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Beyond Mead: Symbolic Interaction between Humans and Felines

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Recent research on the cognitive abilities and emotional capacities of animals has fueled the animal rights movement and renewed debate over the differences between human and non-human animals. This debate has not been central to sociology, although George Herbert Mead drew a very hard line between humans and animals by asserting that the latter were not capable of symbolic interaction. Sociologists are now beginning to question this assumption, and this article falls within this new line of research. We begin by presenting alternative interpretations of symbolic interaction that allow for the possibility of such activity in non-human animals. We review recent research on symbolic interaction between humans and dogs, and we present our own research findings on human-feline interaction. We conclude that there is growing evidence that symbolic interaction is widely distributed throughout the animal kingdom, and that it enables animals to survive more effectively in a wide variety of environments.



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