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No 32 - 2019

The Place and Impact of Animals in Families
Directed by Antoine Doré, Jérôme Michalon, Teresa Líbano Monteiro

The Place and Effect of Animals in Families
Antoine Doré, Jérôme Michalon, Teresa Líbano Monteiro

Research Framework : The general challenge and originality of this thematic issue of the journal Enfances Familles Générations consists in jointly exploring two major social transformations brought about by the integration of animals into families : the first transformation being in human families and the second in human-animal relationships.

Objectives : The purpose of this introduction to the thematic issue « The Place and Impact of Animals in Families » is to present the current state of knowledge on the subject, by characterizing the approaches taken and identifying blind spots and how to address them.

Methodology : The article is based on a review of the literature and an analysis of approximately 100 English- and French-language publications in the social sciences and humanities that focus on the place and effect of animals in families.

Results : The first part of the article is devoted to an analytical presentation of the literature. Three principal methods of integrating animals into families can be identified in the works studied : integration, assimilation and substitution. In addition, two types of approaches have been favoured to date on how to understand the family in its relationship with animals : « fixist » and flexible. The second part of the article develops a critical analysis of this research. We show that, taken as a whole, these studies generate a naturalization effect of the very specific zoological, sociological and spatio-temporal realities studied. We show that this naturalization is linked to the ill-considered use of certain semantic categories (« companion animal, » « family pet » or simply « pet »). It is also linked to particular systems for the production of sociological knowledge on the place of animals in families (based in part on data provided by key players in the pet industry, or created on a pointedly moral foundation).

Conclusions : The article underlines the need to develop and implement a genuine sociology of family/animal relationships that, on the one hand, more candidly assumes the implicit biases that have guided research to date (a clear positioning in relation to the three methods of integrating animals into families), and on the other hand seeks to denaturalize the categories it uses while questioning the knowledge systems within which it is embedded.

Contribution : Beyond a critical and problematized interpretation of the literature, this article outlines several lines of research that aim to complete and rebalance the particular image that the current literature on the dynamics of integrating animals into the family provides. Five lines are identified : (1) the symbolic construction of the integration of animals into the family (artistic and media representations, construction of categories) ; (2) the physical conditions of this integration (role of technical objects, markets) ; (3) the role of animals in the construction of the identity and socialization of families ; (4) the uses of learned and secular discourses on animal families to define and legitimize a model of human families ; (5) a sociological redefinition of the family, taking into account the different types of animal integration.


Living with animal assistance, or how the presence of a guide dog redefines the relationship of the visually impaired with other members of the family
Yasmine Debarge

Research Framework: The situation of disability entails one or more forms of dependency of the disabled person vis-à-vis his entourage or professionals. Caregivers, family members, are then solicited in a more or less recurrent way to accompany the person in activities that cannot be done alone. Facilitated by « care » or « caring for others » practices, special ties, different from ordinary relationships, are formed as a result, particularly with parents. This type of relationship based on dependency questions Western family models that tend to favour the elective links between individuals, responding to a movement of autonomization of individuals and a priority set on affection. The disabled person is then caught between two opposing forces: the need to rely on the help of relatives and / or external persons or institutions and the desire to be more autonomous or as autonomous as a non-disabled person. It is precisely between these two forces that animal assistance intervenes, and more precisely the guide dog. As a living being, the guide dog will provide daily support to his handler who will allow him to take on a different role vis-à-vis other members of the family.

Objectives: The objective of this exploratory survey is to identify the avenues of research around this theme of animal assistance. Indeed, the gain of autonomy with respect to the family and the relief that this may represent for third-party caregivers transform intra-family relations initially modified by disability. At the same time, a relationship of affection is created with the animal which gives the dog a special place within the family. The dog does not have a status of simple pets and is not an ordinary care worker either. It is therefore necessary to understand the consequences of animal assistance on the way in which the disabled person occupies his / her roles within the family and to clarify the transformations of the place of the dog in contemporary Western societies based on the status of the guide dog within the handler family.

Methodology: The National Association of Guide Dog Handlers in France (French acronym ANMCGA) made contact with some of its most active members to inform them of this investigation. At the request of the interviewer and in order to obtain the most heterogeneous sample possible, the ANMCGA selected the respondents according to criteria of sex, age and family situation. Eleven semi-structured interviews of the duration of a half-hour to one hour were conducted with guide dog handlers. Sequences of these interviews, in particular the description of particular events, were analyzed.

Results: It is shown how the guide dog supports his handler in the exercise of his / her roles of son / daughter, spouse, mother / father, grandmother / grandfather, especially on the issues of moving around. It is also described how relatives and non-relatives welcome animal assistance and whether or not the dog is included in the functioning of the family. Indeed, thanks to the dog, the handler can move without help and perform all kinds of activities that he could not do alone. The caregivers no longer have to adopt the same vigilance towards the visually impaired person.

Conclusion: This exploratory study concludes that the dog has a supporting role in the family by helping the handler fulfill the roles of son / daughter (of an elderly parent), spouse, mother / father, grandmother / grandfather … In our society, all the different phases of life require a certain autonomy and the corresponding roles require family links of solidarity which are reconfigured according to the autonomy of each one. Animal assistance allows the visually impaired person to perform activities that would have been more difficult to achieve without the dog. In addition, animal assistance relieves relatives of a concern that in some cases can have an impact on relational dynamics. The constant presence of dogs with their handler inserts them completely into all family activities, unlike other dogs or pets that cannot access all the places in which members of the family are likely to evolve. Thus, the work of care performed by the dog generates a debt toward him, especially on the part of the visually impaired person who considers that the animal must be taken care of when difficulties are encountered but also frequently by extension on the part of the visually impaired person relatives.

Contribution: To our knowledge, no similar study has been done previously.


Neither Pet, Nor Working Dog : the Proximity and Distance of Qimmiit (Dogs) in Inuit Families of the Central Canadian Arctic before the Creation of Settlements
Francis Lévesque

Research Framework : This paper deals with the integration of qimmiq (dog) in Inuit families from the central Canadian Arctic before they moved to settlements in the mid-20th century.

Objectives : Its first objective is to describe how the qimmiit were integrated into those Inuit families as well as the strategies they adopted to keep them away. It then tries to make sense of the apparent contradiction between its importance and the harsh treatments it could receive at times.

Methodology : The paper leans on fifteen years of research about Inuit dogs in primary and secondary sources, on dozens of Inuit testimonies published in various books and on three periods of fieldwork in Iqaluit, Nunavut in 2004, 2016, and 2017.

Results : It proposes a description of the traditional Inuit family as well as a description of how Inuit and their qimmiit interacted before the creation of settlements (economic importance, place in society, how they were treated, etc.). It will also describe the strategies used by Inuit to keep qimmiit away and distinct from humans. This paper also identifies a series of Inuit behaviour Westerners found either negligent or inhumane toward their dogs and thus contradictory with its importance.

Conclusions : The paper shows that qimmiit are neither dogs nor working animals but occupy their own peculiar space. Despite first impressions, there is no contradiction between how harshly dogs were treated and their importance for Inuit.

Contributions : This paper answers a gap in current literature. Whereas most publications deal with the qimmiq’s physical characteristics or with the dog slaughter that took place in the mid-20th century, few deals with the integration of dogs in Inuit families and with the apparent contradiction between their importance and the way they were treated.


When “Minette” Gets Into the Kinship
Sophie Michon-Chassaing, Georges Gonzalez

Research framework: Pet animals often have a central role in the family, and can be a facilitator within a structure based on filiations. A link is established between the evolution of the family structure in which the individuation of family members is strengthened and a revaluation of the animal as a full member of the contemporary family.

Objectives: This article shows that while a subject’s implication in the production of a genogram which forces him or her to remember his/her own family history may provoke resistance, the psychic convocation of a link with an animal related to this history acts as a lever against such resistance.

Methodology: The data were collected over three years and are based on clinical observations across 20 groups of 12 people during training in psychogenealogy at a social work training centre.

Results: A basic instruction that is too implicit for oneself, but for which the animal makes it lose its negative connotation, leads to the hypothesis that an extension of the instruction to the nonhuman opens up the possibility to surpass oneself by conveying a reassuring attachment.

Conclusions: Recalling the animal’s inscription in the family structure favours construction of the identity of the subject. This feedback, by placing the family in the community of affects, acts as an operator of resilience concerning a genealogical content damaged by the wounds of the past.

Contributions: The contemporary family group suffers from many tensions, such as between frailty and anchorage, which is often encountered in divorce situations. All the same, kinship remains a resource for self-construction. The positive effects of the animal’s involvement during psychogenealogy sessions based on a representation of the family structure reveal that, like any other close person, this inscription contributes to the construction of oneself.


Sociology of strong subjective proximity to the cat, to the dog
Emilie Morand, François de Singly

Research Framework : There is very little work in France on the relationships that adults have with their pets, although we can see their growing importance.

Objectives : Starting from the observation that adults who have a pet in their home declare themselves close to it, we seek, on the one hand, to approach the social conditions that vary this subjective feeling of proximity, and, on the other hand, to describe some of the components of this bond of proximity : tactile proximity and conversational proximity.

Methodology : This article is based on the results of a questionnaire survey that took place between 2016 and 2017 among 2977 dog and cat owners who declared themselves close to their animal.

Results : We observe that (a) conversational proximity contributes more than tactile proximity to the production of subjective proximity ; (b) working-class women are those who feel closest to their pets ; (c) those who feel closest are those who declare their dogs or cats to be « full family members », thus underlining the strength of their bond without necessarily denying animal identity.

Conclusions : This article describes the content of a close relationship between an adult and his animal, the determinants that explain the variation in the intensity of this human-animal relationship and the related practices.

Contribution : On the one hand, the work presented is a contribution to the sociology of human-non-human relations because it allows an objectification of the relationship between humans and their animals. On the other hand, it contributes to broadening the sociology of the family by integrating the animal as a member of the family.


Parenting and Voluntary Abandonment of Children in Haiti : Unthinkable Compatibility
Raynold Billy, Olivier Klein

Research Framework: The practice of voluntarily abandoning a child is most often appraised as reflecting a rejection of the child, viewed for his/her biological parents as the focus of hate and pain, as « unthinkable ». This practice, that Cohier-Rahban (2009) considers as the first step in the adoption process, is thereby considered as a refusal or a negation of parenthood, which facilitates the emergence of new forms of parenthood, including adoptive parenthood. From the perspective of this literature, child abandonment and parenthood thereby appear as two separate and incompatible processes. In this article, we question this incompatibility in view of the hostile social context of Haiti. In order to do so, we made the choice to find Haitian parents who abandoned their child in the perspective of an international adoption and invite them to share their experiences.

Objectives: Our purpose was to grasp the meaning, the causes and the social psychological consequences of their decision as well as to convey their representations of these abandoned children. The elucidation of the various aspects of this decision process could, moreover, help us understand the link between this social practice and parenthood in the Haitian social context.

Methodology: This study was implemented via a qualitative approach based on an ethical standpoint that considers human beings as speaking beings, capable of producing meaning, of articulating their experiences and to explicate their own situation (Giust-Desprairies, 2009; De Gaulejac et al.., 2013). The analyzed data include 15 comprehensive interviews implemented with Haitian parents who abandoned a child. We submitted this material to an iterative thematic content analysis (Paillé et Mucchielli, 2016; Glaser et Strauss, 2017).

Results: The analysis of the results reveals that the practice of voluntary abandonment of children (as an objective breakdown of the original parental ties) constitutes an escape route, a dramatic expression of an « unaccomplished » parenthood resulting from the deterioration of the living conditions of Haitian parents living in the country’s precarious social environments. Instead of being disinvested, the abandoned child is overinvested, s/he fulfills a rescue mission: to become the saviour of those who saved him. The account of the abandonment thus gives the child the same status as that of Moses, prophet and liberator of Israel according to the Bible. The reasons identified in the participants’ discourse point out that the decision to abandon is a parental project that takes the form of a confiage and not an abandonment. The practice of confiage (a form of fostering) is indeed a cultural mechanism of children transfer that does not cancel the primary ties woven around the child and that conceives the foster family or adoptive family as an « additional family ».

Conclusions: In view of these results, rather than being considering as a severing of the ties between the parents and their children, the decision to abandon can thus be interpreted as a request for international solidarity around the child, questioning the plenary dimension of international adoption.

Contribution: This study highlights a possible compatibility between parenthood and voluntary abandonment of children mediated by culturally grounded parental representations, and more specifically in the practice of confiage.


The experience of separated fathers having difficulty accessing their child
Jean-Martin Deslauriers, Diane Dubeau

Research Framework: Recognizing the increased involvement of fathers in the lives of their children, the scholarly community agrees that fathers should continue to play an important parental role following a separation. In theory, mothers and fathers are equal before the law when it comes to parental rights. However, there are differences in the sharing of custody between mothers and fathers.

Objectives: This research aims to identify the factors that contribute to decreasing or breaking fathers’ access to their child following their marital separation.

Methodology: This article reports on the results of a qualitative study with 14 fathers and identifies some of the obstacles they experience as they attempt to maintain their parental involvement after a separation.The research data are drawn from semi-directed interviews with fourteen separated fathers with difficulties in accessing their child. Interviews addressed their life situation in order to identify the factors and dynamics that explain the situation from their point of view.

Results: The findings point to several factors at the onto-, micro-, meso- and macro-systemic levels that, when taken together, result in a weakening of the relationship between fathers and children.

Conclusions : Many have assumed that separated fathers’ decreased involvement in their children’s lives can be attributed to a lack of parental engagement. Yet what this assumption ignores is the fact that some fathers who wish to maintain their parental involvement face difficulties accessing their children. Several factors at different levels of ecosystems that accumulate, thus weakening the relationship with the child.

Contribution : This research offers a multifactorial perspective to identify the complexity of this phenomenon and the processes by which it is constructed. This study documents an unknown phenomenon that of fathers who wish to cultivate these links but who face difficulties of access to their child.


The struggle of reconciling work and family caregiving among employed women caregivers: between balance and disengagement
Mélanie Gagnon, Catherine Beaudry

Research context: This article examines how women family caregivers, mainstays of family solidarity, reconcile their work life with caregiving responsibilities.

Objectives: To understand women caregivers’ needs in terms of reconciling paid work with caregiving responsibilities, and the conflict they experience between their different roles.

Methodology: The needs of these caregivers were identified through 42 in-depth semi-structured interviews with women family caregivers.

Results: Family solidarity largely rests on the shoulders of women caregivers. The way they cope with their caregiving responsibilities and work life brings out divergent points as well as similarities regarding the difficulties they encounter.

Conclusions: Employers should implement general and flexible programs aiming to reconcile work and family caregiving. Also, the programs should focus less on individual responsibilities in order to avoid work-related penalties and gender inequalities, while fostering a genuine reconciliation of work and personal time regardless of one’s life course.

Contribution: Based on a proposed typology of employed women caregivers, this study reveals the different ways employed women caregivers reconcile their caregiving role with their work life.


The Use of Social Digital Technologies by Parents of Children in Care : A Way to Maintain Links and Tools of Resistances
Caroline Maupas

Research Framework: The National Observatory of Child Protection in France indicates that on average, 284 000 children benefit each year from a child protection measure as a result of mistreatment or neglect within the family. About half of these measures result in the removal of the children who are taken into a children’s home or a remunerated foster family. The research presented here was initially centred on interactions between the parents whose children had been taken from and the professionals involved in child protection. We quickly noticed the preponderant place of social digital technologies and tried to understand their use.

Objectives: The purpose of this article is to contribute to both the sociology of digital use and the sociology of family ties by highlighting how the social digital technologies can be used to strengthen familial links in this specific vulnerability context.

Methodology: As part of a PhD in sociology, we used an ethnographic approach composed of fourteen months of immersion into four children’s protection services in the north of France, completed by fifty-three in-depth interviews.

Results: The parents of children placed in care are using social digital technologies in order to maintain links with their children. In fact, it allows them to experiment with different kinds of interactions, to keep a record of their exchanges and also to act out their daily life. These technologies are also used as tools of resistance: they facilitate bending institutional rules, they help maintain the role of parents and they provide them with an opportunity to assert themselves and help each other.

Conclusions: Whereas social digital technologies are still often thought of as obstacles to family life, this article would like to enrich the contributions that show they can also transform family life, even reinforce it.

Contribution: In fine, we show that social digital technologies are proving to be interesting tools and that they are likely to reconfigure an experience of vulnerability.


The Emerging Notion of High Conflict Separation : from Evolving Families to the State’s Response
Catherine Turbide, Marie-Christine Saint-Jacques

Research framework : The concept of high-conflict separation (and divorce) has emerged recently in the scientific literature to designate families in which the conflict between separated or divorced parents remains high despite the passage of time. While studies began to appear in the 1960s and 1970s on the impact of the climate in which divorces occurred (e.g., Kelly and Wallerstein, 1976), the majority of the literature dealing specifically with highly conflictual separations was published from the 1990s on.

Objectives : The goal of this article is thus to analyze the social context factors that have contributed to the emergence of the notion of high conflict separation.

Methodology : Its emergence in the scientific literature was examined here by analyzing the socio-demographic changes that have occurred over the last 60 years and the evolution of social policies and legislative measures affecting families in the Province of Québec and in Canada.

Results : This analysis indicated that the emergence of the notion of high-conflict separation has not only stemmed from demographic changes in families but also from changes in the way society sees the roles that different family members play. The response of the State to the needs of separated families has also contributed to the concept’s appearance.

Conclusions : The concept of high-conflict separation refers to the situation where the noxious climate surrounding the negotiations suggests they are unlikely to succeed, in spite of support services offered to the parents and the atmosphere surrounding the break-up affects the child. The increasingly important concept of high-conflict separation or divorce raises a crucial underlying question : what is more in the child’s interest, to protect that child’s relationship with both parents or to shelter the child from separation conflict ?

Contribution : This approach can certainly stimulate Western researchers since some aspects of the socio-demographic evolution occurring in Québec families can be found throughout the Western world (Roy et al, 2015), despite the fact that other elements are more specific to Québec (Baillargeon and Detellier, 2004).