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Animals as Lifechangers and Lifesavers: Pets in the Redemption Narratives of Homeless People
  • Leslie Irvine, University of Colorado Boulder
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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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Citation Information
Irvine, L. (2013). Animals as Lifechangers and Lifesavers Pets in the Redemption Narratives of Homeless People. Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, 42(1), 3-30.