Breaking Through Developing Multidisciplinary Solutions to Global Grand Challenges

Open Skies: Alternative Studies into Sanitation Solutions Related to Open Defecation


Robin Clair
Professor of Communication
Ernest Blatchley
Professor of Civil Engineering and Environmental and Ecological Engineering
Rosalee Clawson
Department Head and Professor of Political Science
Charlotte Erdmann
Associate Professor of Library Science
Seungyoon Lee
Associate Professor of Communication
Rahul Rastogi
ABD at Purdue University, Assistant Professor of Communication at Western Illinois University

Project Summary

Open defecation—the practice of depositing one's fecal matter in open areas such as forests and fields—is a serious problem in developing countries. The purpose of this project is to suggest a preliminary plan to assist in finding efficient and environmentally friendly technologies that suit the cultural demands of rural India. In doing so, it is important to use a method that relies on local participation and an empathic understanding of the cultural situation in addition to the consideration of communication networks and technological restraints and possibilities that exist. This research argues that recognizing that a cluster of narrative experiences exist and that taking a culture-centered approach with extended empathy and social networks are vital for integrating community conditions toward sustainable technological solutions.

The research team sent one member to three cities in rural India—Kumbhdaura, Chawka, and Karra—with the goal of collecting data, conducting interviews, and gaining a better understanding of conditions, attitudes, opportunities, and realistic options for the area. This work included interviewing the women of Karvi as well as other stakeholders in the area (e.g., farmers), holding focus groups and collecting information about the area, the terrain, and current sanitation practices. This information was then given to the Purdue student teams who used it to develop novel plans for sanitation. The novel ideas will be presented in the form of blueprints or simulations to the women of Karvi who will provide feedback for final implementation.

Principal Investigator Bio

Robin Clair
Professor of Communication

Professor Clair's primary research interests are in organizational communication, rhetoric, and cultural studies. Currently, she is the Principal Investigator on an Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Grant in which she is leading a team of interdisciplinary scholars to study the cultural, health and narrative impact of water and sanitation issues in rural India. Her work is further supported by The Purdue Global Policy Institute. Prof. Clair has been on the Purdue faculty for 25 years. During that time, she has written extensively on issues such as pay inequity, sexual harassment, work socialization, and diversity. Recently, Professor Clair was named “Diversity Fellow” by Purdue University and was inducted into “The Book of Great Teachers.” She teaches Diversity at Work (COM 328) and Rhetoric (COM 312) at the undergraduate level and Ethnography, Narrative Theory and Diversity classes at the graduate level. With four books, 140+ articles, chapters and papers, she has won numerous awards for her research including several “Top Paper Awards,” two “Research Article of the Year Awards”, two “Outstanding Book of the Year Awards,” and “The Golden Anniversary Award.” She was named to Simmons Institute for Leadership and Change, Boston and has contributed to public policy statements provided to Washington D.C. through the Consortium of Social Science Association. Professor Clair has been a member of several editorial boards (e.g., Communication Theory, Communication Studies, Women’s Studies in Communication, Western Journal of Communication, Journal of Applied Communication and others) and reviewed for numerous other scholarly journals and continues to serve in this capacity.

She is a member of the Organizational Communication Division of NCA and member and Past Chair of the Ethnography Division of NCA. Professor Clair has also received awards for her creative work and was named Fellow to the Center of Artistic Endeavors at Purdue University twice. Her first published novel–Zombie Seed and the Butterfly Blues: A Case of Social Justice (an academic mystery about modified seeds and so much more) sold over 5,000 copies its first year and is used in organizational communication, sociology and rhetoric undergraduate courses at a several universities. She has been invited to speak at Columbia University and Manhattan College on the novel and her second Fellowship to the Center of Artistic Endeavors (2016) is to work on the sequel. Most recently she was named Distinguished Alumni—Kent State University.


Policies for Progress Conference Presentation (10/29/15)

Purdue University, 610 Purdue Mall, West Lafayette, IN 47907, (765) 494-4600

© 2017 Purdue University | An equal access/equal opportunity university | Copyright Complaints | Maintained by EVPRP

Trouble with this page? Disability-related accessibility issue? Please contact EVPRP at