Humans, animals, and play: Theorizing interaction when intersubjectivity is problematic

Colin Jerolmack

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    Simmel (1949) argues that humans have an "impulse" toward sociability, defined as noninstrumental, playful association that is enjoyed as an end in itself. While sociability as conceived of by Simmel necessitates a shared definition of the situation, recent studies problematize symbolic interactionist assumptions by documenting the ways humans engage in analogous sociable play with animals. Drawing from ethnomethodological and pragmatist perspectives, this article offers a way to theorize human-animal encounters and their relationship to interactions among humans. Beginning with a conceptualization of play as an interpretive frame (Goffman 1986) that actors can employ to organize situated interactions, this article argues that humans can engage in playful associations with animals even if animals do not share in the play frame. It illustrates how play with animals can preserve some of the forms and satisfactions of interaction with humans, and it clarifies how interaction can be coordinated and understood when we cannot assume that interactants share intersubjectivity. The article concludes by offering a tentative set of conditions that structure the possibilities of sociable play, based on the degree of potential intersubjectivity and other situational factors.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)371-389
    Number of pages19
    JournalSociological Theory
    Issue number4
    StatePublished - Dec 2009

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Sociology and Political Science


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