The toilet: unmentionable humanitarian object or luxury good?

Tatiana Thieme, Urban geographer and associate Professor, University College London

Justin De Koszmovszky, Partner, Archipel&Co

Sanitation practices and infrastructures vary across the world, yet the perceived imperative to separate ourselves from our own bodily waste is universal, based on understandings of public health and cultural taboos associated with all ‘waste’, that which reflects loss of value and potential contagion1. The management of human waste, historically and geographically, reflects people’s relationship to their bodies, their environment, their government, and their economy2. Hence, the lack of adequate sanitation, for 4.2 Billion people3, is cause for alarm and mobilisation. This article investigates the significance of the toilet, the symbolic and material site for intervention against sanitation poverty in the 21st century. What are the implications of the toilet being re-imagined simultaneously as a humanitarian object, an aspirational private consumer good, a public gathering place and a shared commons in countless neighbourhoods in rapidly growing cities of the global South?