Against the medicalisation of companion animals. A multispecies ethnography of care and companionship
In modern Australian society, viewing negative human experiences as pathological events is becoming increasingly common. Experiences of suffering, trauma, stress, poverty, neurodivergence and anxiety are conceptualised in terms of clinical disorders, treatable through medical interventions. Human interactions with companion animals have also been medicalised through animal-assisted therapy, service animals, and individually proclaimed ‘emotional support animals’. In the process, interactions with non-humans have been commodified, researched, and medically sanctioned for their utility for human mental health. Yet, while these companions play a hugely significant role in human lives, their relationship to human health is more complicated and ambiguous than clinical psychological models allow. Medical literature often reduces the agency, individualism, and contextual behaviour of non-human species in favour of finding a statistically significant connection between the reduction of pathological symptoms and various human-animal interactions. Critiquing this project, this thesis explores the experience of living, healing, and suffering with non-human companions through a phenomenological lens. It looks beyond clinical psychological models to explore the intersubjective encounters, lively responses, and inevitable conflicts between different social species. Interactions with companion species can allow people to view themselves from different perspectives and undergo animal-motivated self-alteration. However, multispecies healing experiences are subjective. They involve an intersection of particular bonds between entities, the interests of the animals, and the attitudes and expectations of humans. Our shared mortality and sociality bind humans and our companion animals together but also create conflicts, existential suffering, and change.