CLAN – Children-Animals Friendships

CLAN – Children-Animals Friendships: challenging boundaries between humans and non-humans in contemporary societies, is a research project funded by FCT, the Portuguese Science and Technology Foundation [PTDC/SOC 28415/2017] that explores the relationships between children and companion animals, in the context of family and domestic life. Running between 2018 and 2022, the project asks whether children-animal practices challenge interspecies barriers, fostering more cooperative relationships with the nonhuman world. Such practices are taken within the wider context of family practices, namely parental education styles, as well as their relationships with material culture, at home. Between October 2019 and July 2020, we visited 24 Portuguese, middle-class, urban families, living in the Lisbon Metropolitan Area. Families were chosen according to double criteria: living with one or more children aged 8-14; living at least with one dog or one cat, for at least 6 months. This last criterium was meant to address the fact that dogs and cats are most prevalent in Portuguese families, according to the pet industry. Other species could, nevertheless, add up to it. Putting in place a qualitative multimethod approach, we resorted to in-depth interviews, participant observation, visual methods and photo-eliciting interviews. Fieldwork developed in two stages. Firstly, we interviewed both the child and the parent; animals were observed, as were their interactions with children. Secondly, we selected 12 of the 24 children, to whom we offered a photo camera and asked to take pictures of their pets in the following two weeks. Children were asked to put themselves “in the paws” of their pets, and try to describe visually “how is it to be an animal in this/my home?” In 2020, the Covid-19 pandemics hit the CLAN project, delaying the second phase of fieldwork, and clearly impacting the results. The main difference was that families were now obviously spending much more time at home, hence in the company of their animal companions, either in lockdown, or working or studying remotely. This clearly changed the dynamics with the companion animals, their expectations on their humans’ company and behaviour, and even the composition of the household. Between phases one and two, some families faced grief for the death of their pet, other adopted one (more) pet, and almost all families developed new routines of work and home living, which also included animals. Therefore, quite unexpectedly, CLAN opened a window to peek into the shared lives and vulnerability of children and their companion animals during such unexpected times, marked by the collective trauma of impending disease, death and grief, spatial lockdown and freedom restriction. During the two weeks of the exercise, which unfolded in June and July of 2020, the 12 children took 762 pictures. We then sat together and, through a photo-eliciting interview, asked the children to talk about the exercise, the photos, and explain the context in which they had been taken. We didn’t ask children to give a title to each photo. However, children did talk extensively about their pets’ preferences, personalities, loves and hates, as well as the context of the picture itself. We use in vivo excerpts of their discourses as contextual captions to the pictures. When this information is lacking, we ourselves explained the context of the photo; these cases are identified within [square brackets]. As the CPA was not initially planned as part of CLAN’s methodology, we asked for children’s and parents’ specific consent to use their work for this purpose. Participants were anonymized, which implied excluding almost all photos that specifically identified children by showing their faces. For the purpose of this archive, all photos were tagged according to a pre-given list of tags used in the Archive, to which we added another three tags, most frequent in our sample and which were not yet included in the list: laptop; posing for the picture/staged photo; chilling out/ resting. Of the total corpus of 762 photos, we selected 131 to be part of the Children Photography Archive (CPA). In this selection, we followed a two-step criterion: firstly, we kept all photos chosen by the children themselves, during during the photo-eliciting interviews; secondly, we kept the photos that better portrayed the lives of animals in that particular home and family, from our researcher’s point of view. This meant following the thread of a Weberian ideal-type approach, some families giving more insight than others into some topics. Picturing children’s lives with pets across practices of feeding, bathing, walking, playing or sleeping, we hope that this sub-sample contributes to our sociological imagination around “how is it to be a pet in a Portuguese middle class home”. Among the themes that run across children’s visual accounts of the lives of their pets, we find domestic themes, linked to practices of care: bathing, feeding, sleeping, taking to the vet, walking. But also themes in which the children and their pets go out of the private sphere, and meet public life through contact with street cat colonies, adoption of free roaming cats or dogs, playing in the street/outside, walking in the neighbourhood, or going out in nature, e.g. for a swim at the beach or in the lake. We also find that children’s animal worlds are inclusive, made not only of “their own” pets, but rather of all animals that are part of a wider personal network made of neighbours, family, friends, colleagues at school. Three members of the CLAN team worked on this specific task for the CPA: Verónica Policarpo (PI, coordination, photo selection, validation and consolidation, presentation of research), Joana Catela (post-doc researcher, photo analysis, classification/tagging and selection, interview analysis to retrieve children’s quotes, translation of quotes) and Clara Venâncio (junior researcher, database organisation and preparation, photo classification, interview analysis). The photo-eliciting interviews were conducted by Verónica Policarpo (PI), Vasco Ramos (former post-doc researcher), and Henrique Tereno (former junior researcher). More info on the project’s website:

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