Design Research – Sanitation & Shame in Society
by on January 6, 2018 in Design

As part of an on-going international residency I will do with Cube Museum starting in May 2017, I have been commissioned to produce some design research results on the up-coming Toilet expo for the Cube Museum:

As always I come at the assignment from my transpersonal design approach, and immediately I find myself fascinated by the dynamic play between the individual ego and collective-self and society as a whole within shitting ‘culture’. So yes, there are fantastic objects, innovations, and technological and ecological processes being developed, but lets not ignore the soul of man in this, lets interrogate it, find out what it feels, how to heal it!

In the transpersonal approach to design there are no products, only a single continuous process of inter-dependent existence. Any material tools, objects, and spaces are only the gross manifestation of the human consciousness that extrudes them. The first thing is to get to know how human consciousness reflects on toilets and pooing.

Shitting and Shame in the Zeitgeist:

Lets get the most obvious thing out of the way. Shitting and Shame are incredibly interlinked in our culture. It doesn’t take much to put two and two together to realise that in the process of potty training we are taught to feel shame about shitting ourselves. This includes a broader association with shame and the naked body we learn from parents and society. That shame more than anything colours the whole affair of shitting by association with our early potty training. Perhaps there is an element of instinctual revulsion and a primal desire to stay clean involved. One would have to study primate behaviour to see if that is really the case.

What the monkey does without shame, is something that evokes laughter, mocking, and revulsion from the humans. This seems to point to the fact that shit revulsion is cultural rather than instinctual.


Can some one tell me how industrially digested and extruded food is not essentially eating shit ?

Lewin reported that “… consumption of fresh, warm camel feces has been recommended by Bedouins as a remedy for bacterial dysentery; its efficacy (probably attributable to the antibiotic subtilisin from Bacillus subtilis) was anecdotally confirmed by German soldiers in Africa during World War II” –

(Eating Faeces) In reality it seems a good way to transfer and maintain probiotics! Fecal Transplants are a real medical procedure that can help cure a number of issues.

Obviously this is still a crude procedure though effective. The nutrient medium for the probiotics doesn’t need to be human waste, it could be cultivated on other organic mediums. And though I would have to agree rectal application ensures more probiotics survive than if it had to pass through stomach acid, an Enema is not the only way to deliver probiotics. * Making your own probiotics and home enemas is definitely something I will come back to and explore for the Toilet expo.

For now I want to come back to shitting and shame in the Zeitgeist. We can see from the apes, and from a more scientific approach, shame is completely unnecessary and accessory rather than fundamental to the process of going to the toilet. Removing Shame from the toilet process is, to me, a far more important goal with direct impact on human happiness than making a more convenient or efficient toilet. Because once shame and the superstitious notion of “unclean” is removed we can look at hygiene in a clear undeluded way.

What is shame anyway?

“Shame is an epidemic in our culture. And to get out from underneath it — to find our way back to each other, we have to understand how it affects us and how it affects the way we’re parenting, the way we’re working, the way we’re looking at each other… what do women need to do to conform to female norms? The top answers in this country: nice, thin, modest and use all available resources for appearance…. what do men in this country need to do to conform with male norms, the answers were: always show emotional control, work is first, pursue status and violence… If we’re going to find our way back to each other, we have to understand and know empathy, because empathy’s the antidote to shame. If you put shame in a Petri dish, it needs three things to grow exponentially: secrecy, silence and judgment. If you put the same amount in a Petri dish and douse it with empathy, it can’t survive. The two most powerful words when we’re in struggle: me too. And so I’ll leave you with this thought. If we’re going to find our way back to each other, vulnerability is going to be that path.

The consciousness of our collective-self: the Zeitgeist, is so saturated and swollen with collective-shame about shitting, that for a few individuals tuned into the frequency of that mass-collective shame, the urge to make that collective shame they have absorbed coherent with their own individual and sensory experience they feel compelled to act out and bring expression to that shame. I see these individuals with the fetish compulsions around shit and shame like intuitive Sun-dance ritual dancers. That by allowing the collective shame to express through them, they purge the Zeitgeist of that shame for the benefit of all.


Shit-Shame perverts and Sun Dancers perform similar roles in healing the collective-self through personal sacrifice.


I see individuals caught in the compulsion of expressing our collective-self feelings of shit-shame as the unconscious conduits for our collective healing. Like the collective shame possesses them and flows through them. These perverts, like the Sun Dancers of the plain’s people, are the unwitting conduits for cathartic purging of collective-shame from the Zeitgeist.

Typically, the sun dance is a grueling ordeal for the dancers, a physical and spiritual test that they offer in sacrifice for their people. According to the Oklahoma Historical Society, young men dance around a pole to which they are fastened by “rawhide thongs pegged through the skin of their chests.”[3]

While not all sun dance ceremonies include piercing, the object of the sun dance is to offer personal sacrifice for the benefit of one’s family and community. The dancers fast for many days, in the open air and whatever weather occurs. –

In conclusion, my point of view as a transpersonal designer and shaman-curator is that feelings of shame are an unnecessary taught projection on shitting. The Zeitgeist operates in strange ways: expressing through individuals collectively through mass movements. Shit-perversions are no different: they are not conceptually abstract technical procedures: people don’t decide rationally to do them. While they may be the result of mass-neurosis, I intuit a collective-impulse behind similar actions done in mass by isolated individuals.

To me shit/shame/body perverts are like neurotic artists forced by emotional forces that cross between the borders of their personal psyche from the collective subconscious: compelling them to express the mass of body-shame swelling up and over-flowing from our collective-consciousness. Like myths and legends about dragons, archery and fire, swords and boats, shit-shame perversions are there; simultaneously present in different cultures and expressing the same psychic energy: allowing the collective shame of the collective-self to express in cathartic release.

Un-learning shame from the toilet process and nakedness in general?


Group Shitting vs Alone Shitting

I think for further research it would be good to conduct interviews with child psychology experts, as well as handicapped individuals that require daily assistance to go to the toilet. It will also be good to interview native cultures about their attitudes towards toilets, shame, and public nakedness. As well as shamans, and group therapy facilitators.

..But it seems this shame can be unlearned – witness, for example, the work of artist Spencer Tunick, who frequently corrals hundreds of volunteers to strip off en masse in public places for his photographs.

spencer-tunick1 tunick09

After a series of experiments, Phil and Kath, who had been so self-conscious at the start, each came face-to-face with a newly stripped fellow volunteer. They were invited to paint the body in front of them, colour coding every patch of skin to show how uncomfortable they felt touching that part of the body – red for no-go; yellow for squirming and green for fine.

Phil drew the line at colouring his subject’s genitals, but Kath had lost all her inhibitions. Within moments she’d painted her subject completely green. Every inch.

Psychologist Professor Dan Fessler, of the University of California, Los Angeles, says our gregariousness “poses a challenge… because those groups of course provide a source of temptation. Potentially both sexes can benefit by cheating on their partners.”

That’s where our shame of nudity comes in. Over thousands of generations, we’ve learned that showing off a naked body sends out sexual signals that threaten the security of mating pairs. And we’ve chosen to agree that that is a bad thing.

Shame is the ideal emotion to enforce that code of conduct. Because it feels unpleasant, we avoid it at all costs. And because it’s such a visible emotion, everyone around gets a clear message that you know you’ve messed up.

“All around the world individuals feel great shame when they know that others know that they have failed to be adequately modest,” Prof Fessler says. “Essentially, they’re signalling to those around them ‘I understand what the social norm is and I understand that you know that I have failed in this regard, so please don’t hurt me.’

“Nudity is a threat to the basic social contract. They have exposed their body and their sexual selves in a way that presents an opportunity for sexual behaviour outside of the principal union.”

But as this code of conduct is something we learn, rather than are born with, we can re-learn it, if common consensus allows. As Phil reflected: “One thing I think I’ll take away is how easy it was to bond with complete strangers in what should really be an artificial environment and one that by all society’s standards we should feel uncomfortable with.”

Would all this knowledge prepare Phil and Kath to push the boundaries of acceptable behaviour back in the real world? As the weekend drew to a close, they were presented their final, surprise challenge.

They are invited to walk naked in the street to waiting taxis, which they do. They have overcome a significant bit of socialisation.

De-conditioning shame from the shitting and general nakedness is something that will liberate the individual and stop pumping our collective-consciousness full of shame. I think the key is in early childhood experience of associating shitting and nakedness with shame.

I have to say I quite like the experiment they describe where people an individuals body with different colour that reflect their level of shame. And as the article concludes it was a basically successful result of unlearning. And as the experiment conducted by BBC Horizon shows, people are ready and willing to unlearn this shame. All there needs to be is a safe space where social consensus is that it is ok to be naked. I think more interesting than shock, which is the obvious tool to use in a toilet exhibition, is safety and intimacy. What a wonderful outcome if by the end of exhibit the public feels safe enough and encouraged to walk around naked. Could it be a condition of viewing the exhibit? Or at least a workshop?

The Sexual education video from Norway shows a way forward. The video is expertly edited, and while it is informative, the main effect is its removal of shame. It opens up the body as an object and subject of casual rather than anxious observation. And by being filmed in a changing room with other people in it, it conveys social permission to public nakedness.


Don’t miss a sec. A public toilet boxed with one way mirrors in London. A great intermediate step in the unlearning process?

” Monica Bonvicini said visitors would have to “defy their own embarrassment” to use the minimalist cubicle, made from one-way mirrored glass. ” –


My main direction during the residency, and within the expo will be unlearning shame. Would it be possible to create a toilet / hygiene experience that actually removes bodily shame? How would such an experience look like?

To begin to answer some basic questions for the toilet expo in the light of this approach:

What does the future toilet look like? What does the human excretion process look like in the future?

Without shame, the future toilet is not private. It is communal. I think like an extension of the men’s communal urinal, we will move away from private boxes to open spaces. I see this part of a broader trend towards the normalisation (de-sexualizing) of the naked body in society.

How can we use technological or social intervention in the developing world to increase hygiene?

As we can see from the success of the poo-transplant procedure, and the failure of sterilised hospital environments in producing anti-biotic resistant super-bugs, we must move away from sterilisation as a strategy towards microbial balance as a long-term solution to hygiene.

In the future being clean will mean getting dirty: with the right kind of bacteria and microbial matrix.

I see a future hygiene where we make synthetic shit and use it on our bodies: where we grow microbial cultures in agar jelly specifically balanced for different products: toothpaste with microbial culture that produces sweet smells, fights plaque, and produces alkaline to fight acid erosion. Deodorants that we grow like sour-dough yeast for bread. Body moisturises that fight harmful fungal and bacterial cultures, and eats grease and dead skin.

With regard to going to the toilet without shame, I see probiotic enemas becoming casual: freed from anal shame, being used weekly or monthly to re-balance our digestive biome. Probiotic enema bars, where you drink but from the other end!

How can the human excretion process be made into a circular economy and so make it more sustainable?

Without shame associated to shit, I see a move away from paper towards water and hands on cleaning, because then shit is not something ‘untouchable’. Without shame, I see shit being seen as a resource, and instead of sending it away, people may store it and repurpose it. I also see the toilet moving beyond being simply a logistical removal system. Shit, which is simply an organic matrix for bacterial cultures, will be re-directed towards bacterial and fungal growing purposes that can convert it into heat, electrical energy, compost, and even food.

Next post will approach these questions from a microbial ecology point of view: Shit as a still-frame in a collective process: soil to soil.