SotF – Lucy Pickering – The Secret Life of the Public Toilet

Thursday 20 August 2015, 7:50 pm - 8:50 pm
At: Banshee Labyrinth, 29-35 Niddry Street, EH1 1LG


Dr Lucky Pickering

Dr Lucky Pickering

Why do fringe goers spend so much time looking for a loo? Why can’t we just wee in the street? Where do homeless people wash? In seeking to answer these and other questions, I explore that most mundane of objects: the toilet. Today every home has one, but they are increasingly vanishing from our streets. In their place have appeared toilets in department stores and cafes, pay-to-use toilets in stations and the like. But is a toilet in a shopping mall public? Who can easily use it? Who can’t? By bringing together the history of hygiene with contemporary urban planning (and a little bit of sociology), I explore how toilets – and in particular public toilets – profoundly shape our lives and the societies we live in.


Dr Pickering is a lecturer in medical anthropology at the University of Glasgow. She first got interested in toilets during fieldwork with countercultural Americans in Hawai’i, and having to get used to using a composting toilet. She has since published on composting toilets, and on toilet use in heroin use and recovery.

She has recently shifted her focus towards public toilets in the UK and the ways in which people manage being out and about in public through their access to toilets. She is committed to increasing access to public space through public toilet provision and highlighting the ways in which toilet access can be a hidden form of inequality in the UK today.

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