Lecture image placeholder

Premium content

Access to this content requires a subscription. You must be a premium user to view this content.

Monthly subscription - $9.99Pay per view - $4.99Access through your institutionLogin with Underline account
Need help?
Contact us
Lecture placeholder background
VIDEO DOI: https://doi.org/10.48448/q9c9-dr78

technical paper

AAA Annual Meeting 2021

November 18, 2021

Baltimore, United States

Behind Phantom Walls: Politics of Shit and the Thai Regime of Visibility





This is Panel I of a double panel exploring novel and emerging engagements with excrement, defecation, manure, sewage, and other shit. Panelists draw upon ethnographic material to analyze diverse enactments, representations, and encounters with shit, grappling with its dangers and its promises across scales at once global and local. We take inspiration from Laporte’s History of Shit (1978), which argued that the management of shit has been synonymous with the rise of modern Western subjectivity and the concomitant ascent of optical power. This panel asks what happens if we follow these insights while also opening shit up to show the diverse contests and interpretations around its production and disposal in the contemporary moment. Panel I reconsiders the central role of sanitation campaigns, sewage infrastructures, hygiene panics, and waste management in neo/colonial governance and biopolitical projects. Scholars have long argued that while asymmetrical sanitation infrastructures reflect structural inequalities, discourse around hygiene and sanitation have also been central to larger civilizing projects, used both to justify expanding imperialism and to instill capitalist disciplinary regimes in which desires for cleanliness fuel ever growing commodity consumption. Panel I tackles this problematic across five diverse sites, including: the appeal of shit voyeurism in U.S. media portrayals of disease in Africa; the political semiotics of citizen protests over a manure storage facility in rural USA; everyday sanitation-related labor and a spectacular politics of shit in post-apartheid South Africa; fecal disciplining by the Thai monarchy to instill an occularcentric visual regime in rural lifeworlds; and privately-owned public toilets that enact aspirations for upward class mobility in Ghana. Additionally, our panels aim to engage•and move beyond•classic anthropological approaches to excrement, shit, defecation, manure, and sewage. We take up Mary Douglas’ classic account of “dirt as matter out of place”•an approach she also applied to bodily processes like defecation•by exploring how shit disrupts the established ordering of the world, hence its deployment in both contemporary political discourse and forms of political resistance. However, we also question the framing of shit as universally pejorative as we explore its many modes of manipulation, deployment, and even consumption in the contemporary world. Panel II takes up this ambivalence and complexity across five additional contexts, including: the fecundity of shit to inspire critiques of "development" in Kenya and DR Congo; the collection of cow dung by Dalit women in India for whom sacred shit conjoins with struggles over land rights; dream interpretations that equate excrement with money in and beyond rural Mexico; excremental attunements to phantom colons following J-pouch surgeries in the US; and Southeast Asian and North American cabin crews who engage aircraft lavatories as culturally generative devices. These multivalent engagements with shit are considered across several different registers•spatial, mnemonic, psychoanalytic, visual, somatic, historical, interpretive, material, political, and semiotic•as panelists grapple with the complexity, ambivalence, and contradictions that shit entails as it comes to matter in diverse ways across particular lifeworlds. Our provocation and invitation is to take shit seriously, politically and conceptually, in the making of modern power, subjection, and subjectivity.


Transcript English (automatic)

Next from AAA Annual Meeting 2021

Biosolids, Manure, Poop: The Semiotics of "Green" Energy in the Rural Midwest
technical paper

Biosolids, Manure, Poop: The Semiotics of "Green" Energy in the Rural Midwest

AAA Annual Meeting 2021

Deborah Jackson

18 November 2021

Similar lecture

Excremental Excess: Infrastructures of Abjection and Upward Mobility in Urban Ghana
technical paper

Excremental Excess: Infrastructures of Abjection and Upward Mobility in Urban Ghana

AAA Annual Meeting 2021

Brenda Chalfin

18 November 2021

Stay up to date with the latest Underline news!

Select topic of interest (you can select more than one)


  • All Lectures
  • For Librarians
  • Resource Center
  • Free Trial
Underline Science, Inc.
1216 Broadway, 2nd Floor, New York, NY 10001, USA

© 2023 Underline - All rights reserved