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Practically Emotional: An Anthropological Investigation of the Relationship Between Humans and Dogs

By Mairin Din

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In this study, I explore the human-dog dynamic as it has appeared historically and in contemporary times. I show how dogs' services to humans have shifted from being predominantly practical to predominantly emotional; in modern societies, humans tend to value the emotional labor dogs perform for their owners more than the practical labor they offer. I did my field research among the 18-50 year old Swarthmore College community members, an age demographic whose relations with dogs has not been focused on by other literature. The many secondary sources I used suggest my research can be extrapolated to explain more universal dynamics in contemporary societies. Chapter one sets the stage for the thesis, providing a historical background of the human-dog dynamic. The chapter focuses on the literature I encountered to discuss different aspects of the human-dog relationship. Chapter one indicates that the general dynamic between humans and dogs has shifted over time to remain mainly emotional. Chapter two explores the human-dog dynamic among members of the Swarthmore College community, using selected data from surveys, interviews and literature. This chapter reveals the emotional value dog owners have for their dogs. Chapter three exposes the general perceptions of dogs-i.e. how they function, their skills, their intelligences. This chapter also sheds light on a unique relationship, present on campus, between a blind student and his seeing-eye dog. The seeing-eye dog demonstrates regularly some of the intellectual capacities of dogs. Finally chapter four briefly concludes the thesis with a discussion of the implications for the research findings mentioned in the previous chapters-and a discussion of other findings-not focused on previously.


Spencer CW Au

Date 2013
Pages 146
Publisher Swarthmore College
Location of Publication Swarthmore, PA
Department Department of Sociology & Anthropology
Degree B.A.
Language English
University Swarthmore College
  1. Animal consciousness
  2. Animal roles
  3. Animal welfare
  4. Dogs
  5. Mammals
  6. Pet ownership
  7. Pets and companion animals