Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin - Zentrum für Transdisziplinäre Geschlechterstudien

Everybody's Business: Toilets as a Contested Space

Konferenz an der Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin
  • Wann 18.11.2021 00:00 bis 20.11.2021 23:59
  • Wo Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin
  • iCal
Veranstaltet von

Institut für Anglistik und Amerikanistik         
Unter den Linden 6                    
10099 Berlin                     
Institut für Anglistik, Amerikanistik und Keltologie
Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität Bonn
553113 Bonn 


Located in domestic realms as well as between public and private spheres, toilets are secret and discreet, liminal, as much as eminently open political, and often contested spaces. They offer safety and comfort for ordinary physical necessities for the more privileged, open up room for diverse transgressive moves, and have been an issue of politics for centuries. Toilets facilitate movement through public spaces, significantly co-constructing social hierarchies such as gender, sexuality, 'race,' age, religion, and ability. Who has access to (public) toilets and who does not? Whose needs are served, and how? These questions are currently the subject of legal battles and controversial debates not only in the US. At the same time, restrooms are sites of potential and social interaction in which physical closeness and shared urges translate into intimacies at different levels. Toilet spaces are also culturally specific, the result of distinct practices: There are water cultures and paper cultures, with toilet paper users divided into "folders" and "ballers." Design and architecture impact on whether the use of restrooms is experienced as safe, relaxing, and even pleasurable – or its opposite. 
    The meaning of toilets is also psychological and emotional, as is attested by the toilet paper ‘shortage’ during the current Covid-19 crisis – not necessarily a German idiosyncrasy. Release of one's bodily fluids is correlated with a sense of heightened vulnerability. Psychoanalytically and culturally, feces are linked to conceptions of the abject and death – as well as to money and economics. Toiletries, bathroom design, and sanitation infrastructure constitute a huge (consumer) market. Finally, the ways in which we manage the disposal of bodily waste has enormous ecological repercussions. To discuss restroom space and toilets, then, is not only to engage with past and present practices, but also with possible futures. Accordingly, in 19 November 2001, the World Toilet Organization was founded and its inaugural World Toilet Summit drew global attention to what is considered a sanitation crisis. Thus, in one way or another, toilets – and their absence – figure prominently in our personal lives, in world politics, and in the arts and culture. Yet even though they frame an ordinary practice essential for well-being and survival, toilets and the multiple issues and questions they raise have so far received limited attention in cultural studies. 
The conference takes the twentieth anniversary of the World Toilet Organization and of World Toilet Day in November 2021 as an occasion to explore the cultural politics of toilets and the topic of restroom cultures in a transdisciplinary, intercultural manner, inviting contributions from cultural and literary studies, history, sociology, and other pertinent disciplines.




Semester: Wintersemester 2021/2022

ZtG-Veranstaltungskategorie: Gender-Veranstaltungen der Institute/Fakultäten der HU