Accepted Paper:

Prototyping a new sanitation system: socio material relations and shifting norms  


Rebeca Ibañez Martin (Meertens Institute)

Paper short abstract:

This paper ethnographically investigates what adaptations require a transition from a controlled use-site to a 'real life setting' of a decentralised sanitation system that recovers nutrients. What are the tensions? What are the bodily techniques that emerge to adapt to the new infrastructure?

Paper long abstract:

Waste cannot be simplified into one seemingly homogenous category. Rather, different waste streams entail different management capacities and normative repertoires. They are symbolically and ethically differentiated, and shape contrasting socio-material relations. One thought-provoking waste stream in which all of these matters converge is faecal waste. Faeces and urine (black water) produced by humans constitute one of the most ubiquitous yet invisible waste streams. This happens in the Netherlands as well, where the author carries out ethnographic fieldwork. Emerging from this concrete waste context is the field site and experimental apparatus that is the object of this paper: an experimental prototype of a decentralized sanitation system that aims to recover nutrient compounds from black water in household waste water with the help of microalgae. The system is currently being tested in a "real life" setting, a village in the south of Holland where its inhabitants are willing to experiment new forms of sanitation and, at the same time, become an anthropological cause of concern, allowing the author to explore their involvement, dealings, and expectations while the new technology is implemented. What adaptations and re-calibrations will require a transition from one controlled use-site (the lab where the system is under research) to another, still experimental but already closer to 'real life settings'? What are the bodily techniques that emerge to adapt to the new infrastructure? Also, bodily substances will be in close contact with the infrastructure: the algae will feed from the compounds that humans excrete; how will this affect body-infrastructure relations?

Panel A04
Involving compounds