After completing my undergraduate degree in Human Geography at the University of Southampton, I moved to Australia. While there, I worked as a Feline Services Attendant at the Cat Protection Society of NSW which operates as a charity for advocating positive feline welfare and as a rehoming centre. I loved spending each day with incredible feline individuals and I became curious about the adoption process and the conversations that would occur during all aspects of shelter work. I was also fascinated by differing attitudes towards cats in Australia compared with the UK. In Australia, cats are often referred to as ‘pests’ and there is strong hostility towards domestic cats due to their perceived impact on ‘native’ wildlife. From this initial intrigue, I began to engage with a range of anthrozoological literature and on my return to the UK in 2014 I commenced the MA in Anthrozoology at Exeter to deepen my knowledge and understanding of our interactions with other animals. During the MA, my research interests developed to include such concepts as animal agency and personhood, the rhetoric surrounding ‘invasive’ and ‘native’ species, animal shelters, and veg*nism and meat consumption. This culminated in a fascinating empirical exploration for my dissertation into the motivations and discourse behind feeding choices for companion animals with a particular focus on vegan pets.
The title of my PhD research is ‘The Cat is Nature’s Beauty’: Ethnography of More-Than-Human Interrelatedness in UK Cat Shows. As a liminal species, the domestic cat occupies multiple niches and spaces, ranging from ‘feral’ living completely independent from human maintenance to pampered housebound companion. We have a long history of living alongside cats and over the last 150 years we have created an expanding variety of cat ‘breeds’. Through a 12-month ethnography at cat shows across the United Kingdom, I will investigate the human–animal interactions and social dimensions within pedigree cat breeding and showing. As an underexplored area, this research will uncover the perspectives of breeders and exhibiters, as well as the entanglements and relationships between all stakeholders, including human–cat intersubjectivity and the role of animal agency. Furthermore, I am interested in investigating the discourse that surrounds the perpetuation and celebration of socially constructed animal breeds for aesthetic traits and the breed mythologies that are ascribed to them with the desire to reveal the implications to our perception and relationships with nonhuman animals. I will also look at the history and development of selective breeding, including animals used for human utility in addition to the growth of the animal fancy in general.
My main research methodology includes extensive participant observation at animal shows and within the domestic breeding sphere. I will also conduct semi-structured interviews utilising photo-elicitation with key participants in the cat showing industry across the United Kingdom. This research aims to add significant empirical and theoretical insights to the anthropological and anthrozoological fields through the novel lens of the cat fancy.
AZ Prize Winner 2006
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