Public toilets are places where individual identity is put to the test through experiences of fear, anxiety, shame, and embarrassment, yet also places where we shore up, confirm, and check the status of our gendered identities. In these highly gendered and sex-segregated places, people of various and varied identities come together and separately conduct their ‘business’ through socially contingent toileting habits and behaviors.
Based on empirical research with men, women, gender non-conforming, and trans individuals who have a range of sexual identities, Little Vast Rooms of Undoing attempts to understand a nearly universal aspect of daily life in the contemporary West.
Through a meditation on socially dictated practices and their associated emotions, it argues that experiences within public toilets expose the fissures of individual identity construction and understanding and opening the possibilities for a more relational and cohesive experience of the embodied self.
Introduction: Being (Beyond) Oneself/Part I: The Dis-Embodiment of Identity/ 1. Homo Clausus and the Western Philosophical Tradition/ 2. Homines Aperti and Post-Structuralism/ 3. Corpus Infinitum and Posthumanism/ Part II: Individuating the Communal/ 4. The History of Western Public Toilets since the Fifteenth Century/ Part III: Theory as Practice/ 5. Homo Clausus and The Triadic Intra-Action Order/6. Homines Aperti and Matters of Care/ 7. Corpus Infinitum and the Materiality of Possibility/ Part IV: Entangling Ethics/ 8. Toward a New Ethics of Being/ 9. Epilogue: ‘and in a sense/ Works Cited/ Index
An important intervention into feminist debates about identity, embodiment, ontology and epistemology, Little Vast Rooms of Undoing is a groundbreaking analysis of one of THE crucibles in which the social and the cultural are formed, tested, undermined and broken. An important stimulus to new ways of thinking about 'who we are', this book deserves to be read widely and deeply in cultural studies and sociology.
Blumenthal's study renders palapable the embodied experience of space and boundary regulating the close encounters that are part of our everyday lives. Drawing closely on the thinking of Norbert Elias, and on the basis of sound ethnographic research, her neo-phenomenological approach revitalises and extends his thought bringing it into productive conjunction with the new feminist materialisms and the wider theorisation of identity formation.This is a stunning debut and will be of interest in the fields of cultural sociology and cultural studies."
Little Vast Rooms of Undoing represents a rich, interdisciplinary and highly inventive exploration of self-identity and the body as experienced in public toilet spaces. Drawing on original empirical research, the book vividly brings to light the ways in which gendered identity and embodiment is managed, negotiated and resisted through the on-going mundane processes of daily life. Little Vast Rooms is a wonderful read, which restores the adage of the ‘personal is political’ through its theoretically rich, stylish and exciting prose.
Dara Blumenthal is an interdisciplinary researcher and writer. She completed her BA at the Gallatin School of Individualized Study at New York University, before moving onto Doctoral research in Sociology, followed by an M.A. in Critical Theory at the University of Kent, UK. While at Kent she held Departmental Scholarships in the School of Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research and the School of English.