Cat-People: An Ethnography of More-Than-Human Interrelatedness in the Cat Fancy
Date: 9 March 2020
University of Exeter
PhD in Anthrozoology
The practice of breeding and showing pedigree cats, termed the ‘cat fancy’, provides a novel lens through which to explore more-than-human intersections within leisure. Based on multispecies ethnographic fieldwork in the United Kingdom at cat shows and drawing on interviews with those who breed and exhibit cats, as well as judges and ...
The practice of breeding and showing pedigree cats, termed the ‘cat fancy’, provides a novel lens through which to explore more-than-human intersections within leisure. Based on multispecies ethnographic fieldwork in the United Kingdom at cat shows and drawing on interviews with those who breed and exhibit cats, as well as judges and veterinarians, the thesis considers the relationships and sociality between humans and cats that form within the fancy. Going beyond a typically anthropocentric approach to leisure, it engages with feline subjectivities and asks, ‘what’s in it for the cats?’. This question is not one that seems to arise often in the consciousness of breeders or exhibitors. The cats themselves may benefit from specific standards of care, including health provisions and general daily needs. Yet, the thesis contends that the cat fancy involves serious compromises to the well-being and agency of the cat. The selective breeding of human-constructed cat breeds and the establishment of the cat fancy itself has restricted or removed feline agency. The processes and discourses disseminated and controlled by cat fancy institutions also represent an exercise of biopower, the overall aim being the ‘improvement’ of breeds and the preservation of ‘lineage’ and ‘pedigree’. The evaluative logic used within reproductive decision-making shares characteristics with eugenicism. The thesis does not deny that humans and cats form close intersubjective bonds in the cat fancy, indeed, such bonds are clearly in evidence. At the same time, however, multifarious, coinciding and conflicting relations and conceptualisations of cats emerge. Cats may simultaneously act as kin, companions, social conduits, status symbols, extensions of self, collaborators in cat fancy success or failure, lively commodities, and objects for aesthetic evaluation. The cat fancy also produces humans who self-define as ‘cat people’ and ‘ethical breeders’ with shared norms of care and attitudes towards cats. Overall, despite allowing the production of heterogeneous human-cat relations, the thesis argues that prevailing discourses, practices, and norms of care in the cat fancy result in the prioritisation of human needs.
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