Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin

Everybody's Business – Toilets as a Contested Space




Thursday & Friday, 18 & 19 November 2021

Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Unter den Linden 6, Senatssaal

- hybrid event

Open to the non-university public via digital participation.

For more information and to register, please contact:


Taking the twentieth anniversary of the World Toilet Organization and of World Toilet Day on 19 November 2021 as its occasion, this conference on "everybody’s business" explores the cultural politics of toilets and the topic of restroom cultures in transdisciplinary, intercultural perspectives and features contributions from the fields of literary and cultural studies, history, sociology, and other pertinent disciplines.

Located in domestic realms as well as between public and private spheres, toilets are secret and discreet, liminal, as much as openly political, and often contested spaces. They offer safety and comfort for the more privileged, allow for a variety of transgressive moves, and have been an issue of politics for centuries. Toilets facilitate movement through public spaces, significantly co-constructing social hierarchies related to matters of gender, sexuality, race, class, age, religion, ability etc. Who has access to (public) toilets and who does not? Whose needs are served, and how? These questions are currently the subject of legal battles and controversial debates not only in the US. At the same time, restrooms are sites of potential and social interaction in which physical needs translate into intimacies at different levels. Toilets shape-shift according to design and architecture, constituting a huge consumer market, and they are culturally specific. Depending on how we dispose of bodily waste, sanitation also has considerable ecological repercussions. Engaging "everybody’s business," then, the conference not only interrogates past and present practices, but also parts of our possible futures.





You're welcome to also listen to...


#nachgefragt: Das Podcastformat des Genderblogs


[In German]


by the ZtG - Zentrum für transdisziplinäre Geschlechterstudien – Ergebnisse, Projekte und Debatten aus Forschung und Lehre der Gender Studies an der Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin


1st episode: Toilets as a Contested Space – with Eva Boesenberg & Yumin Li


We are happy to announce that while preparing for the upcoming conference, Eva Boesenberg & Yumin Li joined Karen Suender at ZtG's Genderblog podcast to talk about "Toilets as a Contested Space." The highly interesting and conference introducing conversation is held in German. A transcript is available as well.





Preliminary Conference Program


Thursday, November 18, 2021
10:30 Welcome & Greetings / German Toilet Organization
11:00 Panel 1: "klo:lektiv[e]" Geographic Perspectives | moderated by Theresa Martens
  Sabine Bongers-Römer, "Everybody's Business? Whose Business? Public Toilet Management and Neoliberal City Politics"
  Christina Peklo & Katharina Ciax, "Intimacies of Infrastructure: Affective Encounters in Toilet Spaces"
  Martine Kayser, "Queering Bathrooms: The Gendered Performativity of the Urinary Position"
1:00 Lunch Break
2:30 Panel 2: Toilets Transnationally | moderated by Evangelia Kindinger
  Oyeshi Ganguly, "A Tale of a Broom and Bucket: Chronicling the Lives of Human Excreta Handlers"
  Katarzyna Jarosz, "Toilets in the USSR or the History of National Humiliation"
  Chang Liu, "Toilets and the Five Grains: A Chinese Perspective"
  Indrawan Prabaharyaka, "Toilets as Space Device: Architecture, Infrastructure, Community"
4:30 Coffee Break
5:00 Panel 3: Toilet Rights & the "Right" Toilets | moderated by Eva Boesenberg

Ulrike Lembke, "From Gendered Bodies to Human Rights"

  Mary Anne Case, "Plumbing Problems with the Move toward Unisex Toilets"
6:00 Break
6:30 Keynote I: Charlotte Jones & Jen Slater, "Toilets as Political Tools: Making Space for Trans Possibility in a Hostile Field" | moderated by Elahe Haschemi Yekani
8:30 Get-Together for Drinks & Dinner


Friday, November 19, 2021 (World Toilet Day)

Keynote II: Ghias Aljundi, "Toilets and the Disregard for Human Dignity in Moria" | moderated by Eva Boesenberg

11:30 Coffee Break
12:00 Panel 4: On Borderlines and Liminal Spaces | moderated by Selma Siew Li Bidlingmaier
  Tom Behrendt, "The Public Toilet – Implementation of a Heterotopia"
  Lutz Hieber, "The Door of the Restroom and the Dialectic of Privacy"
1:00 Lunch Break
2:30 Panel 4, continued: On Borderlines and Liminal Spaces | moderated by Jasper Verlinden
  Bryant Simon, "Building Protection: Bathrooms and Boundary Making in United States History"
  Klaus Van Eickels,"Reading the Writing on the Wall: Toilet Graffiti, the History of Homosexual Encounters, and the Perception of Desire"
3:30 Coffee Break
4:00 Panel 5: "Shit Happens!" (All the Time, Everywhere) | moderated by Martin Klepper
  Mita Banerjee, "Diving through Shit: The Toilet as a Shifting Signifier in Danny Boyle's Slumdog Millionaire"

Katherine G. Sammler & Sunčana Laketa, "Space Poop Challenge: Gravity, Waste and Bodies"

5:00 Break
5:30 Video, Performance, Participation | moderated by Sabine Sielke
  Carrie McIlwain & Johanna Ackva, "Earthbound Squatters" (performance and video)
7:00 Farewell



Organized by:

Prof. Dr. Eva Boesenberg | Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin

in cooperation with

Prof. Dr. Sabine Sielke  | Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität Bonn