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“Phil's Calling Grandma… ”: The Role of External Support in Human–Companion Animal Identity Pairings

Symbolic Interaction

Published online on


This exploratory paper deals with human–animal role identity pairings such as parent–child or sibling–sibling and the necessity of support from other actors both for the formation of these idiosyncratic identities, as well as for their situational placement in social environments not limited to the nonhuman animal. Taken from a qualitative study examining identity formation counter to the nonhuman animal, I use in‐depth interviews of both people with and without human children to demonstrate how human‐to‐human relationships are formed by categorizing the companion animal as a “child” of sorts within the family structure. These relationships prove integral to the continued development and enactment of identities such as the animal “parent” or the animal “sibling” via three different groups: their own parents, partners, and, in one case, adult siblings. This creates positive affect and commitment to the identity across other social situations. Implications of these findings for identity theory and family research are discussed.