General Discussion

In order to provide a constructive critique of political ecology, this chapter has examined the metabolization of the Thames from a culturalist perspective. This should not be taken as any sort of dismissal of the dominant approach in political ecology; that there were "real" needs for the improvement of the Thames is not contested—the state of the river ensured that. Nor is it contested that there were "imaginary" wants for the improvement of the Thames—the political discourse of the period ensured that. But it suggests that these needs and wants were only partial things, that they cannot be fully understood without a recognition that they provoked and were themselves changed in a dialectic with the very feelings of desire they helped to construct. More specifically, the evidence produced here indicates that feelings, ideology, and economic calculation were all "irreducibly complicitous" in the improvement of the Thames.

In particular, this chapter has indicated how, within the constraints of the economic and cultural pressures of the time in which they found themselves, Loveden and Vanderstegen were driven to impose their emotional identity on the river. In part their involvement was one of economic calculation, to prevent the "confederacy and conspiring against old Father Thames" (Loveden 1811:9) and substitute for it a "safe, easy, cheap and expeditious inland navigation" (Vanderstegen 1794a: 11) along the improved river. But Loveden and Vanderstegen also demonstrated a desire for the ordered flow of control in their lives, a desire that enabled them to fit in to the very centre of a culture requiring control over nature. Occasionally their own feelings surged out in a flash of rage, in pamphlets or in the pages of a minute book, but they acted to subject the flow of the Thames to an order that their inner selves seem at times powerless to accept.

The metabolization of the Thames was part of a process of inscribing meaning on the river, of creating a disciplining of its flow and order over its disorder, to make value. The cases of Loveden and Vanderstegen give some evidence of the concrete manifestations of these processes in everyday living and everyday landscapes. The shaping of their desires by the broader needs and wants of their time indicates something of the dialectical flows involved in the construction of value. The evidence that members of the gentry, free to live lives relatively unconstrained by unfulfilled needs and wants, were even so men of their time whose actions can be seen as works of desire connected to a particular historical time and place is significant. The feelings of Loveden and Vanderstegen may ultimately be seen as profoundly influenced by the material conditions of the surrounding world. That these feelings had meaning for both Loveden and Vanderstegen is undeniably true, but these meanings can only be understood in the context of the needs generated by the logic of the flow of capital and the wants generated by the logic of the political imaginary.

Given this analytical perspective it remains here to return to the type of "improvement" the resultant dialectic of change created to make an ordered Thames through the construction of locks, weirs, and their associated works. The arguments presented here demonstrate that while this built environment, in part merely a network of capital investment, was an attempt to fix and maintain the value maintained and represented in the channel of the river, it was also the manifestation of imaginary wants and symbolic desires. In their solid rigidity standing against the flow of water these works were, in both senses, an engineering of powerful control. The infrastructure of locks acted in a real sense to control the river and its flow by holding back the river to ease navigation. They acted in the imaginary of public discourse to control the wastefulness of the river by economizing the use of the water. They acted in a symbolic sense to control the disturbing fluxes of the moving river's flow as a rational man might control his feelings.

0 0

Post a comment