Politics of Shit

Christopher Hyun | PhD candidate
Development Engineering | Energy & Resources Group | UC Berkeley

{  I study the politics of shit & here is my webpage about it.  }


Macho mahco men_Flickr_Nicolas Mirguet


/ˌsanəˈtāSH(ə)n/ n. conditions relating to public health, especially the provision of clean drinking water and adequate sewage disposal.

Talking shit. These days important people are talking shit. They're reinventing the toilet, making shit flow diagrams, and now the UN challenges the world to provide 'sanitation for all' by 2030. But 2.4 billion people are without access to improved sanitation. That's 1 out of 3 people. It's 2019. Why haven't we gotten our shit together yet?

India storm drain cover Flickr_Nate Grigg


/ˈərbən/ adj. in, relating to, or characteristic of a city or town.

Shit in the city. India's urban population will double by 2050. By my calculation, that's over 10 million more gallons of shit every day. Today, big cities treat less than a third of wastewater generated, and in smaller cities, it's less than 10%. Smaller cities now have an opportunity to build infrastructure for 'sanitation for all.' But will they learn from the failures of big cities that are currently drowning in their own shit?

Indian plumbing_Flickr_Andrea Kirkby


/dəˈveləpmənt/ n. the process of developing or being developed.

Figuring shit out. Cities around the world have a history of letting shit pile up until it hits the fan. So I'm looking into why we can't get our shit together and who suffers when we don't. Is it a 'wicked' planning problem? Technology? Corruption? Capacity? Cultural 'taboo' issue? Not enough participation? Too much participation? My research seeks more insight into this -- to help people to get shit done.

Current Sanitation Projects

  • Hyun, Christopher, Zachary Burt, Yoshika Crider, Kara Nelson, Sharada C.S. Prasad, Swati Rayasam, William Tarpeh, and Isha Ray. “Sanitation in low-income countries: A cross-disciplinary review.” Annual Review of Environment and Resources. - Invited to submit for publication in 2019.
  • Capacity building and participation in urban sanitation of India
  • A critical perspective of decentralization and decentralized systems of sanitation
  • Technological transitions of sanitation and governance in South Asia, a multi-level perspective
  • An online platform for urban environmental/sanitation planning


I observed and participated in a number of sanitation workshops, focused on understanding capacity building and participation in the sanitation sector.



My field research has me traveling across India, interviewing a variety of sanitation actors—from treatment plant managers to government officials.



I also had the opportunity to help design and implement a faecal sludge management (FSM) workshop in India with CDD Society.

People talking shit

Bill Gates on Twitter (2017)

This is a great investment…

For every $1 spent on sanitation, there is a $5.50 return.

Prime Minister Modi (2013)

I am known to be a Hindutva leader. My image does not permit to say so, but I dare to say. My real thought is — Pehle shauchalaya, phir devalaya (toilet first, temple later).

Sunita Narain in Nature (2012)

Rapidly-modernizing India is drowning in its own excreta. … But even as toilets get built, the challenge of managing excreta grows.

A haiku

Shit flows through people

It flows through pipes, policies,

And presidents, too

We had asked participants of the Bay Area WASH Symposium 2017 to write a haiku about their research. This was mine.

Victor Hugo in Les Misérables

The sewer is the conscience of the city. Everything there converges and confronts everything else. In that livid spot there are shades, but there are no longer any secrets. Each thing bears its true form, or at least, its definitive form. The mass of filth has this in its favor, that it is not a liar. Ingenuousness has taken refuge there. … All the uncleannesses of civilization, once past their use, fall into this trench of truth, where the immense social sliding ends. They are there engulfed, but they display themselves there. This mixture is a confession.

MEDIA SOURCES (top to bottom) // Talking shit logo created in logomakr.com by C. Hyun // 'Septic tank waste disposal' video by Prabakar Subramaniam // 'Bombay #6' by flickr/Thomas Leuthard //  'Macho macho men' by flickr/Nicolas Mirguet // 'India storm drain cover' by flickr/Nate Grigg //'Indian plumbing' by flickr/Andrea Kirkby // 'Facebook bureaucracy' by C. Hyun

REFERENCES (top to bottom) // Politics of shit (A. Appadurai, 2002) // Sanitation for all (UN-Water, 2016) // 10 million gallons of shit (based on Eawag, 2017) // Wastewater treatment in Indian cities (Government of India, 2013) // Wicked problems (Rittel & Weber, 1973) // Taboo (Black & Fawcett, 2010)