Hygienic citizenship: Shifting cultures of cleanliness, hygiene and sanitation

This PhD project is based at the University of Manchester with a 12 month stay at University of Melbourne.

Project Description:

Critical examination of practices of cleanliness, hygiene, and sanitation is vital for advancing human and environmental health. This PhD project aims to understand how these practices (care for self, others, clothes, things, homes) constantly shifts in response to global changes (e.g. pandemics), resource availability (e.g. water/energy supplies), material and technological change (e.g. digital innovations, housing, consumer products), urbanity, and socio-cultural dynamics (e.g. cultural/religious beliefs, intergenerational practices, gender, professional expectations). By unveiling dynamics that shape these practices in the Chinese cities of Beijing and Tianjin, the research will develop new insights into changing cultures and socio-environmental change; and inform health, social care and environmental projects and policy.

The question driving this PhD studentship is: where, how and why are the complex socio-material dynamics underpinning practices of cleanliness, hygiene and sanitation changing across Beijing and Tianjin? Underpinning this is an exploration of the (new) ways that hygiene contours citizenship; critically interrogating how national hygiene and cleanliness agendas (alongside sustainable consumption, infrastructure, and urban development agendas) build specific notions of civic modernity, including defining values and practices of ‘good hygienic citizens’ in maintaining bodies/ homes/ built/ urban environments (cf. Jack, Anantharaman, & Browne, 2020; Larrington-Spencer, Browne & Petrova, 2020).

The objectives of the project are to:
1. Identify current and emerging patterns in practices of cleanliness, hygiene, sanitation in Beijing and Tianjin.
2. Explore the interconnectivities between changing hygienic practices and potential socio-environmental impacts across a range of sectors (water, energy, sanitation, waste, health).
3. Explore conceptualisations of ‘hygienic citizenship’ within social care, public health, urban development and environmental policy.

The PhD starts from the understanding that underpinning policy directives around environmental sustainability and population health are a range of hard-to-know, private, intimate, social and affective practices; shaped by a variety of material and infrastructural conditions and diverse cultural understandings of health and hygiene. It is the enactment of these mundane practices – people caring for homes, clothes, and the bodies and detritus of themselves and others – that consumes resources (water, energy, materials), creates wastes, and contributes to population level health and environmental outcomes. These practices are often habituated and routinised, enacted to create comfort and cleanliness (Shove, 2003), yet they hold potential for rapid alteration in different social and material circumstances (Browne et al., 2019).

This PhD studentship will use a variety of mixed methods to conceptualise and collect evidence of patterns and cultures of cleanliness and hygiene (ethnographic research, qualitative research, quantitative surveys to capture practices, policy reviews and expert interviews). The methods will be developed to investigate the intersection of everyday practices with societal change (eg previous and current experiences and responses to pandemics), evolving citizen and scientific knowledges of health hygiene and cleanliness, environmental processes (eg environmental pollution such as increasing water/energy use or waste), urban politics, and material cultures and infrastructural systems change (eg emerging technologies, products, household/community infrastructure).

Supervision team:

Dr Alison Browne, Dr Saska Petrova, Dr Deljana Iossifova (The University of Manchester)

Dr Sarah Rogers, Prof Mark Wang (The University of Melbourne)