Penn project aims to stop open defecation by changing social norms | Source: Penn Current, July 21 2016 |
Cristina Bicchieri’s work is not for the faint of heart.
The Penn professor of philosophy, legal studies, and psychology looks at how social norms affect community behaviors. Recently, she has been studying open defecation and trying to shift what is acceptable in developing countries.
This fall, through a new three-year grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, her work will take her to India, a country where 48 percent of the population engages in this practice, according to UNICEF.
Open defecation is a well-established traditional practice in India, deeply ingrained from early childhood, UNICEF reports. This is partly because it is socially taboo to discuss sanitation, so few people do, and also because poverty means other life necessities get prioritized over toilets.
“It’s very unsanitary; it spreads diseases,” says Bicchieri, the S. J. Patterson Harvie Professor of Social Thought and Comparative Ethics in the School of Arts & Sciences.
Despite attempts by the Indian government to curb the problem with incentives to build latrines, the practice continues, polluting water and food. To better understand why, Bicchieri will conduct research in villages and cities in the states of Tamil Nadu and Bihar.