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Interactionism and Animal Aesthetics: A Theory of Reflected Social Power

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Stemming from a study of social aesthetics, in which public reaction to human physical appearance is addressed, the present analysis considers the practice of humans associating themselves with nonhuman animals on the basis of the latter's appearance. The study found these nonhuman animals are intended to serve as a positive reflection on the humans who deliberately choose them for their “special” traits, which the humans then utilize to enhance their own social standing. The study compares this to the same practice used by humans to associate themselves with attractive humans and serves the similar purpose of amassing social status by virtue of the association. This paper explains the phenomenon in theoretical terms; namely, symbolic interactionism, paying special attention to impression-management and dramaturgy, along with other interactionist features of attribution and social exchange. Where available, the paper uses scholarly, empirical work on the topic, supplemented by popular media observations and news articles. Viewed from an interactionist perspective, these empirical and non-empirical examples provide a novel picture of human-and-animal society as a unidirectional, status-seeking interaction intended to benefit human actors.

Affiliations: 1: Director, Social Problems Research Group, 2804 East Bay Drive, Gig Harbor, WA 98335, USA;, Email:


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