Chapter “The Dammed of the Earth” in the Thinking With Water collection

Thinking with Water, Edited by Cecilia Chen, Janine MacLeod and Astrida Neimanis, McGill-Queens UP, Fall 2013
Thinking with Water, Edited by Cecilia Chen, Janine MacLeod and Astrida Neimanis, McGill-Queens UP, Fall 2013

I have a chapter appearing in this great new collection titled Thinking With Water edited by Cecilia Chen, Janine MacLeod and Astrida Neimanis (McGill-Queen’s University Press, Fall 2013).

From the MQUP website:

As a life-giving but also potentially destructive substance, water occupies a prominent place in the imagination. At the same time, water issues are among the most troubling ecological and social concerns of our time.
Water is often studied only as a “resource,” a quantifiable and instrumentalized substance. Thinking with Water instead invites readers to consider how water – with its potent symbolic power, its familiarity, and its unique physical and chemical properties – is a lively collaborator in our ways of knowing and acting. What emerges is both a rich opportunity to encourage more thoughtful environmental engagement and a challenge to common oppositions between nature and culture.
Drawing from a pool of contributors with diverse backgrounds, Thinking with Water presents the work of critics, scholars, artists, and poets in an invitation to pay more attention to the aqueous aspects of our lives.
Contributors include: Ælab (Gisèle Trudel, UQÀM and Stéphane Claude, Oboro), Stacy Alaimo (University of Texas at Arlington), Andrew Biro (Acadia University), Mielle Chandler (York University), Cecilia Chen (Concordia University), Dorothy Christian (University of British Columbia), Adam Dickinson (poet, Brock University), Max Haiven (Nova Scotia College of Art and Design), Janine MacLeod (York University), Daphne Marlatt (poet, British Columbia), Don McKay (poet, Newfoundland), Emily Rose Michaud (Artist, Wakefield, Qc.), Astrida Neimanis (Linköping University), Sarah Renshaw (artist, Rhode Island), Shirley Roburn (Concordia University), Melanie Siebert (poet, University of Victoria), Jennifer B. Spiegel (Concordia University), Veronica Strang (Durham, UK), Rae Staseson (Concordia University), Rita Wong (Emily Carr University of Art and Design), and Peter C. van Wyck (Concordia University).

– See more at:

My chapter is titled “The Dammed of the Earth: Reading the Mega-Dam for the Political Unconscious of Globalization.”  You can preview it at my site (

Other essays in the volume concern all manner of approaches to the politics, philosophy, sociology and heuristic power of water.  It is a very exciting collection.

Here’s the abstract for my chapter:

This chapter reads the dam, specifically the “mega-dam” as a cultural text. Given that ecologically and socially violent hydroelectric projects have been pivotal to the remaking of the world over the past century of Western- (and corporate-) led globalization, we can understand mega-dams as liminal and archetypical figures looming within the “political unconscious” of our global moment. Just as physical dams reshape and harness the flows of water, so too do dams operate in the flow of social imagination: they reshape the way we think about the world and our relationships. I begin by elaborating the way dams and culture intersect: dams are both “cultural edifices” (the product of cultural processes) and profound shapers of culture (in terms of the circulation of social meanings,representations, and relationships). They harness and redirect social cooperation and generate cultural and material power. For this reason, we can “read” representations of the mega-dam in popular texts as “haunted” by larger cultural trends and patterns.Tracing the theme through blockbuster films including The Dam Busters (1955), Superman (1978), Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002) and X2: X-Men United  (2003), I suggest that dams have come to occupy an ambivalent place in the political unconscious of globalization, and images of their failure or collapse preoccupy us today. While these catastrophic imaginings offer a release of tensions bound up in the figure of the dam, I argue that these moments of cinematic catharsis are far from transformative. Instead, I conclude by turning to Thomas King’s 1999 novel Green Grass, Running Water for hints as to how a different cultural politics of the dam might emerge.