Conceptual work on the history of mobilities has been devoid of animation other than humans and their machines. The deafening automobility of the present has drowned out memories of an “animal past” teleologically, and the raucous rapidity of the mobile machine drives over the “animal present.” This article is an attempt to explore what a history of mobility that takes animals seriously might look like. It is based on the argument that living nonhuman creatures have their own mobilities and that these animobilities have shaped and been shaped by human societies. It is intended to open up historical narratives of a complex, shifting, nonlinear relationship between animals and changing human technologies of transport—as part of this journal's mission to rethink mobility and include more subaltern approaches. A key finding is that mobility's negative sociopolitical and environmental effects on different groups, in fact species, are inversely correlated to their proximity to power. This article touches on several research trajectories, but the focus is on control of mobility by the state, with case studies drawn from southern Africa's history.
After the collapse of the former Soviet Union two decades ago, Russia’s new capitalists moved the industrial complexes from the city centres to the suburbs. These complexes had once provided lairs for Moscow’s free-ranging dogs, a large and shifting feral population that had excited comment from the mid-nineteenth century. Faced in the 1990s with an abruptly changing socio-economic urban topography, the dogs had to relocate their sleeping areas to the city outskirts— but their best scavenging grounds remained the urban hub. So the new running dogs of capitalism—both human and canine—were faced with the same mobility question: how to negotiate transport from domicile to place of employment and back again with maximum efficiency. Astonishingly, a few dogs learned how to jump on fixed subway routes to get to the centre in the morning. Once within the city, the dogs discovered how to use traffic lights to cross the road safely, crossing not with the colour—which they found hard to judge because of their dichromatic vision—but with the changing outline and position of the signal. Then, in the evenings, they became skilled at leaping onto the correct train home, just like their human counterparts. Observers note that these canine commuters sometimes fall asleep and have to get off at the wrong stop, just like weary human commuters.