Shit and piss : An environmental history of the meaning and management of human excrement in densely populated areas and urban regions, with a focus on agriculture and public health issues

University essay from Uppsala universitet/Institutionen för arkeologi och antik historia


This thesis analyses individual and societal relations to human excrement by looking at historical and contemporary examples of symbolics and management systems of human shit and piss. It furthermore connects urban culture to a particular type of perception of the meaning of human waste. End-of-pipe, large scale sewerage solutions for densely populated areas and cities are analysed for their historical origins and contemporary ramifications, and contrasted with examples of classical, mediaeval, early modern and contemporary times in different regions of Europe and India. The cases were presented in a non-chronological order to avoid simple narratives of progress. The focus is on questions of agricultural recycling of excrement and the relevance of human waste for public health issues. Analytical tools during the cross-temporal and cross-cultural case comparison are the categorisations of human excrement as e.g. waste, threat or resource, the technique of dualism-deterritorialisation and occasionally the Entanglement approach. Main results are that the large-scale introduction of sewerage systems in European cities around the world coincides with urbanisation and industrialisation, that pre-industrial dense settlement faced essentially the same excrement management challenges as modern cities do and that the stability of certain management systems has been severely influenced by factors such as power structures, paradigms of purity and piety as well as economic developments. The future relevance of this topic is seen in the predicted rise of urban regions worldwide, but especially in the developing world, a development which is expected to complicate human excrement management issues considerably.

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