Toiletry time - Defecation, temporal strategies and the dilemmas of modernity

D Inglis, M Holmes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Citations (Scopus)


The rhythms of human bodies are profoundly implicated with the time regimes that are dominant in different societies. This article seeks to explicate the relations between the temporal dispositions of one aspect of the body, its defecatory capacities, and the chronological and spatial categorizations of modernity. This latter configuration is understood variously as being characterized by: the social relations of the 'civilizing process' (Elias); capitalist economic relations (Marx); instrumental rationality (Adorno and Horkheimer); and patriarchy (feminism). Focusing on each of these aspects of the modern allows us to chart historically the rise of a series of temporal regulations over acts of defecation. However, following the position of Sigmund Freud, we trace out one of the key dilemmas of modernity: while the times when defecation occurs have come under increasing levels of guidance and administration, the human body and its faecal capacities still continue to some degree to operate according to rhythms other than those imposed upon them, thus occasionally effecting a disorderly 'return of the repressed' in the realm of systematized time.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)223-245
Number of pages23
JournalTime & Society
Issue number2-3
Publication statusPublished - 2000


  • bodily wastes
  • chronology
  • civilizing process
  • defecation
  • waste management


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