Bath running, thinking of the events of the week; dipping into the ragbag of inspiring moments to write, after catching sight of the open cardboard box which contained our new bathroom door handle. I make a connection with Bachelard and the poetics of space, reading the sentence about finding the essence, the shell of the house/home with a rising emotional response as I look at the devastation that is / was the bathroom. Knocking down walls, between the old-fashioned separate toilet and the tiny bathroom, ‘privacy handle’ – we are at last creating privacy by being able to lock ourselves in; no more potential barging in / negotiating delicate moments.
Remembering the discussion in a classroom this week, talk with a group of students faced with their first piece of assessed writing, and encouraging them to engage regularly with the work during their forthcoming placement. Such advice, writing little and often, building ideas gradually, chimes with Foucault and his observation (for him it was half an hour a day) that he felt absolved, peaceful after doing this.
So, writing about bathroom door handles, whilst on first impression, might seem a bit too prosaic, banal even, it seems approachable, leads somewhere else – and I am surprised, although I shouldn’t really be – the sociology of everyday life is about the richness of exploring the ordinary…
In sharing these ideas I am mindful that I may be still fetishizing the process of writing – specific paper and pens before committing to cyberspace (c.f. Barthes). What would he have made of IPads and blogging; with the relocation of the pleasure of the text – the internet and presentation of intimacies of the self? Privacy as taken-for-granted, what constitutes private life is increasingly complex; sharing in virtual reality has become normalised, everyday intimacies shared with unknown readers.
Public and private have been ‘troubled’ – is this private , no, but it is arguably, chosen, with the concomitant potential for exposure (am I saying more than intended, ‘being read’ in unforeseen or unexpected ways…) Privacy made public through choice (letting others in) contrasts with space hacking (cyber or otherwise) – invasions in intimacy are very much still part of everyday experiences in health care, nurses and others begin to take for granted bodily and emotionally intimate information – may forget the embarrassment of leaky bodies. Exploring in the classroom what it means to have confidentiality, private materials shared (hopefully) respectfully and with ethical sensitivity.
Bathrooms have been a source of anthropological attention – liminality and the riskiness of being an ‘in-between’ space, a space of transition; human geographers who speak about meanings of space, transgressing space (‘space hacking’ the built environment of public arenas as a political act, enabling a reorienting of our perceptions of urban environments – having a lock on the door powerfully re-orients the experience of being in the bathroom…).
Public and private space is active then, with shifting co-ordinates, inseparable from issues of power of one kind or another. Managing hygiene, ‘going to the bathroom’ is imbued with meanings that have had lots of attention. Creating privacy – locking the bathroom door to construct the ‘thinking space’ of critical geography, the richness and pleasure of the phenomenology of privacy, a heterotopic space devoted to activities of purification, sensual and hygienic. Finally, doing the bathroom after all these years; being able to lock the door, privacy feels novel.
Dr. Angela Cotton,
Lecturer, School of Nursing, Midwifery, Social Work and Social Sciences