Flow and its metaphors

The investment in fixed capital works such as the locks and weirs (and the associated infrastructure of navigation ferries, towpaths, bridges, and other works installed along the Thames) was such as to begin to make of the river a work of metabolized "second nature" (Smith 1990). In the language of political economy, by "improving" the river this metabolization was intended to further what Harvey (1999) identified as a necessity for the faster circulation of value and the increase of the capital stock by the cheapening of raw materials, the expansion of markets, and the acceleration of the turnover of capital.

The value represented in capital has, according to Marx (1954), a "purely social reality" (vol. I, p. 54) and measuring such a social conceit has proved problematic. A particularly helpful discussion is the analysis of labour value given by Spivak (1996) who argued that the textual nature of value makes a segregation between economic and cultural determinants of its nature in works of art impossible as the two intertwine in a way that makes them "irreducibly complicitous" (p. 120). The significance of this analysis of the cultural creation of value for understanding the metabolization of the Thames is that it provides a model for the questioning of the causality of the dominant economism of political ecology and also enables the questioning of culturalist interpretations of nature.

Spivak's argument about the nature of value is particularly important because of its relevance to the questioning of the prominence of the economic in explanation of places produced by the cultural turn in geography. It implies both that the logic of causality must be heterogeneous and that the deployment of culturalist values must be subject to intense scrutiny. Consequently, while the notion of there being anything other than relativity in the "value" of human labour is both impossible and absolutely necessary to affirm, it is also necessary to state that, built on the myth of a non-ideological culturalism, cultural "value" will be influenced by political economy.

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