Disgust, bodily aesthetics and the ethic of being human in Botswana

Julie Livingston

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    This article explores how people in Botswana approach and navigate their own feelings of disgust and morbid curiosity towards the aesthetically impaired bodies of their fellow citizens, and the problems and opportunities these feelings present in a context where a particular humanistic ethos of respect and manners, botho, is stressed in the public discourse of nationalism. The agenda of contemporary disability and patients' rights movements is based on the assertion that moral sentiment is neither determined nor subverted by particular bodily states or configurations. While such activism acknowledges and affirms experiences of debility and physical suffering, the political agenda largely centres on enabling persons to participate equally in rational-critical discourse in the public sphere regardless of the vagaries of any individual's particular bodily state. Within this framework, physicality should have no power to structure relationships among citizens. And yet, in Botswana, as in other places, the messiness of the human body - manifested in diarrhoea, drool, disfigurement, and disgust - threatens to subvert humanistic efforts, and challenges the smooth enactment of rights-based politics and other liberal projects. In what follows I explore the sometimes troubling physicality of humanistic and affective life in Botswana to better grasp the messy bodily dimensions of sociality that are so often swept under the rug in discussions of citizenship, rights and community. Aesthetic efforts at bathing, bandaging and otherwise reworking the bodies in question reveal dimensions of sociality and aspects of sensory and affective interaction that are critical to the enactment of moral sentiment.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)288-307
    Number of pages20
    Issue number2
    StatePublished - 2008

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Geography, Planning and Development
    • Anthropology
    • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


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