CLAN – Children-Animals Friendships: challenging boundaries between humans and non-humans in contemporary societies

PTDC/SOC 28415/2017

PI: Verónica Policarpo // Co-PI: Ana Nunes de Almeida


What is project CLAN about?

  • Funded by the Portuguese Scientific Foundation (PTDC/SOC 28415/2017), this project aims at understanding the relationships between children and companion animals, by analyzing their affective practices, and discusses how these are intertwined with other practices, environments and contexts, such as those involved in taking care of a pet. Children and pets are considered as co-producers of a common world, where the boundaries of what is a child, and an animal, are built, and permanently reconfigured.

The project uses qualitative methods to explore these relationships and their affective dimensions, in the context of the household and parent-child interaction. Children will be given a voice (and heard) and asked to put themselves ‘in the shoes’ of their pets. Pets will be observed, in their relationship with children, and the natural and material world that surround them. The project also engages with relevant stakeholders related to both childhood and animal life: policy makers, teachers, psychologists, pediatricians, social workers, veterinarians and representatives of animal welfare associations.

The project will run for three years, beginning on 1st October 2018, with a team of eight researchers, and an external advisory panel of three international experts.



How do children and pets build daily relationships that contribute to either challenging or reproducing dominant classificatory categories and established boundaries between human and non-human worlds?

This project aims at exploring this question, drawing on some facts that have stimulated scientific curiosity around the topic: the contrast between normative changes related to animal rights/protection and the massive numbers of errant and institutionalized dogs and cats, due to different forms of abuse and neglect; the dramatic drop of fertility rates, with children becoming rarer in number, along with their growing centrality in the family and parental investment in their education; homes that become 'technological playgrounds' where children learn and play, and a pet becomes an option for partisans of an 'experiential pedagogy', perceived as a way to retrieve a relationship with nature and the 'world we have lost'. Furthermore, since modernity, children and animals share time-lagged but similar processes of recognition as subjects of fundamental rights.

Informed by a 'theory of practice' framework, and drawing on interdisciplinary literature (on childhood, friendship, affect, and human-animal studies), the project aims at studying the relationships between children and pets. It pays special attention to their affective practices, defined as forms of embodied meaning-making. It is suggested that children and pets co-produce the hybrid worlds they are embedded in, through practices that may either reproduce, or confront, the species barrier. It is hypothesized that, when these relationships are built in the way either of kinship, or of friendship, that barrier is challenged.

More specific questions are: what are the dimensions (educational, instrumental, ludic) involved in practices between children and pets? How do these practices impact both on the child and the pet, namely to the development of mutual empathy? How do they contribute to drawing the boundaries of what is an 'animal', a 'pet', a 'child', or a 'friend'? How do they intertwine with parental education and caring practices, towards both the child and the pet, as well as the overall material arrangements of the household?


Methodologically, the project follows a qualitative design. The unit of analysis is the relationship between the child and (the) pet(s) (cats/dogs); children will be given a voice (and heard) and their relationship with pets observed in domestic context. The multi-method approach will comprise both visual and verbal data, collected via ethnography and direct observation, visual and participatory methods, and photo-eliciting interviews.

The project develops a sociological perspective that has remained underexplored: the relevance of the child-pet relationship for both sides; and how it is built through affective practices. It is groundbreaking in Portuguese social sciences, and it contributes with an original context specific case study to the international literature.




Verónica Policarpo

PI (Principal Investigator)

Sociologist and researcher at ICS-ULisboa, in the field of Human-Animal Studies. Since October 2018 she coordinates the project “CLAN - Children-Animals’ Friendships: challenging boundaries between humans and non-humans in contemporary societies" (PTDC/SOC 28415/2017). She is a member of the LIFE Research Group, and the coordinator of "Animal Wonder - Reading Group on Human-Animal Studies @ICS-ULisboa".


Ana Nunes de Almeida


Sociologist and a researcher at the ICS-ULisboa. Her favourite sicentific themes are: children and childhood, family and schooling, children and animals, new ethical dilemmas in the research with children. She is currently the chair of the Scientific Council at ICS-ULisboa and a member of the Directive Commitee of the RN04 Children and Childhood, European Sociological Asssociation).


Mónica Truniger


Socióloga no ICS-ULisboa. Tem-se dedicado à investigação, ensino e comunicação das práticas sociais alimentares através de pesquisas sobre pobreza alimentar, consumo alimentar sustentável e hábitos alimentares de famílias com crianças. Tem vários títulos publicados alusivos a estas temáticas em editoras portuguesas e internacionais.


Teresa Líbano Monteiro

Associate researcher at ICS-ULisboa

Teresa Líbano Monteiro é doutorada em sociologia (ISCTE-IUL) (2007). Lecionou Teorias Sociológicas e Métodos de Investigação na Faculdade de Ciências Humanas da Universidade Católica Portuguesa (1993-2017). Em 2013, esteve no Centre Max Weber (Lyon- France) para desenvolver investigação na àrea dos Human-Animal Studies.


Vasco Ramos


Vasco Ramos (Lisbon, 1976), is a postdoctoral researcher, with a PhD in Sociology from the University of Lisbon. Among other interests, his research has focused on issues such as social inequality, class and mobility, and family sociology. More recently, he has focused on food, food practices and human-animal studies. Currently, he is a researcher at CLAN, conducting ethnographic work with children and pets, with interest in understanding how specific categorisations of non-human animals relate to food practices and preferences.

Since 2009 he has worked on several projects at ICS-UL, namely on a research project on family trajectories and social networks, coordinated by Karin Wall. Currently, he is part of the Life research group LIFE – Life Course, Inequality and Solidarities: Practices and Policies. He also collaborates with OFAP - Observatory of Families and Family Policies. As a postdoc researcher, he was part of the Portuguese team working on the ERC funded research project Families and Food in Hard Times. Since August 2017, he is developing a research project (based on an individual post-doctoral fellowship from the FCT) entitled Living with Uncertainty: Enduring Precariousness over the life course.


Joana Catela


Joana Catela studied Social Anthropology at FCSH-Nova and Latin American Studies at Cambridge University. Between 2010 and 2011 she attended the post-graduate course “Health anthropology: cultural competence in clinical setting”. After a year working for the local administration, in 2018 he received a doctorate in Anthropology from ISCTE-IUL with the thesis “On the margins and in transit: mental health and good intentions in an IPSS on the outskirts of Lisbon”, based on intensive ethnographic fieldwork in a social housing neighborhood.

Between 2018 and 2019, she joined ICS-ULisboa as a postdoctoral researcher working for project “exPERts - Organizing planning knowledge: housing policy and the role of experts in PER”. She developed a multisited ethnographic investigation both in Cascais and Alta de Lisboa with former residents of the former neighborhoods and with the experts involved in their relocation.

Between July 2020 and February 2021, Joana Catela worked for “SPLACH - Spatial Planning for Change”, based at ISCTE -IUL, a research project focused on investigating the Lisbon Metropolitan Area food system, for which she developed a remote ethnography about food basket producers.

She has recently joined ICS-ULisboa to work as a post-doc researcher for project “CLAN - Children-Animals Friendships: challenging boundaries between humans and non-humans in contemporary societies”.

Her main research interests focus on issues related to medical and urban anthropology, immigration, mental health, housing, vulnerability and human-animal studies, topics on which she has published and participated in scientific conferences, both nationally and internationally.


Henrique Tereno

FCT PHD Student  ICS-ULisboa


Holds a bachelor’s degree in European Studies by the Faculty of Arts and Humanities of the University of Lisbon and a master’s degree in Anthropology by ISCTE/UTAD. Worked as a research assistant on the project CLAN - Children-Animal's Friendships: challenging boundaries between humans and non-humans in contemporary societies” in the Institute of Social Sciences. Is a member of the Human-Animal Studies Hub, partaking in its activities and collaborating in the organization of events. Favorite research topics focus on the relations between humans and non-human animals. Is currently a PhD FCT fellowship holder (2020.05345.BD) in the OpenSoc Doctoral program in Sociology, with a project on the categorization that children make of non-human animals through their practices. e está a desenvolver uma tese sobre a categorização que as crianças fazem dos animais com quem se relacionam através das suas práticas.


Clara Venâncio​

Research Assistant 


Clara Venâncio graduated in Communication Design from the University School of Arts of Coimbra and concluded the first curricular year of the MA in Sound and Image with a specialization in Computer Animation from the Catholic University of Portugal. She holds a Master's Degree in Product Design from the Superior School of Arts and Design of Caldas da Rainha where she completed the thesis “Animal Dignity - Development of Habitats for Domestic Animals” and the prototypes “Domus Petra” and “Locus Turi". She attended the Post-Graduate course Animals & Society at the Institute of Social Sciences of the University of Lisbon and currently works as a Research Assistant in the CLAN project. She is interested in the interactions between humans, animals, and objects. Mainly in which way objects condition and affect the actions of humans and animals.

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Maria Saari​



Maria Helena Saari is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Faculty of Education at the University of Oulu and Visiting Scholar at the Human-Animal Studies Hub. She is currently Co-Leader of the Envisioning Sustainability Research Hub of the Biodiverse Anthropocenes Research Program and Chair of the Finnish Critical Animal Studies Network (CASFinland). She was awarded the the Senior Animal Law Researcher Award by the International Centre for Animal Law & Policy (ICALP) for her doctoral thesis ‘Animals as stakeholders in education: Towards an educational reform for interspecies sustainability’. Her interdisciplinary research focuses on animals in education (policy and pedagogy), interspecies sustainability and justice, environmental education, and animal law. She coordinates and teaches undergraduate courses on environmental education and multispecies childhood studies. Prior to her research career, Maria worked in the field of education in teaching and leadership roles.

External advisors


Jérôme Michalon

Research Fellow in Sociology, at The French National Centre for Scientific Research.  I’m currently working at the Triangle laboratory (UMR 5206 – University of Lyon). My research areas are human-animal relationships, science studies, sociology of mobilization, and sociology of health. My work consists in a sociological exploration of social dynamics within the “benevolence towards animals communities”. My PhD dissertation about Animal-Assisted Therapies as a social phenomenon has been published in 2014 (“Panser avec les animaux. Sociologie du soin par le contact animalier”, Presses de Mines, Paris). I try to understand how health care changes the social status of some animals (namely dogs and horses). I am also working on animal rights activism, and especially the links between advocacy and academia.

Harry Eckman​

Harry Eckman

Harry Eckman is an international animal welfare specialist with 25 years’ experience. He is CEO of the World Cetacean Alliance, the world’s largest marine conservation partnership.

Prior to his role at the WCA, Harry co-founded Change For Animals Foundation (CFAF) and acted as expert consultant for several animal welfare organisations including the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), Four Paws International and Dogs Trust. Throughout his career, Harry has worked internationally with hundreds of locally based animal protection groups. His work has included providing guidance and support on strategic thinking, planning and capacity development for animal welfare and conservation NGOs; stray animal population management; campaigning to end the dog and cat meat trades; lobbying to end wildlife in captivity and the illegal wildlife trade; incorporating human behaviour change concepts into animal welfare and conservation programs; and improving welfare standards in shelters and veterinary facilities.

Harry was born in London but lives in Portugal with his wife, 3 cats and a dog.


Mara Miele

Professor in Human Geography, Director of Postgraduate Research

School of Geography and Planning


Melissa Nolas

Melissa Nolas teaches in the Department of Sociology at Goldsmiths, University of London. She is the co-director of the research programme Childhood Publics and of the Children’s Photography Archive. She also co-edits the online journal entanglements: experiments in multimodal ethnography. Her most recent research focuses on the relationship between childhood and public life, multimodal ethnography, and publics creating methodologies. Prior to this she spent a number of years critically researching welfare, well-being and social support for children, young people, and women/mothers. 

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