Doing Sociology in Film: A Street Cat Named Bob
The sociological imagination as a "quality of mind" (Mills, 1959) has changed the way I experience film. I find myself drawn to themes in popular culture as fodder to connect individual experiences and wider social issues. A Street Cat Named Bob is no exception.
Bob is an integral part of James’ identity and redemption narrative, as similarly shown to be the case for homeless people in the research of Irvine (2013). The relationship with his cat offers a sense of responsibility, direction and purpose to his life which acts as a distraction from the traps often faced by those grappling with marginalised positions. Isolated from his family, James finds solace in the unconditional love of his cat who doesn’t judge him like his dad did. The relationship between James and Bob is affective and reciprocal in the sense of caring for someone and feeling cared for in return.
Why should this matter? Firstly, it shows that pets are not peripheral to our culture but are significant to our everyday interactions. Our families are being reconfigured to include pets. Blood relations and furriness matter less in defining this category. The discourse of unconditional love recognises the agency of at pets as shown by Bob ‘finding’ James and then ‘coming back’ to him, as well as, the benefit of pets residing in their incapacity to talk which renders them accepting of misdemeanors or strife.
We are reminded of the potential policy impact of pets that psychologists have claimed is quantifiably the case for ameliorating our health and wellbeing. Yet, James’ story allows us to start to unpick the nuances of how relations with pets are negotiated. The film resonates with me, as not only are these factors part of my own pet-loving identity but they became apparent in my MA research findings which explored the significance of students’ experiences of living away from their pets.
Despite its comical and sentimental undertones, the film doesn’t fail to direct us to the wider issues at stake; the meaningful relationships we engage in with pets and what this tells us about the way boundaries between human and non-human animals are created and transcended.
How do you relate to the human-animal bond represented in the film?