Having a wash outside the home. A survey of users of City of Paris public bathing facilities (bains-douches)

© Documentation personnelle de l’auteure

The City of Paris’s public bathing facilities present the interesting case of a public service that offers people who cannot bathe at home access to hot water and privacy in which to use it. Public bains-douches [shower-baths] were initially constructed at the same time as social housing and represented a European-wide experiment linked to new conceptions of hygiene, comfort and cleanliness; later versions have varied greatly over time and space. New forms have appeared, combining bathing facilities with other types of activities (cultural, social, artistic); the buildings themselves have changed uses, disappeared, and new facilities have been built. Meanwhile, the French parliament has passed a law recognizing “the right to water”.

It was in this context and after two years of participant observation by students in a Licence degree sociology programme that the project of a questionnaire survey of Paris public bathing facility users was developed. Surveying people in these facilities requires adapting to extraordinary population diversity. To begin with, the questionnaire was available in seven languages: English, Arabic, Bulgarian, Farsi, Polish and Romanian as well as French. The survey itself, designed in close collaboration with INED’s Statistics and Surveys Department, aims to improve our knowledge of who uses public bathing facilities and how. It applies well-established methodologies inspired by surveys of users of services for the homeless, and includes approximately 60 semi-directive interviews conducted in 2014 and 2015.

Following questionnaire and protocol tests developed and applied by INED’s Surveys Department, the survey itself was conducted from January 15 to February 15, 2017. Each public bathing facility was surveyed five times for 3 hours at a time by a pair of interviewers, one of who counted users while the other made contact with them and transmitted the questionnaire. All users in the facility were counted and contacted, in accordance with a programme that took into account what we had learned about use-level variations by day of the week and time. Our goal of collecting approximately 1,000 completed questionnaires was readily attained. To this day we have collected 947 questionnaires completed on the spot and 105 questionnaires by prepaid return envelope, an option included in the protocol. We now have to process this mass of data. Moreover, a European-scale research project on access to water and public bathing facilities is currently being designed.

Our survey has received support from the Université de Paris VIII-Saint-Denis, the iPOPs, LAVUE and PASSAGES research laboratories, the Fondation Abbé Pierre for housing underprivileged persons, the office of Dominique Versini at the Paris City Hall, and PUCA (Plan Urbanisme Construction et Architecture) of the French Ministry of the Environment and Housing. It would not have been possible had I not been hosted by INED from September 2015 to February 2017. Warm thanks, then, to the Institute, the iPOPs laboratory, and INED’s Mobility, Housing and Social Networks research unit, which hosted me, and Identities and Territories research unit, with which I worked, and especially to the head and staff of the Surveys Department, without whom the project could never have been successfully carried out.

Contact: Claire Lévy-Vroelant (Université de Paris VIII-Saint-Denis and CRH-LAVUE), in collaboration with Sophie Fesdjian (CRH-LAVUE) and Lucie Bony (CNRS, PASSAGES)

Online: April 2017.