Babies’ Bottoms for a Better World: Hygiene, Modernities, and Social Change in Northwest China and Australasia
This is a thesis about social change for a climate-changed world. I argue that in order to think more creatively about much-needed social change, we must explore the multiple possibilities for future worlds already present in experimental form. This thesis offers insight into the ways in which hybrid, experimental practices of infant care are developed and performed by mothers and others in their everyday lives. I take a place-based approach that draws on rich ethnographies and interviews with mothers and others in two field sites: the city of Xining and surrounding areas in the northwestern Chinese province of Qinghai, and a ‘virtual’ group of mothers from Australia and New Zealand. What results is effectively an ethnography of social change, where I describe how mothers and others respond to — and also contribute to — global changes through appropriating, resisting, and hybridising various mothering and caregiving practices. Through embodied ethnographic engagement, I explore the Chinese infant-toileting practice of baniao, and the hybrid infant-toileting practice of ‘elimination communication’. Through a collective process of knowledge production, I work with other mothers in experimenting with hybrid infant-toileting hygienes that are less about ‘killing germs’ and more about ‘guarding life’. This thesis thus takes the important step of exploring and understanding experimental social change through hybrid and collective research practices outside the academy, where people are already responding intelligently and creatively to environmental crisis.