New Article! The Politics of Open Defecation

Antipode has published Renu Desai, Colin McFarlane and Stephen Graham’s “The Politics of Open Defecation: Informality, Body, and Infrastructure in Mumbai.” The piece focuses on the lived realities versus the policy metrics of sanitation programs that “build seats” but may not result in decreasing the prevalence of open defecation.


This paper examines the politics of open defecation by focusing on everyday intersections of the body and infrastructure in the metabolic city, which produces profoundly unequal opportunities for fulfilling bodily needs. Specifically, it examines how open defecation emerges in Mumbai’s informal settlements through everyday embodied experiences, practices and perceptions forged in relation to the materialities of informality and infrastructure. It does so by tracing the micropolitics of provision, access, territoriality and control of sanitation infrastructures; everyday routines and rhythms, both of people and infrastructures; and experiences of disgust and perceptions of dignity. It also examines open defecation as embodied spatial and temporal improvisations in order to investigate the socially differentiated efforts and risks that it entails. More broadly, the paper seeks to deepen understandings of the relationship between the body, infrastructure and the sanitary/unsanitary city.


From the conclusion:

Many writings on urban sanitation have, of course, pointed to how open defecation is prevalent in cities because of inadequate toilets. The recent emphasis on community participation in urban sanitation programs like the Slum Sanitation Program in Mumbai has partly emerged from an awareness that not only must more toilets be built in the city but that they must be functional and they must meet people’s needs if they are to prevent open defecation. However, the outcomes of such programs continue to be calculated in policy circles in terms of the number of toilet seats built, even though in practice the outcomes are uneven in terms of creatingadequate—that is, clean, well maintained, easily accessible and affordable—toilets in the city (McFarlane 2008a; TARU and WEDC 2005).