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Title: Equal but Separate? Building Gender, Sex, and Status into Public Restrooms in the United States, 1883-2015
Authors: Davis, Alexander Kyle
Advisors: Armstrong, Elizabeth M
Contributors: Sociology Department
Subjects: Sociology
Issue Date: 2016
Publisher: Princeton, NJ : Princeton University
Abstract: “Equal but Separate? Building Gender, Sex, and Status into Public Restrooms in the United States, 1883-2014” investigates one of the most intractable aspects of architectural design in the United States: the physical separation of men and women in public restrooms. Despite their ubiquity, separate men’s and women’s rooms are neither natural nor inevitable. The very first public restrooms in the nineteenth century were unisex by design, and today, gender-neutral bathrooms are re-emerging in many colleges and universities, cultural institutions, and other public spaces. The project thus looks backward in history to understand how gender-segregated restrooms became the normative model of public restrooms in the first place, then inward into contemporary organizations with gender-neutral restrooms to understand how and why those organizations have been able to mount challenges to the gender-segregated status quo. Drawing on a rich array of historical, textual, and interview data, “Equal but Separate?” reveals how the everyday work of cultural classification has been at the center of decision-making about gender and public restrooms from the middle of the nineteenth century up through the present day. Yet, rather than relying upon the meaning of gender difference alone to shape public restrooms, cultural, educational, legal, and public institutions alike have recurrently wrestled with multiple kinds of boundaries – including physical boundaries built into architectural design and infrastructure, moral boundaries associated with sex and sexuality, and above all, social boundaries related to class and status – to determine the shape of American public restrooms for nearly two centuries. “Equal but Separate?” thus demonstrates how public restrooms are far from marginal social spaces; instead, they illuminate how moral beliefs about cultural categories, decision-making processes within organizations and institutions, and the material elements of everyday life intersect in the United States to shape possibilities for social transformation. In doing so, the project refines theories of boundary processes from cultural sociology, innovatively synthesizes research from the sociology of organizations with the interdisciplinary field of queer studies, and introduces sociologists to a novel middle-range theory of gender as an institutional accomplishment.
Alternate format: The Mudd Manuscript Library retains one bound copy of each dissertation. Search for these copies in the library's main catalog:
Type of Material: Academic dissertations (Ph.D.)
Language: en
Appears in Collections:Sociology

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