My pet saved my life: Redemption stories from the homeless

Animals as lifechangers and lifesavers: Pets in the redemption narratives of homeless people

From Journal of Contemporary Ethnography

Scholars maintain that stories constitute “the self’s medium of being”. In this formulation, people construct and revise their sense of themselves by telling stories. This article examines personal narratives in which homeless and formerly homeless people construct their companion animals as having changed or saved their lives. It outlines how personal narratives in which the homeless portray a pet dog or cat as either motivating them to change their lives or preventing them from taking their lives. The relationship with an animal encourages a sense of responsibility, commitment and self worth. The pet provides unconditional love and companionship. The relationship can contribute to the construction of a positive moral identity. By showing how stories about commitment to animals construct such moral identities, this analysis reveals the social origins of what we consider uniquely autobiographical.

Abstract

This paper examines personal narratives in which homeless and formerly homeless people construct their companion animals as having changed or saved their lives. The analysis considers selfhood a narrative accomplishment, the strategic outcome rather than the source of the stories people tell. These particular stories employ the theme of redemption, in which tellers describe overcoming adversity to face a better future, with animals playing key roles. The analysis reveals the narrative elements through which animals become vehicles for redemption. As dependent others, animals encourage a sense of responsibility. As the providers of unconditional love, they reward the fulfillment of responsibility. And as silent witnesses, they keep the tellers from lapsing into risky behavior. Narratives that describe animals in these ways allow for the construction of a positive moral identity. They also indicate that commitment belongs among the recognized languages of redemption and highlight the social embeddedness of autobiographical experience.

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Article details
Leslie Irvine (2012). Animals as Lifechangers and Lifesavers: Pets in the Redemption Narratives of Homeless People Journal of Contemporary Ethnography : 10.1177/0891241612456550

     
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