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Containment and conversion: urban livelihoods and the circulation of value amid South Africa’s avian influenza outbreak

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Thomas Cousins, Michelle Pentecost, Lesley van Helden

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)413-426
Number of pages14
Issue number3
Accepted/In press4 Apr 2022
PublishedAug 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information: . We gratefully acknowledge funding from the Wellcome Trust for project 205766/Z/16/Z, “Urban Animals, Human Livelihoods and Health in the Global South: A Trans‐species Approach.” We would also like to thank Maan Barua, Jamie Lorimer, Zuko Ndamane, Laura Foster, Elsenberg veterinary staff, and participants at the 2018 Cape Town workshop on “urban animals and health.” Acknowledgments Publisher Copyright: © 2022 The Authors. American Ethnologist published by Wiley Periodicals LLC on behalf of American Anthropological Association.

King's Authors


In South Africa the racialized contours of economic life powerfully shape the distribution of who owns poultry enterprises, who is employed to labor in them, who consumes poultry products, and in which way. When, in late 2017, an outbreak of highly pathogenic avian influenza (H5N8) decimated the South African poultry sector, it revealed the ontological transformations of industrial egg-laying poultry into “cull birds” and then into imileqwa, the quintessential rural chicken. It thus showed how distinct regimes of value “articulate,” blurring infectious and noninfectious concerns as new chains of conversion were inaugurated across domestic and global economies. Thanks to the mediations performed by the network of egg-laying chickens, (White) farmers, (Black African) consumers, and state veterinarians, translations of value take place in which industrialized egg-layer chickens turn into socially enlivened beings. Such beings sustain and nurture social reproduction in South Africa's postapartheid cities and beyond. [zoonosis, value, human-animal relations, global health, one health, race, urbanism, South Africa].

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