“Flexible Personhood”: Loving Animals as Family Members in Israel



ABSTRACT  This article discerns how human–animal boundaries are played with and blurred through familial love of pets in Israel. It explores the ways interspecies relationships in Israel enable incorporation of animals into the (human) familial sphere and the extent and limits of this inclusion. The analysis of the incorporation of pets into households of 52 couples reveals pets are treated as loving and loved members of the family, very similar to small children. At the same time, long-term ethnographic research reveals that many loving relationships with animals do not endure: when life changes and unexpected situations pose obstacles to the human–animal love, the people involved may redefine or terminate it. Pets are treated as “flexible persons” or “emotional commodities”; they are loved and incorporated into human lives but can at any moment be demoted and moved outside of the home and the family. [humanness, animality, flexibility, boundaries, Israel]