Shared Stories of Rescue Cats : Online Narratives and Affective Resonance

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Title: Shared Stories of Rescue Cats : Online Narratives and Affective Resonance
Author: Joki, Milla-Maria
Other contributor: Helsingin yliopisto, Humanistinen tiedekunta
University of Helsinki, Faculty of Arts
Helsingfors universitet, Humanistiska fakulteten
Publisher: Helsingin yliopisto
Date: 2019
Language: eng
Thesis level: master's thesis
Degree program: Sukupuolentutkimuksen maisteriohjelma
Master's Programme in Gender Studies
Magisterprogrammet i genusvetenskap
Specialisation: ei opintosuuntaa
no specialization
ingen studieinriktning
Abstract: This thesis examines Facebook posts that Finnish animal welfare associations have published about rescue cats. The object of analysis is established as ‘rescue cat stories’ – a particular kind of narrative that tells the story of one or many cats who are rescued or attempted to be rescued by people who work or volunteer for animal welfare associations. Drawing from the fields of feminist animal studies and critical animal studies, the analysis discusses what thematic elements are prominent in viral rescue cat stories that promote neutering and how these stories are constructed narratively and affectively in a social media environment. The research material consists of four individual narratives: three stories of individual cats and one story of a feral cat colony. In order to locate the research topic, the study discusses what kind of differences and similarities there are in animal welfare, animal rights, and animal liberation philosophies, how the philosophies tend to interlock in certain contexts, and where animal rescue work is located in relation to other forms of animal advocacy. Finnish animal rescue work, which has previously been marginalised in academic research, is regarded with a feminist sensitivity that pays heed to the gendered nature of the caring work that rescue workers are involved in while also taking into account the risk of speciesism that follows from considering only some species as ‘protectable’ and ‘lovable’. In agreement with recent research that has been conducted in the field of feminist animal studies, the analysis contests the stark binary of abolitionism and welfarism and suggests that it is crucial to consider interspecies entanglements without resorting to ableist rationalisations that argue that it would be better for dependent domesticated animals to go extinct than to live as vulnerable beings. The topic of the research is analysed thematically with the help of Sara Ahmed’s theorisation of affects, affective economies, and sticky concepts and Susanna Paasonen’s theorisation of viscerally grabbing resonances. Additionally, Ruth Page’s delineation of mediated narrative analysis is employed in order to distinguish what is characteristic of stories that are shared in a social media environment. The methodological concept of ‘shared stories’ further informs the multimodal, mediated, and participatory nature of narratives that are produced, reproduced, and encountered in a social media environment. The analysis identified the act of naming, death, and mourning as prominent thematic elements that form the backbone of viral rescue cat stories. While the act of naming serves an important role in establishing cats as individuals, it does not seem to entail as much power to ignite the affective economy of a shared story as the aspects of death and mourning do. The goal of all the stories studied in the thesis is to promote feline neutering, but neutering as such does not seem to be sticky enough to ignite the affective economy of a post. Therefore, the research material suggests that the kind of stories that provided a sufficiently contextualised account of naming, death (or the risk of death), and mourning were more likely to grab the audience and generate interactions. Finally, the analysis concludes by stating that while it is possible that the affect-based focus on sharing a particular kind of reaction entails the risk of resonating in anthropocentric registers, other-oriented animal narratives can also have the power of inspiring simulative, other-directed empathy.
Subject: feminist animal studies
critical animal studies
rescue cat
mediated narrative analysis
affective economy
shared story
social media
animal welfare
animal rights
animal rescue

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