh Schonwold. NIA will fund a study about loneliness, its physical risks. University of Chicago
chronicle 21(5), pp. 5–9.
9. BBC News (2005) Britain singled out as lonely nation, 27 March, 2000. London, UK.
10. Lindsay Tanner. Address to The Sydney Institute, May 4 1999.
11. Garrity, T. F. & Stallones, L. (1998) Effects of pet contact on human well-being: review of recent
research, in: C. Wilson & D. Turner (Eds), Companion animals in human health (Thousand Oaks,
CA: Sage).
12. Royal New Zealand Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (2003). The truth about cats
and dogs. Press release, 14 May 2003.
13. Zentralarchiv fu¨ r Empirische Sozialforschung (1995) Machine readable codebook ZA Stut 2450:
ISSP 1993 environment (Ko¨ ln: Zentralarchiv fu¨ r Empirische Sozialforschung).
14. By this I mean reaching out in a sensual and cognitive way to inscribe rabbits more closely in
human culture and practice.
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