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Where Rivers Meet the Sea

The Political Ecology of Water

Stephanie Kane

Publication Year: 2012

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 argued Where 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.

Published by: Temple University Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. vii-viii

List of Figures

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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xiv

I am indebted to the generous people and institutions that have made this ethnography possible. I thank Fulbright Hays for funding fieldwork in 2006–2007, the College of Arts and Sciences of Indiana University for supporting writing in 2008, and the Department of Criminal Justice and the Center for Latin American Studies ...

List of Abbreviations

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pp. xv-xviii

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1. Introduction

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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 ...

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I. Salvador da Bahia, Brazil

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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. ...

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2. Sense and Science at the Lake of Dark Waters

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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, ...

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3. Dune Shenanigans and Rebellious Festival Memories

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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. ...

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4. Of Sewage, Sacrifice, and Sacred Springs

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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: ...

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Coda: The Assassination of Antonio Conceição Reis

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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, ...

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II. Buenos Aires, Argentina

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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. ...

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5. Water History, Water Activism

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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. ...

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6. Iconic Bridges of La Boca and Madero (Dereliction as Opportunity)

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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. ...

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7. Neighbors Fight to Reverse Eco-Blind Engineering in Tigre Delta

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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 ...

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8. Convergent Protest from the Provinces: Hydroelectricity Gold Mining = Water Predation

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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, ...

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9. Conclusion

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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 without oil, but we cannot survive without water. ...


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pp. 181-182


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pp. 183-202


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pp. 203-216


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pp. 217-228

E-ISBN-13: 9781439909324
Print-ISBN-13: 9781439909317

Page Count: 216
Illustrations: 14
Publication Year: 2012

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Water resources development -- Environmental aspects.
  • Water resources development -- Political aspects
  • Water supply -- Environmental aspects.
  • Water supply -- Political aspects.
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