Animal performativity: Exploring the lives of donkeys in Botswana

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Year of Publication:
M. Geiger, A. J. Hovorka
Environment and Planning D-Society & Space
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Donkeys provide affordable and accessible means of transport, draught power and food security for smallholder farmers in and around Maun, Botswana. Their role and welfare is often compromised by people’s extensive use of and inability to care for their animals given their individual or broader circumstances. Our paper explores the lives of donkeys and donkey-human relations in Botswana. We apply a feminist posthumanist iteration of performativity to illustrate and explain who the donkey is, what they experience, and the context within and through which these performances are constituted. Methodologically we merge tools from animal welfare science with social science to unearth donkey physical and emotional states of being, as well as the ways in which humans use, care for, and value donkeys in this particular context. Our findings reveal donkey subjectivities (experiences) characterized by relative drudgery, hardship, and compromised physical and emotional welfare; donkey subjects (identities) grounded in their marginalized status within government and everyday livelihood realms; and donkey spatiality (contextual factors) emerging from their performances as working animals, lesser than cattle, and pathways out of poverty. Contributions of our work include empirical insights on donkey-human relations, theoretical exploration of animal performativity, and methodological innovation investigating the lives of animals.


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