Accepted Paper:

"Clean enough": attachments and detachments in practices of excretion  


Justine Laurent (University of Amsterdam)

Paper short abstract:

Here I attend to practices of excretion in potty training, to reveal how "clean enough" emerges as a key value. Rather than an ideal, though, this good is achieved and negotiated in practices through situated and adapting thresholds - allowing us to rearticulate attachment and normativities.

Paper long abstract:

The practices of excretion are usually framed through the regime of hygiene and its moral and biomedical connotations. In my fieldwork with people potty-training though, a concern that emerged preceding hygiene was the value of "clean enough".

Attending to the orchestration of this good, I foreground how different forms and degrees of attachment and detachment emerge in practice. Seeing, smelling or feeling clean - as well as learning and achieving clean - are crucial to how "clean enough" is enacted. In practices of excretion then, rather than an ideal, this good takes the form of situated, relational, pragmatic thresholds that are obstinately material-semiotic. They involved toilet paper, diapers, bathrooms, smells, clothes, washing machines, diets, daily schedules, but also feelings, emotions, social context, infrastructure and logistics.

Unraveling these dynamics of "clean enough" I also notice how my own attachment as a researcher impacts practices of defecation, as my presence intensified a moral charge of cleanliness, sometimes changing how my informants handled excretion. In this way, the presentation contributes to the panel's effort to articulate values to "those things that hold us together" (Hennion, 2007). Excretion reveals how the ongoing and makeshift togetherness orchestrated in cleaning the shitting body does not involve the good of clean as a stable and fixed ideal, but rather involves a continuous negotiation of different situated.

Panel B05
Crafting attachments, making worlds