Public Restrooms As Conflict Arenas

Tuesday, 12 July 2016: 09:15
Location: Hörsaal 13 (Juridicum)
Oral Presentation
Alessio BERTI, Piccolo Opificio Sociologico, Italy
Alessio DI MARCO, Piccolo Opificio Sociologico, Italy
Tommaso FRANGIONI, Piccolo Opificio Sociologico, Italy
Raffaella MAIULLO, Piccolo Opificio Sociologico, Italy
Niccolo SIRLETO, PoieinLab, Italy
Bathrooms are considered to be, in daily routine, the most private place one can imagine. Ironically, public restrooms are spaces that are temporary excluded from public sphere. At the same time, they are still, analytically speaking, a social space, crossed by interactions and conflicts.

Entering public restrooms, we could notice the flourishing of writings and drawings upon the walls. Dundes (1966) defined them ‘latrinalia’, referring to those inscriptions found in public restrooms. The phenomenon is widespread throughout the western world (Kinsey 1953).

Our research is a study of latirinalia in University of Firenze and aims to add something to these classical perspectives: we are not only interested in their graphic content, but in dynamic interactions and conflicts between strings of text, and, indirectly, between their anonymous authors. Public restrooms become a conflicting space, where different social and political visions interact and collide. Even if this place is transient, we could see diachronic interactions, performed over months of collecting. This space could be considered as some kind of network of practice (Brown and Duguid 2001), inside which there is a series of fights for setting the hegemonic narration, which is bound to stay open, due to the specific nature of the locus.

We observed forms of narrating identities and of exposing conflicts. We built a double segmentation, based upon sex and departmental location of bathrooms trough the University, and verified a strong difference in both quantity and quality of inscriptions and interactions. Latrinalia are far from being just a sign on the wall: they are carriers of a series of meanings and narrative relations. In this process, anonymity plays a great part: public restrooms offer both the chance of a vast audience and the secrecy of one of the last private places, where “pure self-expression” is granted.