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Where Rivers Meet the Sea

Where Rivers Meet the Sea: The Political Ecology of Water

Stephanie C. Kane
Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: Temple University Press
Pages: 216
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  • Book Info
    Where Rivers Meet the Sea
    Book Description:

    Where fresh water appears to be abundant and generally accessible, chronic pollution may be relatively ignored as a public issue. Yet there are those whose lives, livelihoods, and traditions are touched directly by the destructive albeit essential relationship between humans and water.

    In her passionate and persuasively arguedWhere Rivers Meet the Sea, Stephanie Kane compares two cities and nations-Salvador, Brazil and Buenos Aires, Argentina-as she tells the stories of those who organize in the streets, petition the courts, and challenge their governments to implement and enforce existing laws designed to protect springs, lakes, harbors, and rivers.

    Illuminating the complex and distinctive cultural forces in the South Atlantic that shape conflicts and collaborations pertaining to particular waterfront settings, Kane shows the dilemmas, inventiveness, and persistence that provide the foundation for environmental and social justice movements writ large.

    eISBN: 978-1-4399-0932-4
    Subjects: Sociology, Anthropology, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Figures
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. xv-xviii)
  6. 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-14)

    In port cities that dot Atlantic coastal maps, freshwater sources have always been central to development. From the beginning of human settlement in Brazil and Argentina, through conquest, colonization, and into our era of telecommunications and container shipping, fresh waters have descended from mountains to join other overland flows and wind down into deep-pooled aquifers. Some waters dry up en route; others flood dangerously over denuded clay hills. Lines of giant turbines inside hydroelectric dams noisily sap the waters’ seemingly infinite energy as factories, for myriad reasons, pull them in only to taint and expel them again. Where rivers and...

  7. PART I Salvador da Bahia, Brazil

    • [I Introduction]
      (pp. 15-22)

      The port city of Salvador, in Brazil’s state of Bahia, sits on a hilly peninsula with bountiful sweet, contaminated waters cascading through fractures in rocky cliffs and up through shifting dunes on to the streets, docks, drains, beaches, and remnant mangroves. The peninsula’s western contour follows the Bay of All Saints; its eastern contour faces the Atlantic Ocean, looking toward Angola. More than anywhere else in South America, Salvador nourishes its strong cultural affinities with Africa. Historically, the wealthier, whiter skinned built their homes and offices on the tops of hills and the poorer, darker skinned built into the forested...

    • 2 Sense and Science at the Lake of Dark Waters
      (pp. 23-40)

      The procession of coastal dunes moves with the prevailing wind, the depressions among them cradling small lakes called “eyes of water” (olhos d’agua). Fed by rain from above and aquifers from below, eyes of water pool in collecting points of dynamic equilibrium. Of all Bahia’s eyes of water, Lagoa de Abaeté alone is world famous, and lyrical motifs about mystical powers of its dark waters and white sands lit by full moons call to romantics far and wide (see Figure 4). Popular legends from Indian and African traditions, contemporary ritual practitioners of Candomblé, and Evangelical baptisms keep alive the lake’s...

    • 3 Dune Shenanigans and Rebellious Festival Memories
      (pp. 41-60)

      The rolling topography of the Atlantic dunes allows for unusual ways of traversing the earth’s surface. Climbers of windy peaks access far-sighted coastal views, explorers of valleys encounter acoustic splendor in hidden forests and springs, long-distance walkers discover scenes that lend themselves to solitude. Sites within Itapuã’s dunes, through history and culture, have acquired special significance redolent of danger, opportunity, and rebellion. As with icons and oral traditions, generations transmit the idea of these sites from one to another. In the process, the idea sites and associated ritual practices remain partially obscure and partially reinvented. But even inventions can mobilize...

    • 4 Of Sewage, Sacrifice, and Sacred Springs
      (pp. 61-81)

      Infrastructure, in a technical sense, has a peculiar relation to culture and politics; the state realizes itself on the material plane through monumental and mundane projects. The more visible in the landscape and the more consistent with modernist (or “heritage”) engineering aesthetics, the greater the performance value: For example, hydroelectric dams epitomize pharaonic accomplishment, and sculptural and architectural monuments to nationhood hold symbolic centrality. Yet infrastructure that functions without added aesthetic investment, such as underground pipe networks for water, sewage, drainage, and electricity, also plays a crucial role in the state’s performance credibility. After all, the state has a primary...

    • Coda: The Assassination of Antonio Conceição Reis
      (pp. 82-88)

      Antonio’s two most significant victories protected the lake from high-season festivities.¹ Using the lake as the stage for Salvador’s festival cycle is a long-standing tradition, but when the city claimed the lake for a public park, it built the concrete platform, buildings, and water and sewage infrastructure for the House of Music, inviting the increased density of paying crowds. Bar-restaurant owners moved Carnaval right into a spot with an excellent lake view, intensifying environmental harm. For four years these merchants “tripled their income but never planted a tree.”² Antonio confronted city officials (including a certain prominent person accruing wealth from...

  8. PART II Buenos Aires, Argentina

    • [II Introduction]
      (pp. 89-92)

      Pilots follow the coast, flying this ethnographic nomad from Salvador to São Paulo and then on to Buenos Aires,¹ where fieldwork begins anew in March 2007; this political ecology of water enters its second arc. Salvador’s unforgivable violence recedes except for zigzagging Internet communiqués. In July, news of Antonio’s assassination would pierce the cozy apartment in Palermo Zoo, but everyday life was already elsewhere.

      Commonalities provide a framework for regional intercity comparisons.

      Blessed with bounteous freshwater, contemporary inhabitants of Buenos Aires, like those of Salvador, exhibit an understandable if oft-destructive extravagance toward water in all its forms. The ancestors of...

    • 5 Water History, Water Activism
      (pp. 93-115)

      Drifting continental plates collided, causing a linear eruption of underwater island-making volcanoes. Sediment from the land sifted into the aquatic spaces between the islands, joining them and forming a land bridge, the Isthmus of Panama, between North and South America that divided the Pacific and the Atlantic Oceans and their currents. The earth’s Holocene epoch began during the sedimentation process, about 11,800 years ago; glaciers melted, and large wooly mammals became extinct (Funk and Wagnalls New Encyclopedia2006). About the same time, the Paraná River began migrating toward its alluvial plain and over the next seven thousand years swelled to...

    • 6 Iconic Bridges of La Boca and Madero (Dereliction as Opportunity)
      (pp. 116-129)

      Puerto Madero, an internationally inspired model of waterfront development in Buenos Aires, is redolent with transnational corporate authority. La Boca, only one kilometer away, is in contrast a quixotic artistic attraction layered onto a stinking harbor scene. While each has a different relation to the seriously degraded and simplified riverine ecology in which it is embedded, both have played a significant historical role in the development of Buenos Aires as a major nexus of Latin American global trade. Neither, however, is central to the current container shipping industry located in Puerto Nuevo (“New Port”), just upstream from Puerto Madero. While...

    • 7 Neighbors Fight to Reverse Eco-Blind Engineering in Tigre Delta
      (pp. 130-150)

      As concern about the profound pollution plaguing Greater Buenos Aires wells up from the mobilized, they continue to draw in a variety of institutional actors and agendas to their missions. Participant observation in a series of water gatherings allows me to understand how much watershed destruction is a result of downrightfaulty, not merely unevenly scarce, hydraulic engineering. Once built, no matter how faulty, eco-blind engineering structures become modification resistant; their mass, scale, and persistent toxicity literally dominate and destroy landscapes.¹ Moving the scene to the northern jurisdictional boundary between the city and the province, this chapter presents one case,...

    • 8 Convergent Protest from the Provinces: Hydroelectricity + Gold Mining = Water Predation
      (pp. 151-176)

      The language of development provides a cloak of legitimacy that protects the perpetrators of environmental crimes committed in the context of megaengineering projects (Svampa and Antonelli 2009). From the point of view of neighborhood activists engaged in the struggle to assert alternatives, a criminogenic impulse is part and parcel of eco-blind megaengineering projects and of the state that coproduces them. The projects are ir/regular and il/legal water-dependent machines that global outlaws (Nordstrom 2007) use to bypass national sovereignty and human rights; the global outlaws negotiate inside and outside legitimate institutions and businesses. To resist the illusion of development, to recognize...

    • 9 Conclusion
      (pp. 177-180)

      Robust, down-to-earth, technical possibilities for constructing new regimes of infrastructural sanity exist and new ones can emerge and flourish. Survival on earth depends on the reformulation of skewed hierarchies of development. We can survive with out oil, but we cannot survive without water. How we approach the fundamental shift away from hydrocarbon-dependent cultures will determine our fate. And yet, in tandem with military weapons, petrochemicals, and radioactive materials, misused concrete structures continue to be produced in the face of radical ecological uncertainty; this existential dilemma intensifies as intervention assumes the scale of landscape. In 2010–2011 alone, as I write,...

  9. Glossary
    (pp. 181-182)
  10. Notes
    (pp. 183-202)
  11. References
    (pp. 203-216)
  12. Index
    (pp. 217-228)