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The Canine in Conversation
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illustration of boy looking at dog in mirror Dog as Self and Other

The Personhood of Dogs: Self or Other?

In symbolic terms, the domestic dog exists precariously in the no-man's-land between human and non-human worlds. It is an interstitial creature, neither person nor beast, forever oscillating uncomfortably between the roles of high-status animal and low-status person. … it has become a creature of metaphor, simultaneously embodying or representing a strange mixture of admirable and despicable traits.

—James Serpell

To understand the fine line that dogs walk between Self and Other, it may be helpful to consider how the personhood of dogs is viewed in the contemporary United States.  While, as will become apparent, opinions vary widely, this is a subject on which most of the humans in U.S. society have a definite position.  On cultural and psychological grounds, there are those who not only perceive dogs as persons but often as more person-like than certain categories of humans.  Simultaneously, the self-evident biological differences of genetics and anatomy—literally the “specific” differences—will, in the minds of others, create qualifications or support an absolute definition of dogs as not-persons.



Last updated: May 27, 2008
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