This chapter examines the "improvement" of the river Thames in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries as an example of the city's quest to create and exploit uneven patterns of development. It looks at how, through the construction of a series of locks and associated engineering works, those in control of the Thames interrupted and channelled its flow to make it both a vital part of England's infrastructure and a means for the exploitation of the natural world. It argues that the disciplining of the Thames is emblematic of the way in which people, politics, and political ecology have come to be bound together during the era of modernity to produce and enforce the disciplined nature that is characteristic of the contemporary city.

Contemporary urban political ecology is based on what is usually a relatively orthodox reading of the labour theory of value and its subject therefore becomes, in effect, landscape as the work of the flow of "labour value" channelled by the regulating powers of capitalist society. Even so, a considerable body of literature suggests that cultural values are so tightly woven into the economic text produced by that flow that they ought to be taken into consideration as factors of considerable importance in urban ecologies.

Literature from the cultural turn suggests that spatiality and spatial process are the result of the interplay of real, imagined, and symbolic elements (Shurmer-Smith and Hannam 1994). The corollary of this is that these elements channel the flows of life and are expressed in the needs created by the condition of the landscape, the wants constructed by the treatment of those conditions by culture, and the desires they arouse. The typically modern control established over the flow of the Thames in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries can be seen as manifested in the solid constructions of locks and weirs designed to discipline the unprofitable, unseemly, and disturbing flows of the river. In this respect that control reflected the logic not just of capital and its institutional infrastructure but also of its desires. Such multiple logics were the result of the development of a capacity for controlling the river that was by turns economic, administrative, and emotional in nature.

Evidence to test the theoretical perspective of this approach can be found in the behaviour of two key individuals involved in the early administration of the Thames, Edward Loveden Loveden and William Vanderstegen. Through an analysis of the work in which they were involved it is possible to examine the links between landscape, public values, and private lives. By doing so it is possible to demonstrate ways in which these causal elements were constructed for and by the turbulent interplay between the river, the community, and individuals.

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