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Recovering a fecal habitus: analyzing heroin users' toilet talk

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Lucy Pickering, Joanne Neale, Sarah Nettleton

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)95-108
Number of pages14
JournalMedical Anthropology
Issue number2
Early online date29 May 2012
E-pub ahead of print29 May 2012
Published1 Mar 2013

King's Authors


There is a particular silence around the social life of defecation. Little analyzed, rarely discussed in polite conversation, it largely appears only at moments of dysfunction. For active heroin users, digestion is often characterized by such dysfunction and experienced through constipation; recovery, a welcome return to defecating normally.' Drawing on interviews with active and recovering heroin users in southern England, we focus on this moment of transition in order to illuminate the experiences and transitions between a dysfunctional, constipated body and normal' defecation. We discuss the contrast between candor in talk in active use with the silences surrounding defecation talk in recovery, and analyze these twin shifts within the context of a historical progression within Europe toward ever-increasing levels of masking defecation from social life. Located thus, this analysis of the tipping point between constipation and normality,' disclosure and embarrassment, provides a powerful lens through which to view the invisibility of defecation in contemporary British social life.

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