Andrea Laurent-Simpson, "Just Like Family: How Companion Animals Joined the Household" (NYU Press, 2021)


Welcome to The Academic Life! In this episode you’ll hear about:

  • Andrea Laurent-Simpson’s path in and out of and back into graduate school
  • The story of her college dog, who became her family
  • Why she became interested in looking at her pets as family members
  • How her human kids reacted to her research project
  • What her in-person research taught her about human-animal interactions

Our book is: Just Like Family: How Companion Animals Joined the Household (NYU Press, 2021),
which explores the expanding role of animals in what Dr. Laurent-Simpson calls “the multi-species family,” providing a window into a world where almost 95 percent of adults who share their homes with dogs and cats identify their animal companions as legitimate members of their families.
She examines why and how these animals have increasingly become an important part of our households and in our lives, including as siblings to our existing children, as animal children themselves, and even as grandchildren, particularly as fertility rates decline and a growing number of younger couples choose to live a childfree lifestyle. Laurent-Simpson highlights how animals—and their place in our lives—have changed the structure of the American family in surprising ways.

Our guest is: Dr. Andrea Laurent-Simpson, Research Assistant Professor and

Lecturer in the department of sociology at Southern Methodist University. Her work engages identity theory, family and fertility, and human-nonhuman animal interaction. Her research uses original, qualitative, mixed methods data to examine how familial identities are impacted by human-nonhuman animal relationships; how household structure affects resulting identity formation; how this contributes to post-modern, cultural definitions of who or what counts as family; and how dropping fertility rates and delays of first birth characteristic of the second demographic transition aid in the emergence of a “multi-species” family post-1970’s in the U.S. Her newest project examines “pandemic” pets, family structure and health, and pet owner returns to work and school. Her work is award-winning and has appeared in Symbolic Interaction; Sociological Forum; Sociological Inquiry; Sociology of Health and Illness; and Sociological Spectrum. She is the author of Just Like Family: How Companion Animals Joined the Household.

Our host is: Dr. Christina Gessler, co-producer of the Academic Life. Her college allowed her to live in a pet-dorm with her dog Riley; he quickly became the best friend of Ratty [the pet rat next door] and frenemy of Ivory [the neighboring dog who tried to steal his toys. Often.].

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Your Host

Christina Gessler

Dr. Christina Gessler is the creator, show host, and producer of the Academic Life podcast. She holds a PhD in U.S. history.
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